New dad Brown delivers victory

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He rallies on Sunday, birdies 18th, wins playoff at Georgetown

By Josh Cook

It has been quite a few weeks for Brandon Brown.

First the Shelbyville professional golfer became a father in late April.

Then Sunday he capped off an incredible final-round comeback – making birdie on the first playoff hole – to capture the NGA Pro Tour’s 2013 Cherry Blossom Classic in Georgetown.

Brown began the final round tied for seventh place and five shots behind the leader but made a dramatic rally, shooting a 9-under-par 63 and sinking a 30-foot putt on the 72nd hole to force extra golf at Cherry Blossom Golf Club.

His birdie beat Peter Malnati on the 73rd hole and him his seventh career NGA victory.

“This is the best,” Brown said afterward. “I’ve had seven wins out here, but this tops all of them by far. We only play in Kentucky once a year and to have my family come out and support me is a blessing. I’m fortunate that I was able to win in front of them.”

Included among those was his newborn daughter, Sophia Anne Brown.

“What a blessing it is to be a DAD and watching your child being born!!” Brown wrote on his Facebook page on April 22.

Brown, the 2012 NGA Player of the Year, got off to a slow start this year – he missed the cut in three of his first four events – thanks in part to a knee injury.

He showed no ill effects, though, in his fifth start of the season.

Brown, the 2011 Cherry Blossom champion, opened the tourney with back-to-back rounds of 66 before carding a 68 in Saturday’s third round. That put him at 16-under for the tournament, five strokes behind Malnati.

Brown began the final round with a bang, making birdie on three of the first eight holes before making eagle on the par-5 ninth to finish with a sizzling 31 on the front side. On the back he made birdie on three of the first five holes and found himself tied with Malnati atop the leaderboard.

That was the start of a back-and-forth battle between Brown and Malnati, who was playing two groups behind him.

Brown made birdie on the par-4 15th to go up one stroke, but Malnati responded with birdies at Nos. 14 and 15. And when Brown made bogey at the par-5 17th, he found himself down by two strokes.

But Malnati made bogey at No. 16, creating an opportunity for Brown.

 “I had a hiccup on seventeen and made a bogey on a par five, so I knew I needed birdie [on 18],” Brown said. “The eighteenth hole is tough. I just wanted to hit it on the green and give myself a chance to make it [a putt].”

However when his approach shot left him about 30 feet short of the hole it looked like Brown’s chances of winning were slim. But Brown is in his sixth season on the NGA Tour. He has been its leading money-winner. He has faced this sort of pressure.

And he buried the putt to putt.

When a short time later Malnati missed his birdie try on 18, the pair were tied at 263, 25 under par.

On the playoff hole, No. 18 again, Malnati pulled his drive, and Brown’s blast flew past the fairway bunkers, giving him a good shot at the green.

“I had good yardage, and I was flag hunting,” he said. “It was a hundred and forty yards, and I hit a little nine-iron in there. I pushed it a little bit, but it turned out great.”

Brown’s shot landed about 8 feet from the hole. He knocked in the birdie to cap off his comeback.

“What a special week it was, a win on one of my favorite courses, in my home state, with my family and friends watching. Doesn’t get any better than that!!” Brown wrote on his Facebook page.

With the victory, which earned him $22,000, Brown has the early lead at earning an exemption into the Web.com Tour’s Air Capital Classic in mid July. The leading money winner in the Cherry Blossom Classic and at this week’s Three Ridges Classic in Knoxville, Tenn., gets a spot in the field for the event, which will take place July 13-16 at Crestview Country Club in Wichita, Kan.  

“Anytime you can win out here, it’s great, but to have a shot at an exemption into the Wichita Open is special,” said Brown, whose victory moved into a tie for third place on the NGA Tour’s all-time list. “We all want to move up and the NGA Tour has done a great job over the years of giving us that chance.”