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U.S. Open not close to No. 1 for Brandon Brown

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Brandon Brown of Shelbyville will play starting Thursday in a landmark appearance in the U.S. Open. But that’s not his most important accomplishment.

By Josh Cook

Lloyd Brown still remembers when his son, Brandon, was just a teetering toddler tagging along with him to the golf course, where he often parked himself on the putting green. 

“He was three or four years old, and he’d sit there and just putt and putt and putt,” Lloyd Brown recalled.

As the younger Brown got older, the stakes, albeit imaginary, began to grow.

“It would be one of those things where you’d stand on the putting green and say, ‘If I make this, I’m going to win the Masters,’ or, ‘If I make this, I’m going to win the U.S. Open,’” Lloyd Brown said. 

That boyhood fantasy could become a reality this week when Brandon Brown, a professional golfer from Shelbyville, competes in the 113th U.S. Open Championship – one of golf’s four “majors.” Brown is scheduled to tee off at 2:42 p.m. Thursday, then 9:12 a.m. Friday, at the 6,996-yard, par-70 East Course of Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa. If he makes the cut, he would advance to Saturday’s third round and Sunday’s fourth round.

Brown, who’ll turn 31 next week, is believed to be the first golfer from Shelby County to compete in the U.S. Open or any of the other majors.

“It’s just a dream come true,” he said recently.

It’s a dream Brown has been chasing most of his life. From his days at Shelby County High School to first Northern Kentucky University, then Eastern Kentucky University to the National Golf Association (NGA) Pro Tour.

Brown, a 6-year vet of the NGA Tour, is its reigning Player of the Year and 2-time defending money leader. He earned a spot in the Open’s 156-man field by surviving two rounds of qualifying.

The first round (Local Qualifying) came at the Cardinal Club in Simpsonville in early May, and the second (Sectional Qualifying) was last Monday in Springfield, Ohio, where he played 36 holes in 5-under-par.

Still, qualifying for the U.S. Open was the second-biggest thing to happen to Brown in the past two months. He became a father in late April, when his daughter, Sophia, was born.

“My daughter being born was the best thing that’s happened in my life, and qualifying for the U.S. Open is the best thing that’s happened in my golfing career,” Brown said. “I just can’t put into words how special the last few months have been in my life.”

Fatherhood may have played a key role in Brown’s recent success, his father said.

“It’s changed him,” said Lloyd Brown, who will leave at around 7 this morning for Pennsylvania and the Open. “He used to make golf the most important thing in his life. Now it’s not. Now there’s not as much pressure.…He’s just relaxing and playing.”

And although Brown was slowed at the start of this year by a knee injury, he appears to be playing his best heading into this week.

First he made a huge comeback to capture the NGA Tour’s Cherry Blossom Classic in Georgetown in May before pulling out a top-15 finish at the Three Ridges Classic in Knoxville, Tenn. His combined success in both events earned him an exemption into the Web.com Tour’s Air Capital Classic, which coincidentally also takes place this week.

Brown had to give that up, though, when he qualified for the U.S. Open.

Thanks to another exemption through the NGA Tour, Brown played in a PGA Tour event last year. He finished 62nd in the Reno-Tahoe Open, earning his first check from pro golf’s top tour. And although many of the Tour’s top players (i.e. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson) were playing in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, Brown still believes that experience will help him heading into this week.

“It was a great experience and beneficial to play with the PGA Tour regulars to see where I stacked up,” Brown said. “I thought I played well, except for the third round. It gave me a chance to see where I stood, play in front of bigger crowds and play a great golf course. I couldn’t have asked for anything better to prepare me for the U.S. Open.”

Since earning a spot in the Open field, Brown’s Facebook page has been inundated with congratulations and well wishes for this week. Included among those was a special message from his girlfriend, April Bailey.

“What does it feel like to have your dreams come true?” Bailey wrote. “I am so proud of you Brandon Douglas for all of your hard work, dedication, passion and drive to be the best you can be. You are truly an inspiration to others that no matter what obstacles you face, you stay strong and fight for what you want and believe in. I can’t imagine another person more deserving of this than you. I love you! Now let’s go show the world and win this thing!”

That would be the culmination of a dream that began back on those putting greens.

“Every kid that grows up playing golf wants to win the U.S. Open, and that’s what I’m going to try and do,” Brown said.