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It couldn't have happened to a less likely guy. When he tried out for the Division III Occidental College team as a freshman, he shot 88 and 89 yet still made that shorthanded squad. He worked in the bag room at New Seabury Resort, a course on Cape Cod, that summer and decided then that he would become a professional golfer, leading to a long and determined road that featured only one successful try in his first 10 trips to Q school. Back in '05, at the Pinehurst Open, Browne's father, Luis, recalled those long-gone days when he said, "I really questioned that decision. He couldn't beat me at the time."
Of course, his father's doubts had been erased by then. Browne memorably made it into that Open by shooting 73 in the first round of sectional qualifying. Then, after nearly withdrawing, he fired a 59 in the second round.
Browne has never played in the British Open. "I regret that every day," he says. Oh, he's been to the British Open. He worked as a roving reporter for ESPN at Royal St. George's only a few weeks ago. He followed Tom Watson's group early, Dustin Johnson on the back nine on Saturday and the Phil Mickelson--Anthony Kim pairing on Sunday, when Mickelson raced up the leader board. "That," Brown says, "was exciting."
Browne's most memorable comment on the broadcast came when he saw a pin placement on the 9th green and quipped, "The last time I saw movement like this, I was bobbing in my boat in the middle of the Gulfstream."
He was, he said, "very distressed" not to be a British Open participant, and "maybe that fed into this week."
Browne stayed on in England for the British Senior Open, during which he struck the ball well but putted poorly and finished 23rd. A tip from Allen about his posture at address—to simply stand a little taller—helped his swing and his putting, normally the weakest part of his game. Can it be that simple? "I really rolled my ball well this week," Browne said.
Another friend, Paul Azinger, said he has never seen anyone hit more iron shots right at the flag than David Toms, but second on the list is Browne, who served as one of Azinger's co-captains when the U.S. won the 2008 Ryder Cup. "He hits it as straight as anybody," Azinger says. "He also loves to fish, he's an accomplished fly fisherman, and as a wine drinker he's kind of a connoisseur."
Browne's real secret may simply be his enthusiasm for the game. "I got on Tour in my early 30s instead of my late 20s or even teens, like some of these kids who get fried from being in the spotlight," Browne says. "I'm kind of an immature 52-year-old. You know what? I have a great job. How many people would love to do this for a living?"
At home in Jupiter, Fla., Browne plays at the Medalist Club, usually with his 23-year-old son, Olin Jr., or with daughter Alexandra's boyfriend, Tour pro Rickie Fowler. Alexandra and Fowler have been dating since they met in Hartford two years ago, which is why it wasn't a coincidence that Fowler, a Californian, moved to Jupiter last year.
"I love having the kids over, and I love playing golf with Rickie," Browne says. "That's one thing I miss about the regular Tour, playing with the guys. These kids have skills I can't imagine. I mean, I outweigh Rickie by 30 pounds and I'm a couple of inches taller, yet he can outdrive me by 80 yards. It's ridiculous."