British open

Former USC Aiken golfer Scott Brown will play in his first major at Muirfield

bspear@thestate.comJuly 13, 2013 

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  • BRITISH OPEN

    When: Thursday-Sunday

    Where: Muirfield, Scotland

    Length: 7,192 yards

    Defending champion: Ernie Els.

    TV: Thursday and Friday, 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., ESPN. Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., ESPN. Sunday, 6 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., ESPN.

Scott Brown’s life changed dramatically — personally and professionally — about this time a year ago.

In the wee hours of July 8, 2012, wife Allison gave birth to the couple’s first child, a 6-pound, 5-ounce girl named Elizabeth Marie and called Elly. Then, four days later, he began the golf tournament that would alter the direction of his career.

“Life-changers,” he said.

The demands of parenthood are obvious, the impact on golf less so. But that week’s tournament started a chain reaction that sends Brown to Scotland this week to participate in his first major championship, the British Open.

“The John Deere tournament meant so much to me,” he said before teeing off in this year’s event in Silvis, Ill. “If I hadn’t played well there, I wouldn’t have had (conditional) status this year and I might not have been in Puerto Rico.”

He did play well, finishing seventh, and the momentum carried over to a tie for fifth a week later in the Trans South in Mississippi. Those two paydays, $263,600, assured opportunities to play on the PGA Tour again in 2013, and he capitalized by winning the Puerto Rico tournament.

“Winning made me feel like I belong,” Brown, an All-American at USC Aiken, said.

That feeling will be multiplied this week at the British Open at Muirfield. He gained a berth in international qualifying in Plano, Texas. His 5-under-par 71-64—135 finished tied for fourth with eight spots available.

“This is a pretty big deal and I try to be realistic; there’s no use in pretending it’s just another tournament,” Brown said. “(The major championships) are everything we want, and I’m certain there will be a different feel. I’m excited to see the atmosphere of a major championship.”

In thinking of majors, the Masters naturally is the first one in Brown’s mind. He grew up in Augusta “about 500 or 600 yards from Augusta National” before moving to North Augusta, and his grandparents took him to the tournament every year.

“My granddad and I would sit on No. 6 and watch the groups come through,” he said.

Brown won the first tournament he entered at age 8 and set a goal of playing on the PGA Tour. Majors, of course, would be part of the deal.

His journey carried through college at USC Aiken, where he earned many honors and helped the Pacers win three national Division II championships. A rib injury torpedoed his chances of advancing to the PGA Tour through Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour earnings in 2010, but he came back strong in 2011 to finish second on the money list.

His first year on the PGA Tour turned into a few hits and a lot of misses. He made eight of 24 cuts in 2012, but three top-10s — the biggest in the John Deere — earned him enough for conditional status.

Brown started 2013 sizzling. He warmed up with a couple of top-10s on the Web.com Tour while waiting for PGA Tour opportunities and quickly capitalized, birdieing the final hole to win the Puerto Rico Open — a victory that earned him an exemption through 2015.

“Much better,” he gauges his 2013 play. “Experience is so important. I’m playing golf courses for the second time. (Familiarity) makes a big difference, a huge advantage. I’ve made more cuts, and that’s a positive.”

Brown, who has moved his family to Aiken and hones his game at venerable Palmetto Golf Club, has banked more than $935,000 and is assured a berth in the lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs. But first, there’s the British Open, and another major, the PGA, on his schedule, and he waits eagerly for the experience.

Brown will fly from the Illinois tournament to Scotland on Sunday night, and he knows in general what to expect from the British Open course. He participated in the World Junior Cup at St. Andrews and Carnoustie, two layouts in the Open rotation.

“The courses are so unique, and there are so many different ways to play them,” he said. “I haven’t seen Muirfield, but from what I’ve heard from other players, it’s the best course in the British Open rotation. It should be fun.”

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