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Brandes Finishes Second at British Senior Amateur

The 2012 PNGA Senior Men’s Player of the Year has had a pretty good 2013 as well

Tom Brandes, with his silver medal from the 2013 British Senior Amateur

by Al Munk

Last year I attended the Masters. I was sitting at the driving range in my padded bleacher seat, watching the pros practice. Phil Mickelson was warming up and he had three consultants surrounding him – a short game coach, a swing coach and a psychological coach. This was a golf entourage if I have ever seen one, and probably a highly-paid one at that.

Our modern golf ethic as taught to us on TV and the Internet is to be coached and cajoled by “experts” whom we run to at the slightest variance in our games. Phil, Tiger and everyone else (except maybe Bubba Watson) subscribe to this protocol.

However, there is another way – figure it out yourself. Ben Hogan championed this concept when he said, “The secret is in the dirt.”

The Northwest’s own Tom Brandes is a prime example of the do-it-yourself school of golf. After about 40 years of play, now at the highest level an amateur can aspire to, he still has not had a golf lesson. Tom has played in three U.S. Senior Opens, narrowly missing the cut in the most recent one in Omaha. And he has just returned from Scotland where he finished in second place by a stroke in the British Senior Amateur. He qualified for this championship by compiling a good resume competing in recent events. The runner-up finish qualifies him to play in the next two British Senior Amateurs (if he can afford the time and travel expenses).

This is true amateur golf, which gives you a nice medal for your efforts, rather than some nice money.

Brandes’ home course is Rainier Golf and Country Club in Seattle. Its narrow fairways and tilted, fast greens provide good preparation for any venue. He started playing in high school but it was probably 15 years later that his game got honed to the tournament level. Now in his mid-50s, he is playing the best golf of his life.

He turned his trip to Scotland to play in the British Senior Amateur into a family vacation, taking along his wife and grown son. They stopped for a while in Ireland a few days before the championship, recovered from their jet lag, then flew over to Scotland for four days of golf. His son caddied for him in the championship.

Neither had seen the course before, and for those of you who have played in the British Isles, I think you will agree the courses are somewhat bewildering.

Royal Aberdeen is a windy, hilly layout with 30-yard wide fairways which are harder and faster than the greens, which are like rock as well. Nothing else is mowed, resulting in knee-high grass everywhere and deep bunkers with steep walls facing the green. The 150-yard stakes were present in the practice rounds, then they took them out for the championship! No yardages were marked on sprinkler heads. There were no trees, so the yardage books said something like, “132 yards to the pin from the edge of the left berm.”

No ball which landed on the green would stay there. So everyone had to bounce it up there from a tight fairway lie – a puff of dust on contact with the ball, a high bounce in front of the green, and 25 yards of roll. The fairways ran faster than the greens.

Tom put his 2-iron in the bag for this trip, as driving accuracy would be essential. It was largely a matter of luck to stay out of the bunkers, which were randomly placed throughout the course. His son on the bag was only an occasional golfer and couldn’t help with much course strategy so he was relegated to ball-finding and standing on hilltops to mark the direction of the upcoming green.

Tom’s goal was to make the cut and play for all three days. After the second round, he was on the leaderboard so he started thinking a little more boldly, that he might just win this thing. He started hitting driver off the tee instead of 2-iron and managed to hole some putts down the stretch.

In the final round he played the final four holes in 3-under par, better than any other competitor that day. Upon finishing, he was the leader in the clubhouse and the officials urged him to be ready for whatever was to come in the next few hours (in other words, be ready for a playoff). This was an enviable position, as he had seen fellow competitors take some high numbers on some of the tough finishing holes.

The eventual winner, by just one stroke, happened to be a student of Seattle’s own Jim McLean.

Tom was fascinated with the strategy of true links golf. Any particular 150-yard shot could be hit about five different ways, but not including hitting it 150 yards in the air with a 7-iron like he would back home.

Tom thinks he will be invited to other British and European events as a result of this second place finish. But he has a job and a family so it is unlikely he will take advantage of many events. In two years, the British Senior Amateur will be held at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, a course which he would love to play if schedule allows.

Our guess is that his game will be ready then, as it is now.