When meeting Michael Browne, you can’t help but be struck by his modesty; despite the incredible sacrifice he has made for his country. Perhaps his understated demeanour, in addition to his disability, was chiefly responsible for my surprise when he informed me of his handicap – five – before we teed off. But surprise quickly evaporated into awe, as he metronomically plundered the ball 250 yards up almost every fairway on a windy day at Royal St George’s Golf Club. The sort of consistency even Hogan or Moe Norman would give a nod of approval to.
Yet during an 18-hole exhibition that was every bit as inspiring as it was astonishing, one particular shot stands out. At the ninth hole, this above-the-knee, left-leg amputee was faced with a shot where the ball had trickled cruelly into the rough, and lay well below his feet on a nasty slope. It’s a shot any able-bodied person would wince at, but for Browne, this one surely had to be a bridge too far.
Not a bit of it. The ball came out flush off the club face, with momentum he shuffled down the bank, and the ball finished less than 10 feet from the hole. It was then that I realised this man wouldn’t be a five handicap for much longer.
“I started golf about 18 months ago,” Browne said to my amazement, after this most enjoyable of rounds was complete. “I was recuperating from my injury at Tedworth House in Wiltshire, and I got introduced to the On Course Foundation through them. There was a little flyer up on one of the noticeboards, I got in touch with them, and they invited me to a one-day event. It was just like a taster, and I had never played golf before, but I fell in love with the game from there.
“I am now a member at High Post Golf Club in Wiltshire, so I try and play at least three times a week. But I do a lot of practising too, because I have got a fair bit of spare time on my hands now.”
The reason for all this spare time is profoundly heart-breaking. Aged 37 now, his entire adult career has been dedicated to the British Armed Forces. But in 2011, a serious injury set off a dreadful chain of events that ended in the loss of his left leg.
“I was injured just on duty over here, but originally I was injured while on duty abroad four years ago,” Browne recalled. “I did two tours over there. Each was six months long, although my second one was obviously cut short. But I recovered from that, and then later on I got re-injured on a pre-op in the UK.”
He continued: “I basically broke my leg. The problems stemmed from the first injury though. I had a really weak leg, and it snapped. Then I got the infection from the hospital, and it just ate everything in my leg. It wasn't a nice situation. I was in an Illizarov frame for two years. They then took my knee out, and tried to fuse my femur with my tibia. But they broke my tibia, and it stretched seven centimetres. So I had to move bolts and all that around, before eventually I had the amputation done in 2013.”
With no qualification or trade behind him, and a severely debilitating disability, the future looked bleak for this former member of the 29 Commando Regiment. Yet it was the introduction to the On Course Foundation which has seen his life take a turn for the better, and the fulfilling future this man deserves is now a very real prospect.
“I did a three-month internship in events management with Alex Walston (the employment officer at On Course) which I finished in the Spring, and now I am just playing golf and trying to get to the highest possible level,” Browne explained.
“But my long-term future undoubtedly lies in the golf industry. I have already been offered the chance to become a teaching professional in the future, so that's a good aim for me. I'd love to do that, and turn pro really.”
But before he goes about realising this dream, there is the important business of regaining the Simpson Cup for Team GB to go about. Browne made his debut in the event at Congressional in 2014, and despite being on the losing side, he cites making the team as his greatest golfing achievement thus far – quite something from a man who already has a gross score of 69 to his name.
“The experience at Congressional was just amazing,” he beamed. “Scratch that – it was out of this world! For someone like myself, being on a course like that and playing in such a special event was surreal, and I just wanted to take in every minute of it.
“That said, we are all competitive guys by nature, and we were gutted to lose the Cup. But it’s something we’re determined to put right this year!”