Even with the seemingly endless conveyor belt of extraordinary success stories within the On Course Foundation (OCF), few can rival that of Wiltshire’s Mike Browne. Having dedicated his whole life to the military, his world changed forever in 2011 as a serious injury while serving set off a chain of events that would eventually see him lose his left leg.
In his mother’s words, it left him in a rather dark place in life, and contemplating what felt like a grim future ahead. But two-and-a-half years ago, OCF and, more specifically, the game of golf came into his life, and it’s fair to say he hasn’t looked back since.
Astonishingly, he has flown down to a four handicap in his fledgling golf career. Yet, after representing his country in the last two Simpson Cups, the true extent of his progress was displayed in spades at last week’s Willow Senior Golf Classic at Hanbury Manor – a £350,000 prize money European Senior Tour event in which amateurs play alongside the professionals during all three rounds of the 54-hole tournament.
Partnering a different professional on each day, Mike finished fifth in the overall team competition with scores of 65, 67 and 67 for a 17-under par total of 199. Mike’s individual score over the three days was a fantastic 5-under par gross, which, if he had been playing in the professional competition, would have put him ahead of Ian Woosnam, Barry Lane and Mark James; the latter of whom Mike partnered with on one of the days.
“I am really happy with my game at the moment,” Mike beamed. “Every round I feel I am improving all the time, especially with the mental side of things. But last week’s event really was an incredible experience for me. Playing alongside Mark James was amazing, and I learnt so much in just one round.
“Fortunately, I managed to play quite well too. Among the highlights for me was an eagle two on the tenth. Also, a funny one was on the par-4 fifth when I drove it past them all by about 15 yards, and Mark replied with: ‘it’s bad manners to outdrive the pros, you know!’
“But yes, just a wonderful experience for me, and a real honour to be rubbing shoulders with some of the best players the game has ever seen. It really does give you something extra to strive for when you see them in action, and see what they’ve achieved in their careers.”
Perhaps it was Mike who gave them something to strive for, given the quality of his golf. Nevertheless, his remarkable improvement has been no accident, and developing as a player is something that the 38-year old has put his heart and soul into since taking up the game.
“I think my progress is just a case of the old saying ‘you get out what you put in,’” Browne noted. “So I spend a lot of time practising my short game, as that really is where the scoring shots are.
“But for me it goes well beyond that too. Having the support of my close mates in the Foundation, plus the support of my family is so important to me.
“I can't thank the Foundation enough for helping me over the last few years – in ways beyond just playing golf. But, in terms of my game, the coaching from the pros and all the support has transformed me from hacking around in the 90s and 100s only 18 or so months ago to now being able to shoot in the 60s and 70s.”
Browne’s timing for finding his best form could hardly be much better too. Indeed, he will be one of Team GB’s major spearheads as they bid to retain the Simpson Cup at Oak Hill Country Club later this month, and with both teams looking strong, it promises to be an epic contest.
“Playing well has come at a good time for me with the Simpson Cup just around the corner. I really can't wait for it to start, and all the lads are raring to go. We have a really solid team this year, with some new blood who are great assets. We have huge respect for the Americans, and we’re looking forward to linking up with them again. But when the games begin, we’ll be fighting tooth and nail to keep our hands on that trophy by the end of it,” Browne concluded with a grin.