Long-driving 'Moose' Brown aims to make most of his opportunity at Open

John Steadman

June 16, 1993|By John Steadman

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- What David G. Brown brings with him to the U.S. Open Golf Championship is an incongruous nickname -- "Moose." At 5-foot-6, 145 pounds, it doesn't fit, even remotely.

Then, when he rips a golf ball over ample acres of real estate, there's reason to reconsider and quickly agree that, yes, he is a "Moose."

The "Moose from Baltimore" started out as one of 5,905 entries worldwide, seeking to earn a position in one of the most historic of all golfing tests. Tomorrow he will be in the elite starting field that has been reduced to 156 places. It's an enormous achievement to proceed this far, considering the quality of the competition and the prestige associated with such a time-honored event.

"This is his first real individual success," exclaimed his father, Hugh Brown, who has every reason to be proud. "At Mount St. Joseph's High School, which is my old alma mater, and then at Akron University, he played well in the golf team concept, contributed points but never won any important tournaments."

Yes, but that is in the past. "Moose" Brown qualified for the Open after posting rounds of 71-71 at Cleveland last week on a course where he clearly was comfortable.

The Brown family, including parents and three other children, will be in the gallery at Baltusrol Golf Club tomorrow to enjoy the distinction that comes with being associated with a participant.

Usually, a father puts a golf club in the hands of a son and, in so doing, provides him with an entree to a game he can enjoy for a lifetime. It was the opposite with the Brown family of Glen Arm, where the four children talked dad into buying equipment for all of them and mother, Doree, too.

"My oldest son, we call him H.T., and 'Moose' were fascinated with golf, even though they didn't know much about it," explained Hugh. "They got me to go to Eagle's Nest Country Club to buy the equipment. I hardly knew a driver from a putter. When we got there the shop was empty. Bill Sporre had left as pro to go to the Crofton Country Club and Coleman Plecker hadn't yet arrived.

"So that very day we kept right on driving down Dulaney Valley Road to Pine Ridge, where we met Johnny Bass, who was the pro, and bought all this stuff. Then we didn't know what to do with it. Eventually, we had lessons from Plecker and assistants Frank Laber and Bobby Bowes."

Son "Moose," so called because in first grade he was large for his age, became enamored with golf. Starting at age 8 and through his early teens, his parents would drop him off at Eagle's Nest, where during the summer, he would often hit a minimum of 500 practice balls, play 36 holes and then use up what daylight was left on the putting green.

In high school, his coach was Billy Bassler Jr., the pro at Rolling Road Country Club, who believed in Brown's chances and told him he had considerable ability. "Moose" accepted a golf scholarship to Akron University, coached by Gary Robinson, who also was the pro at Firestone Country Club, so it was an attractive arrangement -- good direction and the chance to play on a classic course.

For the last three years, Brown has been an assistant to Scott Nye at the Country Club of York. When he qualified for the Open in Ohio, Robinson was there to see the conquest. So were his father and Jim Frey, the former major-league baseball manager and general manager who is a close friend and who kept telling him "the toughest competitor is going to win this thing, go do it."

Being called "Moose" can sometimes cause embarrassment, but only temporarily, like what happened at the 1987 U.S Amateur at Jupiter, Fla. As he was announced, the gallery laughed because it expected to see a towering, broad-shouldered type and here comes a "Moose" built more like a mouse. Then Brown hit his drive 260-plus yards, well past the shots of the other two players, and the mood of the crowd immediately changed.

In the days leading up to the Open, Brown has had the opportunity to play practice rounds with a wide assortment of golfers, including defending champion Tom Kite and the youngest member in the field, 16-year-old amateur Ted Oh.

Before Kite left Moose on the course, he put his arm around him and said: "Fairways and greens and shoot even par. Then we'll be playing again together in the final round on Sunday."

It was Kite's way of making the kid feel good, an encouraging message from the richest money winner in golf to a youngster involved in a major-league setting for the first time.

"Moose" turned to his father and jokingly asked, "How do you like it, 'Fat Boy' "? And his dad told him, "I can't stop smiling. I'm basking. I only wish every father could experience something like this."

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