Michael Brennan (VSGA photo)
Michael Brennan has made his share of buzzer beaters. Playing for the junior varsity basketball team at Tuscadora High School (Leesburg, Va.) two years ago, Brennan was the shooting guard who helped his team rack up the points – during the game, and when the clock was running out. When Brennan, 17 and now a senior at Tuscadora, gets in the game, it’s to score.
“I shoot a lot of threes, so when I come in, I’m just trying to put the ball through the hoop,” said Brennan, who is still deciding whether he’ll play basketball his senior year.
This ability to perform under high stakes translates well to golf, Brennan’s primary sport.
Three years ago, Brennan turned up at the Middle Atlantic Amateur because it was a tournament that his dad, Mike, had competed in during his amateur career. Brennan was only 15 then, and when he won, he became the youngest champion in history.
When he defended his title last year, it was remarkable. The Middle Atlantic Amateur, and Brennan’s history in the event, suddenly became a talking point in Virginia, where Brennan is the reigning state match play champion.
“Everyone kind of knew in our area that nobody had done three before or if they didn’t know that, they just thought it would be cool,” Brennan said of the lead-up to last week’s event at Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Va.. “…It was definitely a different feeling coming into this one.”
Expectations can weigh heavily on a golfer, particularly a young one. Brennan felt that pressure, but he still managed an opening 4-under 68 despite tough conditions. It felt unspectacular to him when he posted it, but no other player came within three shots in that first round. No one could match it for three more days, in fact.
Brennan who has verbally committed to Wake Forest for next fall, led wire-to-wire in winning the event for a third consecutive time. The most nerves, he said, came during the third round when he posted 75.
“I was probably thinking about winning the event too much and it wasn’t even the final day,” Brennan said.
The silver lining was that it cleared the way for Brennan to close with a 70. He needed every shot on the last day, what with runner-up Michael Brown closing in.
“Pretty much the whole day, it was just us two and we kind of knew it,” Brennan said. “We were feeding off each other. He started off hot and he squared it up almost immediately. It almost felt like that settled me a little bit. I think that helped me focus and ultimately get the job done.”
Much of what allowed Brennan to win a third title in the Middle Atlantic Amateur was experience. It’s a vastly different story than when he arrived on the scene in 2017. The greens at Westwood were firm and fast, atypical of a Northern Virginia course in early fall.
“It’s pretty rare to find a course like that in that condition this time of year,” said Brennan. “That was something that everyone had to change and adapt to throughout the event.”
The greens were certainly championship caliber, and Brennan knows how to approach that – maybe better than anyone else in the field. He played three USGA events this year, the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, U.S. Junior and U.S. Amateur, in addition to flying overseas to Portmarnock in Ireland for the British Amateur.
The latter was perhaps the most helpful in terms of developing the shots that separated him in an older but arguably less experienced field of amateurs.
From Portmarnock to Pinehurst, site of the U.S. Amateur, Brennan’s experience grew this summer on courses that “have been a lot more difficult than what I have seen in the past.”
In the final round of the Middle Atlantic Am, Brennan tapped his affinity for head-to-head golf, locked in and enjoyed it.
“That final round, that one-on-one battle was probably one of my favorite final rounds of a golf tournaments."
It’s one more memory in a growing arsenal of experiences that will keep Brennan rising to the next level.