Michael R. Brown, Jr.
, an old soul with a young man’s game, outlasted recent Drexel University graduate Jeff Cunningham
, 4 and 3, for a historic victory in the 122nd BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship Saturday at Philadelphia Country Club (par 71, 6,968 yards).
The 49-year-old Brown became only the third player to capture the GAP Grand Slam, joining Chris Lange and Jeff Osberg. His Amateur win was the final elusive prize. Brown won each GAP Major once: Middle-Amateur Championship (2009), Open Championship (2010) and Joseph H. Patterson Cup (2018). Those events, along with the Amateur, comprise the Grand Slam.
Additionally, he is also the third oldest Amateur Champion in the event’s 122 years. He is 49 years old, one month and 29 days. William Hyndman, III is the oldest victor at age 49 years, six months and 23 days. Hyndman’s 1965 win that set that standard also came at Philly Country. Andy Thompson, who took his second Amateur title in 1998, was 49 years old, five months and 12 days.
By taking the GAP Amateur, Brown has now won every Amateur Championship in the tri-state area within the last three years. The Maple Shade, N.J. resident took the 2020 Pennsylvania Golf Association Amateur; 2021 New Jersey State Golf Association Amateur and 2021 Delaware State Golf Association Amateur.
“I’m in a bit of a haze. I’m just starting to digest the fact that the guys that won this tournament before me, I’m up alongside now,” said Brown. “Chris Lange and Jeff Osberg are two of my idols in this area.
“Age is an asset. This game is so great that way. The lessons learned are what wins you golf tournaments. You get punished for years and years and years. And eventually, you learn how to avoid it and play regular, smart golf. You learn you don’t need to do anything outrageous to win. I thought this day would come. I still can play the game fairly well. I’m getting smarter as the years go by. I have to lean on that a little bit more. I still have a lot of belief in my game.”
Regardless of outcome, Cunningham, 23, of Philadelphia, Pa., already scripted history.
He was the first African-American finalist.
“I take a lot of pride in it. But I have to step back and look at the reality of the situation,” said Cunningham. “And what I would like for our GAP community is to understand how we make our own impact as an Association in the community of Philadelphia. I think we are in a great position to make a difference in the golf community as a whole. It’s all about seeing how we impact the children of Philadelphia and diversify the game of golf and our GAP community.”
Both players showed signs of title-hope jitters during the first nine of the 36-hole Final. Uneven play and gusty winds resulted in some head-scratching moments. The match was tied after nine and still that way thru 12.
Brown took the lead for good on No. 13 (par 4, 374 yards) when he scrambled for par from the right, back greenside bunker. He converted a clutch six-footer for the 4. Cunningham, unexpectedly, three-putted from 20 feet for bogey.
The duo halved the next three holes before Brown surged. He won Nos. 17 (par 4, 472 yards) and 18 (par 4, 389 yards) with a bogey and par, respectively. In reality, it was more of a give-and-take situation. Brown smacked two crisp shots on the famed 17th, finding the green with a 4-iron from 186 yards, 60 feet from the cup. Cunningham found the left fescue off the tee and a gnarly lie in the rough behind the left greenside bunker. He flopped a chip shot to 25 feet. Brown three-putted from that lengthy distance to leave the door open. Cunningham couldn’t take advantage, three-putted too, and went on tilt. On No. 18, Brown went fairway and green for par. Cunningham went left, but in OK shape, and still was fine when his second shot stopped on the left greenside collar, hole high. His chip attempt went awry, however, and Cunningham ended with a six and conceded Brown a par.
Brown headed to the afternoon session, 3-up.
“I just compounded mistakes in the matter of 10 minutes and that really changed the entire course of the match in my opinion,” said Cunningham.
“It just gives you a little room for a mistake,” said Brown of the halfway lead. “And knowing you have room for a mistake gives you more freedom. I was lucky to have that feeling early in Round 2. I hit some quality shots early to really put some pressure on him. I could play some conservative golf from that point forward.”
Cunningham drove the green on the first hole of the afternoon 18, No. 1 (par 4, 325 yards). He faced a difficult 60-foot eagle try and a testier 15-foot birdie look from the other side of the hole before ending with a par. Brown used some of that aforementioned veteran tournament savvy. He laid back in the fairway, clipped a 60-degree wedge from 68 yards to six feet and made birdie. Brown moved 4-up.
The next four holes were halved before Brown started the trophy etching.
On No. 6 (par 5, 527 yards), the 24th hole of the contest, he laced 3-wood from 245 yards to 35 feet on the right side of the green. Cunningham pulled his second shot into a touch of trouble but recovered and put his third shot on the green 15 feet from the cup. Brown then delivered a sensational, and crowd-appreciated, eagle putt.
“I hammered a 3-wood on a perfect line. It climbed up there,” said Brown. “I’m trying to two putt there, which looked like it would be good enough [to win the hole]. My caddie [Brian Lee] gave me a great read there.”
Cunningham responded, as one would expect. He won the next two holes, but left a birdie try for the win on No. 9 (par 4, 413 yards), hole 27, just short. Brown led 3-up after 27 holes.
“I was really trying to fight to get to 2-down,” said Cunningham. “I haven’t been more than 1-down all week and that was after the first hole. I tried to keep my composure when I was down. I had a look at No. 9. It’s just a situation where I have to be a little more aggressive, especially considering my position.”
Brown re-extended the lead to 4-up with a win on the next hole. Cunningham won the 31st hole with a birdie, only his second red figure of the day. On the 34th hole, with a strong gallery watching, and the wind laying down a smidge, Brown drilled 3-iron to 20 feet right of the cup. Cunningham managed a bogey after a poor tee shot. Brown rolled in his remaining three-footer into the heart of the cup for the clincher.
Brown is the second LuLu member to hoist the Trophy. Jim Spagnolo took the 1992 Amateur.
“I love LuLu. I’m so happy to be a member there,” said Brown. “The next time I walk into [LuLu], how great is it going to be able to share this with my friends and the members. The members are so interested in my game, it’s flattering. To bring something to them like this … it’s nice to share with my friends over there.”
A piece of history is even better.View results for Philadelphia Amateur