GULLANE, Scotland — An ocean and five time zones removed from home, Scott Brown is finally making his major championship debut on the world’s greatest links course.
For the 30-year-old from North Augusta, it’s perfect.
“I believe it’s a good place to start,” said Brown, who earned his way into the British Open at Muirfield through international qualifying in Dallas in May. “I love golf over here and I’m kind of flying under the radar here. That’s a bonus. I don’t have all the hype around me that I probably would if I was in the states. It’s just me and my caddie (Nick Hughey) staying together this week. It’s going to be a fun experience and we’re going to enjoy it.”
Brown is having a productive second season on the PGA Tour a year after struggling as a rookie and losing his card. A victory in Puerto Rico in his second start of 2013 secured his tour status for two more years even if it didn’t qualify him for his hometown Masters Tournament. He’s earned nearly $1 million this season and stands 66th in the tour’s points race.
But mostly his victory in March boosted the USC Aiken grad’s confidence as he steps up to the major stages.
“It kind of makes you feel like you belong and definitely makes you feel more comfortable,” Brown said as he walked the pristine brownish fairways of Muirfield for his first full practice round Tuesday. “But I’m sure I’ll be nervous. No doubt. It’s all in what you make it. It is just a golf tournament. It’s got a lot of hype around it, but you’ve still got to play good golf.”
This isn’t Brown’s first encounter with links golf. He came to Scotland when he was 18 to play in a World Junior Cup team match on all the courses at St. Andrews. For fun one day, he went over to Carnoustie to tackle what everyone regards as the world’s toughest links.
“So I kind of know what it’s about,” he said. “I do like this kind of golf. It gives you so many options. That’s what I love about it. You can play it high, low, sideways. It’s really cool.
“I feel like you have to use your imagination a lot around here and I play a lot with imagination and feel. Regardless of if I play good or not, I love playing this way. The kind of courses I grew up at – like North Augusta Country Club as a kid and Palmetto where I play and practice now – you kind of had to do the same thing. It’s kind of the same mentality. You have to use the ground and play it more on the ground, which is how it is here.”
Brown hasn’t had a lot of time to get himself reconditioned to links golf. He arrived midday on Monday after taking the chartered flight from the John Deere Classic, where he tied for 22nd. The British Open will be his fourth consecutive event in as many weeks.
“I haven’t quite figured out the preparation,” he said after playing only the front nine with Scott Stallings on Monday. “I see guys preparing a lot and I’m not sure if that’s the right approach. In my game, I never play well taking a few weeks off leading into a tournament. I always come out rusty. I don’t know why that is because I play at home, but for some reason I just play better when I play into a tournament. And I’m better when I play two or three. Seems I always peak in the third or fourth week.”
Aside from the Masters Tournament, the British Open has always been Brown’s favorite to watch. He’d get up early every year to see it on television.
It looks a little different in person.
“I didn’t imagine it being as tight as it is,” he said of the narrow fairways that have been perfectly baked to a preferred crust after one of the longest dry spells in years along the East Lothian coast. “The rough was further off the fairway when I came before at St. Andrews and Carnoustie. If you miss the fairway just a little bit here, you’re almost in the hay.
“I like the fact that it’s playing hard. If it was playing a little softer and put driver in your hand more often, I think it would be tough. It’s hard to keep it in the fairway here, especially if the wind is blowing. It definitely plays better fast. You can hit some irons off tees and get it chasing down there instead of having to hit drivers and woods of the tees. If you can avoid some of these bunkers off the tee I think you can play well here.”
Staying in the Marine Hotel that overlooks fabled North Berwick links just up the road, Brown is considering trying it out before his 3:51 p.m. local tee time Thursday (10:51 a.m. EDT). Only two groups start behind him in the first round.
“I’ve been told the wind picks up right around the time I tee off, it blows a couple of hours and then it lays back down,” he said. “You’re at the mercy of the weather in this tournament. We all know you can get on the wrong end of the draw. Hopefully the way the forecast looks it’s going to be great all week.”
Having grown up with the Masters, Brown doesn’t believe that the pageantry and scale of the British Open will surprise him.
“Being from Augusta I think helps me from the fact that I’ve been around that tournament my whole life and I know how big it is,” he said. “So I think it will help me at these tournaments try to downplay it a little more.”
With the PGA Championship at Oak Hill on deck for him in August, Brown is mostly hoping to come away from his major debut with a positive experience. Muirfield is just a first step toward his ultimate dream goal of qualifying for the Masters in his own backyard.
“Each time you play one of these things you gain a little something from it,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do.”