By Brian Keogh
It's hard to be competitive when you have no golf clubs.
Challenge Tour hopeful Stephen Browne has had to do without his clubs three times from eight outings on the Challenge Tour this year but he is still making great headway as he learns his trade and bids to win his European Tour card at the same time.
With no status on the Challenge tour after failing to make it through the Qualifying School last year, he has been limited to eight starts this season, all of them by invitation.
It is almost exactly a year since Browne won the European Individual Amateur title in style in Denmark last year and yet, despite his relatively slow progress compared to former Ireland team mate Graeme McDowell, Browne is undoubtedly one of the most exciting Irish prospects out there.
Indeed, he admits that McDowell's 'go for it' style has really inspired him this season and as one of the more prolific birdie-makers on tour he is edging closer to his dream ticket.
"Graeme is a friend of mine and it's great to see him doing well," he said last week as he headed for Ballyliffin and the North West of Ireland Open.
"I love the way he is so positive on the course, it's all out attack. That's the way I like to play and hopefully I can get a bit of inspiration from him."
McDowell and Browne played together for Ireland as amateurs last year but while the Ulsterman has secured his tour card by winning the Volvo Scandinavian Masters, Browne has been struggling just to get into events on the Challenge Tour.
The fact that the 28 year old from Hermitage 'lost' his clubs in transit three times from seven away trips, didn't help much.
"It unbelievable," he said. "Three times they have gone missing - once in Kenya, once in Italy and once on the way back from Denmark and I had to get them re-routed for the next tournament."
They never appeared at all in Italy, which meant a third straight missed cut for the Dubliner who bounced back to make his fourth cut in a row when finishing tied for 15th in the BMW Russian Open two weeks ago.
"I love it on tour. I'm doing what want to do and even though it's certainly tough and a adjustment going pro, I know I can be successful," he said.
"But it's quite hard to develop your game. There's a very fine line between working on your swing and playing golf to the best of your ability. You really have to be careful with the line because if you cross over too much into the technical you won't be able to play well on the course when you need to.
"But at the same time if you don't work on your game and develop it you're not going to move forward. That's a bit of a Catch 22 and as I have no status this year, every tournament I play in is on an invite basis."
With a €20,000 grant from the government and sponsorship from building company Carroll estates and Kellogg's Nutri-Grain, Browne has enough money to finance his season.
He also has more than enough talent to make it and as one of the most attacking players on tour, his birdie count proves that he could be up there with the best if he could just cut out the errors that have plagued his early rounds.
"I always seem to make a bad start and that puts you on the back foot straight away," he said. "Any time I have started well I just get up and running and I have had a good tournament.
"To be honest I make enough birdies to win the tournament every week - around five a round and I also make an eagle every two or three rounds which helps. It's the odd lost ball, penalties or water hazards here and there that are catching me.
"There is a lot more water involved in Europe than over in Ireland where it's links golf and rough. Fairways are tighter, rough is heavier. You have to learn when to put the pedal down or not and you just get all that through experience.
"I'm not downbeat. I've been very happy even though I haven't hit the headlines I know I will, I'm very confident in that. I've made cuts relentlessly really and I only missed the cut in Italy because my clubs didn't turn up."
Browne's long term goal is to make it on the European Tour but he is also planning to marry fiancée Elaine Maher next year.
"She has been really great, and it's absolutely crucial to have somebody right behind you all the time and Elaine has been fantastic even though I am away a lot and she has to work and can't travel with me."
Browne will almost certainly bid for his card at the European Tour qualifying school this autumn. With a little luck, he should be up there rubbing shoulders with McDowell in the very near future.