By Brian Keogh
Singer Stephen Browne scorched to a wire-to-wire win the European Men's Amateur championship in Denmark on Saturday and said: "Roll on the Tour School."
The 27-year-old Hermitage man led from start to finish for a five-shot win that gives him a place in next year's Open championship at Muirfield as European Amateur champion.
But the affable Dubliner, who sings at weddings and special events with his father Edmund in an effort to support his golf, will turn down his place in the world's biggest Major by turning professional.
"I'm going to pass up the possibility to play in the British Open. Eight or nine Tour players, including Sergio Garcia, have won this championship and I hope to follow them into the professional game, which means I have to turn down a place in the Open for the European Amateur champion.
"But I'm over the moon about this win. After losing the final of the Irish Close and the South of Ireland championships I think I almost deserved a win," he said yesterday. "I've worked hard over the past two years, giving up my job with the Bank of Scotland to see how far I could go with my game.
You don't always get rewarded for hard work but this time I feel it's all been worth it. "I've been working very hard with my coach Simon Byrne at Hermitage over the past couple of years and especially last week and everything just clicked this weekend."
Browne fired a course record 65 at the Odense course in the first round and used it as a springboard to his first major title. He followed it up with rounds of 69, 67 and 69 to finish on 18 under par, five ahead of Scotland's Stuart Wilson.
Five shots ahead going into the final round, Browne's lead was cut to just two strokes after six holes before he pulled away. Birdies at the 10th, 11th, 14th and 15th meant that he had a five shot lead when he stood on the 18th tee and looked at the leaderboard for the first time.
Browne finished with another birdie to copperfasten a win that had the Irish contingent celebrating late into the night. "We had a bit of a sing song all right," added Browne. "Colm Moriarty and Sean McTernan also made the cut and we had a bit of a celebration with the rest of the Irish lads over year.
"But I'm already thinking about the Home Internationals at Woodhall Spa and of the qualifying school for the European tour next month. I played a couple of the tour school courses last week the Wynard Club and Carden Park and I've decided to try and qualify at the Wynard Club."
The winner of the Willie Gill Award as the most consistent performer on the Irish amateur scene, Browne has made phenomenal progress since he decided to play full time golf at the end of 1999.
"I just felt I had to find out how far I could take my game so I decided to take two years off from my job with the Bank of Scotland and go for it," explained Browne. "So I practice all day and then sing with my father Edmund at weddings and funerals or do cabarets in the evenings to make money."
Browne got his reward with a call-up to the Ireland team for the European Team Championships in Sweden earlier this summer and will play a major role in Ireland's bid for the Home International championships next month.
"I've looked at every aspect of my game and I was delighted to have the mental strength in Denmark to come through in the final round," he said. "I've had so much support over the year form the Golfing Union of Ireland, my family and my coach that I'm just over the moon today. I'll be going up to Hermitage tonight with the trophy and I'm sure there'll be a bit of a celebration."