Having worked the past 14 years at Tam O'Shanter Club in Brookville, Mark Brown has become a true Long Islander, except for the accent. "I still have my Boston roots," he said in tones true to his New England upbringing.
In golf, he would make anyone's all-Long Island team. He is one of the best players around and has won most local tournaments at least once. That includes the one he finally won Wednesday on a quintessential Long Island course, Bethpage Red, on a quintessential Long Island early June afternoon, gray and wet.
Brown was the only golfer to finish under par through the 54-hole Long Island Open. "I tell you what, I've been a bridesmaid here, I think, four times. I just couldn't seem to win it," he said after ending that streak by shooting 1-under par in the morning and par 70 in the afternoon to finish at 209. That was good enough to edge Kirk Oguri, teaching pro at Spring Rock Golf Center in New Hyde Park.
"It feels good, it was something I always wanted to get," Brown said in the Bethpage clubhouse, surrounded by his peers.
To be sure, the Long Island Open isn't the U.S. Open or the national club pro championship, for which Brown and other Long Island pros are preparing. But it is a big deal around here. It is part tournament, part convention, part celebration. Unlike a tour event, at which the golfers finish up and quickly head out, the golfers all hang around for drinks, appetizers and the trophy presentation.
Winning in that atmosphere is no small thing. "I love it here. When we were finishing up, I was talking with Nick [Bova]," he said of the Friar's Head assistant pro who shared the last grouping with him. "He just got here from the Carolinas. He loves it. He said he'd never go back. This is the place to be if you want to be a good player."
There is peer pressure and just plain tournament pressure. Brown's wife, Deb, said, "I was good until the last four holes, then I started to have a panic attack. My stomach hurt and my heart was pounding."
It didn't help her nerves that Brown had to make a 9-foot putt for par 4 on No. 15, having escaped knee-high fescue. She was really worried when her husband hit a provisional ball from the tee on the par-5 16th because he thought his wayward drive might have been lost in the trees. Deb was more relieved than the golfer when she saw that his first ball was in plain sight and that he had a shot.
He made par, and needed it to beat Oguri, a Huntington resident who has played more than 200 rounds on the Red (which made a smashing debut under new superintendent Andy Wilson, who replaced his old boss, Craig Currier when the latter moved to Glen Oaks). Oguri nearly holed out on 14 and lipped out his putts on 16, 17 and 18.
"I knew I was close. All I could do was play well," Oguri said, alluding to the fact there are no leader boards at the Long Island Open.
Brown didn't know where he stood, either. His assistant Jeff Pratt, who caddied in the afternoon round, told him, "Just play your own game. Don't try to change anything." His two other assistants, Anthony Cancro and Jon Eichner, both had helped refine his swing all week.
So they will get to share the trophy, as will the Tam O'Shanter members. That roll includes Islanders general manager Garth Snow, a fellow New England expatriate and occasional opponent in matches. Said Brown: "Garth is going to need a few more shots now."