Its 9am on the 26th of December . St Stephens Day here in Ireland. I look out the window and it is absolutely bucketing down. A day in the pub watching a super day of horse racing and sport was on the cards. Then i can hear Bobby’s voice in my head “Well Pro. Get the wets on. Lets go hit a few ” So i got changed and hopped in the car and drove the twenty minutes from Balbriggan to Bettystown. I got the wets on and strolled over to the practice ground in Laytown and Bettystown Golf Club where i learned so much over the years from the great man. It was a cold and wet day but i was able to get a productive couple of hours practice in, despite the inclement conditions. I felt like i had a purpose again. I felt alive.
This is what i used to do all the time. Grind it out. There wasn’t many others out practicing today i thought. I started to remember this is how i used to think. Mentally these type of thoughts would give you little victories in your own mind. All them little victories added up would lead to big victories. The last 15-18 months i have not had many of them small little victories in my own mind. I certainly had not worked as hard on my game as i had in previous years and the results have shown that. Yes I’m busy in work and studying for a masters and I’m very lucky and thankful of that but there was still time to work on my game. It could be too wet or too windy. Some reason not really good enough for me not to go hit a few. As Bobby said “A little soft” . But maybe i just didn’t have a purpose.
I first heard of RJ Browne at the age of 17 from my best friend Ian Griffin who was coached by Bobby in Gormanston College. Ian had a fine game. He hit it long and straight off the tee and hit long irons that would take flags out from 200 yards. Meanwhile i was a 5 handicap and had a golf swing which looked like it was killing snakes in a telephone box. But in my defence i had only been playing for two years and i had learned how to play from Jack Nicklaus books i had loaned from the local library. Not really an ideal long term athletic development plan but that was about to change. Other pupils of Bobbys all seemed to be great ball strikers. Great drivers of the ball and fine exponents of the long irons. I wanted that.
I called Bobby up and booked a lesson. So off i went on foot from my house with the clubs on my back. Golf bags were heavy back then. It was a mile walk from my house to the station. A ten minute train ride from Balbriggan train station to Laytown train station. Then it was a 3 mile walk to the golf club in Bettystown. When i look back at it now i must have been stone cold mad or maybe just one determined young fellow. Many of the walks were in the driving rain and dead into the wind. A great wind for the practice ground in the golf club though!
Bobby and i hit it off from the word go. We shared the same first name and same Initials in our first and second name (RJ) and i loved that. He treated everybody the same no matter who they were but he could sense my enthusiasm and that i was keen to improve and he admired that.
Lessons with Bobby toughened me up. I remember one occasion he noticed that i had not done much work from the previous lesson. I told him i couldn’t practice due to the golf course being closed in Balbriggan. ” No such thing as couldn’t ! Whats wrong with the beach in Balbriggan? Perfect to hit balls off” So i practiced on the hard sand of the beach for many a winters day in Balbriggan. Got me in trouble with some of the locals but i didn’t care. He knew my flat swing at the time would have to get more on plane to strike a ball crisply off the sand. He always said to me that you could always work on your game no matter where or what the conditions were.
After one of our first lessons he left me on the practice ground to hit a few more while he walked back to the pro shop. I think i hit about twenty shots. I was pretty happy. I have it sussed i thought. So i picked up my tightly bunched group of balls and headed in. I got to the shop and he roared ” What are you doing back in here already, Get back out there you couldn’t have it by now” So off i went for another couple of hours. He was drilling a work ethic into me. Which was great because i loved working hard at my game.
Sometimes when we are young we don’t realise the life lessons we are getting at that current time. Lessons were not always plain sailing with Bobby. One morning he was trying to get me to do something with my backswing but i was having trouble understanding what he wanted me to do. He wasn’t happy i could tell. He took a long deep sigh and turned away and off he went walking a full sixty yards towards the fence which separated the practice ground from the beach. I was thinking he had finally lost the plot and i was getting a right jab to the left arm on his return. But he walked the sixty yards back and cool as a cucumber explained it to me in another way which i was able to understand. Looking back there was two lessons in that for me. First of all it woke me up and got me concentrating better. Second of all that walk for him was clearing his head and calming himself down. There has been times myself when coaching when clients are not doing things how id like and sometimes you need a few seconds to gather your thoughts. Taking a walk or a drink of water helps a lot in that regard. Sometimes you need a few moments to clear your head and calm down.
Sadly Bobby passed away yesterday on Christmas Day after fighting with cancer for many years. I will miss him very much. I was lucky enough to spend an hour with him a few weeks ago in the hospital just the two of us having a chat and we both knew we were saying goodbye. He told me he was proud of me with what i had achieved but then gave out to me for not winning more! That was typical of Bobby. He would give you confidence and then challenge you. ” Hold your finish, Look like a golfer. ” Almost every lesson he would say that to me. He thought me how to play the low stinger and called it my million dollar shot. Then he would challenge me to hit low fades and low draws. I had forgotten how to hit that shot until recently but I’m back working hard on it again with another top coach John Kelly.
Its amazing when someone dear to your heart passes away. It really has given me a purpose to work hard at my golf again. As i get older and learn more about life i believe that having a purpose is key to succeeding in something. No matter what it is. I feel i had lost that purpose somewhat in my golf the last couple of years and thats part of life. It happens. But I know that day in the hospital when he was saying goodbye to me that he was also challenging me. “Get back out there and work hard at it! There is plenty more wins in you”
I feel like i have my purpose back again now thanks to my old friend. I hope i can keep it for a good while because when you have a purpose sometimes good things can happen. In my opinion The word “Legend” is thrown out too easy these days. But the great Bobby Browne was a legend of Irish Golf. I will miss our chats and his words of wisdom. But what he did for my golf and for my life i will be forever thankful. Thank you pro.