To listen to Bermuda Run’s Zach Brown tell you how he recently won “just another tournament,” you can hear the humility that one of his coaches, John Buczek, boasts about.
When you’ve won 80 or so tournaments during your career, maybe it was “just another tournament.”
But it wasn’t.
Brown won the Tri-County Amateur Golf Championship held at the Country Club of the Crystal Coast in Pine Knoll Shores September 21-22, defeating a field of 34 players by shooting 70-74 and winning by seven shots over 39-year old Jeff Allen, the reigning North Carolina Mid-Amateur champion.
“It’s pretty incredible story,” said Chip Chamberlin, PGA Director of Golf at the course. “They (the Brown family) are members here so he knows the course, but that was simply amazing play from a 12-year old. He played from the tips just like everyone else.”
Brown’s two-day total of 144 set a new tournament record, and he became the youngest winner in the event’s three-year history.
It was the first time Brown played in a tournament with adults, the first competition he played against a field other than junior golfers.
Not bad for a kid who just turned 12 in June.
Was it his best win?
“Probably so,” Zach said. “I really haven’t had time to think much about it, but because I was playing against older men, I’d definitely say it’s up there.”
His father, Mike, agreed.
“I’m not normally at a loss for words, but I don’t even know what to say,” Mike Brown said. “As his father, I’m extremely happy for him and proud of him. But like he told me afterwards, ‘Dad, it’s just another tournament. Now I need to start thinking about the next one.’”
Zach’s love affair with the game goes back to when he was 2 years old, when he vaguely recalls swinging a club for the first time.
He took his first lesson at the age of 4 from Steve Forrest at the Country Club Golf Center in Winston-Salem, and played his first tournament when he was 6 and shot a 123 in an event at Duke University Golf Club.
Zach remembers getting a big trophy and being so excited that he ran and took a flying leap into his father and knocked him to the ground.
“Fell right on his butt,” Zach said with a laugh. “I’ve done that twice to him.”
Zach’s life has been surrounded by golf. His family lives in a house just off the 10th hole at Bermuda Run Country Club. One of his grandfathers, Bill Burnette, owns Lake Louise Country Club in Mocksville and Hyland Golf Club in Southern Pines.
Zach’s father Mike earned four letters playing golf as a walk-on at Wake Forest in the mid 1980s, and Mike’s mother won the Big 4 tournament for Wake Forest in 1954.
Despite the lineage, Mike Brown never wanted to push golf on Zach.
He was very cautious about starting Zach in the game after being a little too pushy with Zach’s older sister Katie once.
“We played in a father-daughter event once, and I ruined her,” Brown said. “I was determined not to do that to Zach if he started to show interest. And once he did, I really didn’t need to do much of anything. He has loved the game from an early age, and we have supported him through everything. He really has a lot of God-given ability and he loves to practice. I mean, he really loves to practice, maybe more than he loves to play.”
Buczek, the Director of Instruction at the Wake Forest Golf Academy, has been coaching Zach for about three years now.
He has seen plenty of progress in Zach’s physical skills as well as his mental ones.
“He’s a young gentleman in every sense of the word, and that’s the most important thing in this game,” Buczek said. “He has a tremendous record and great credentials already. He’s a terrific player with lots of talent who I would say is very capable on and off the course. He’s got good mechanics, he can hit the ball a long way for someone his age, and his short game is excellent in all facets – putting, chipping and pitching. And he knows his improvement is a never-ending process, and he enjoys that challenge. He also realizes that there are a lot of kids his age out there working just as hard as he is, so he knows he needs to keep working. ”
Mike Brown’s ties to the storied Wake Forest golf program run deep. His coach during his playing days, Jesse Haddock, is among Zach’s biggest supporters.
“Coach Haddock, he is as proud of Zach as he is of any of his former players,” Brown said.
Mike still counts members of the Deacons 1986 NCAA Championship team – Billy Andrade, Chris Kite, Tim Straub, Len Mattiace, among others – as some of his closest friends.
Zach occasionally exchanges emails with 2012 U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson, who is his favorite player. Bill Haas knows him by name.
And so does another former Wake Forest player.
When he was in first grade at Summit School, Zach decided to do his project on famous Americans on Arnold Palmer.
A few years later, while Zach was playing in a junior tournament, one of Palmer’s grandchildren, Will Weirs, noticed that Zach had an “Arnie’s Army” head cover.
Weirs was taken aback that someone as young as Zach would know much about who Palmer was, and the plans were set in motion to arrange a meeting.
It didn’t hurt that Mike Brown’s parents – who both played sports at Wake Forest in the 1950s – were friends of Palmer.
“He flew his jet up to Winston for something and we met him at the airport,” Mike Brown said. “We spent about 30 minutes with him. Before we left, he told Zach that if he was ever in the Orlando area or Latrobe (Pennsylvania), to get in touch.”
Not long after that, Zach made his way to Orlando and got to hang out with “The King” at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.
“We spent about 30 minutes together in his office, and that was really neat,” Zach said. “He had a big dog named Mulligan at the door. You have to take your hat off when you walk in. We talked about golf and what I wanted to do, and then he offered me something to drink. I went to open this really big refrigerator, and it was stocked with “Arnold Palmer” drinks (a lemonade and iced-tea mix) as well as a bunch of sunscreen sitting on top of it. I almost couldn’t believe what I was doing. Spending time with him will always be one of my favorite memories.”
Zach still has a lifetime of more memories to be made both on and off the course.
Consider the 80-90 tournaments Mike estimates Zach has won, or the 64 he shot when he was 10 – the lowest round he has shot in a tournament – that started with a double bogey and ended with birdies on 10 of his final 15 holes.
Maybe some will come from his basketball talents, as Zach – who shoots left-handed but plays golf right-handed – is hopeful he will make the junior varsity team this season at his school.
“I’m committed to my golf, but I still love basketball too,” he said. “I love golf and I’ve had a lot of great people help me get to where I am. I’ve met a lot of people who I will probably be friends with the rest of my life. I’m having fun and being careful not to burn myself out, so I’ll take periodic breaks every now and then.”
Buczek marvels at the wisdom Zach shows.
“The opportunity to compete has helped him develop his composure,” Buczek said. “The direction his family has given him has certainly helped. Take that talent, family commitment, and maybe a little coaching, and you have a 12-year old with lots of potential.”