Life Experience Helps Foster, Brown Appreciate Amateur Opportunity
August 18, 2015 | Olympia Fields, Ill.
By Stuart Hall
Mack Foster and Michael Brown Jr. were once in a similar position to many in this week’s 312-player U.S. Amateur Championship field. They were in their late teens and early 20s, gifted in golf and ambitiously eyeing a lucrative professional career.
As they aged, though, reality showed itself in various forms.
For Foster, 31, of Knoxville, Ill., the scorecard dictated his fate.
"I was fortunate enough to know a lot of guys who played on tour,” said Foster, who was an NCAA Division III All-American at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. "Watching those guys move the ball around golf courses, they were shooting 62 when I was shooting 66. And they were guys who weren't on top of the leader board every week. They were fighting to make their card every year.
“So it was one of those perspective things. And right out of college I decided to start a family and that was my priority over golf."
Brown, 42, of Maple Shade, N.J., actually turned professional out of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and bounced between professional mini-tours in Canada and South America. Three times he went to the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, but failed to earn his card.
By 2005, after seven years of playing professionally, he was $30,000 in debt.
“Looking back, had I played better or if I was good enough to go further, I probably wouldn’t have been in that position,” Brown said. “It was time to get out. It was a sad reality and nobody likes to think of themselves like that, but I just could not play at that level."
The competitive spirit still burns intensely in Foster and Brown, which is why each made qualifying for this championship at Olympia Fields Country Club a priority.
“I love the adrenaline rush of coming out and testing myself against a lot of great amateurs,” Foster said. “I’m 31 and I’m an old man out here. These college kids have grown up with swing coaches. I’ve never been blessed to be in that position. So I knew it was going to be a true test of where my game is at.”
In preparation for this U.S. Amateur, Foster played an occasional tournament and hit a few more buckets of balls to go along with competing in his weekly Tuesday night nine-hole league that includes his father, his brothers and a few friends.
Brown, who became a reinstated amateur in 2007, geared his tournament schedule and hours of practice with this week in mind.
“As an amateur, it’s the highest level,” he said. “I play a lot of tournaments every summer and a lot of them are important, but in the end it’s just in preparation for this. So it’s a big deal to me; it’s a big deal to all of these guys.”
Foster, a seed salesman for Pioneer Hi-Bred, has a flexible work schedule that allows him to play 18 holes in the morning or sneak out for a lunchtime practice session. Often, though, other priorities take precedence.
During the peak spring and fall seasons, Foster said his phone “starts ringing at about 5:30 or 6 in the morning and does not quit until 11 at night.” He also has a 4½-year-old daughter, Dakota, and a second child due on Christmas Day.
“I’m not sure how my lifestyle will change when the second child comes along, but my wife has been extremely great in allowing me to compete,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “Plus, she knows that this game was my first love.”
Brown appreciates Foster’s passion for the game because he is of the same ilk. When he left the professional ranks, he opened a bakery, the Philly Soft Pretzel Factory, that allows him to turn his attention to golf by noon on most days.
Though Brown has never advanced past the first round of match play in three previous USGA championships, he admits a return to the professional ranks is a distant possibility.
“I feel the same way as I did when I was playing professionally,” he said. “I always want to play at the highest level that I am capable of and whether it be for money or the love of the game. I can’t step away from it at all.”
Stuart Hall is a North Carolina-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.