UK sophomore makes a big move in Kentucky’s PGA event. ’Just like Momma drew it up’

Photo slideshow: PGA Barbasol Championship Pro-Am at Keene Trace Golf Club

Amateurs and professionals tee off in the PGA Barbasol Championship Pro-Am Wednesday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.
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Amateurs and professionals tee off in the PGA Barbasol Championship Pro-Am Wednesday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.

When University of Kentucky sophomore-to-be Cullan Brown received an invitation to compete in the PGA Barbasol Championship, he set a fairly moderate goal for himself — making the cut.

“Anything beyond that is just a bonus,” Brown, who is the last remaining amateur in the Barbasol field, said before the tournament began.

Brown made the cut. In Friday’s second round, the Eddyville native and Lyon County graduate posted seven birdies on his way to shooting a 68, moving him onto the right side of the bubble at 4-under-par. Now, he’s making the most of his proverbial bonus.

As one of the last players to make the cut, Brown began the third round at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville early Saturday morning. By the time his round was over he’d climbed from 68th to 44th on the leaderboard, making seven more birdies on his way to a 67, moving him to 9-under for the tournament.

“Like I said coming into this week, we were really unsure of how well the game would hold up, and I know I’m as or more surprised than anybody that it’s held up as well as it has,” said Brown. “It’s just unbelievable to get to be here and even more so to get to play to the level that I’m happening to play at.”

Brown caught fire in the middle of the front nine, birdieing five straight holes headed toward the turn. He cooled off a bit on the back, managing two more birdies through six holes. Then, things threatened to unravel.

Brown bogeyed No. 16 and got in big trouble on No. 17 when his second shot flew the green and rolled down a steep incline, giving him a tough uphill chip with little room for error. His third shot ran past the pin and settled on the fringe of the green nearly 20 feet away. A second straight bogey looked likely.

But Brown sank the putt, prompting a chorus of cheers from the sizable group of spectators surrounding the green.

“Just like Momma drew it up,” Emily Brown, Cullan’s mother, said to a fellow onlooker after the shot.

Cullan went on to hit a beautiful drive and approach shot on No. 18 and nearly sank a 12-foot putt for birdie. He settled for par and headed to the clubhouse with a huge grin after waving to an appreciative crowd.

Emily Brown said that after the stress of waiting around Friday night to see if Cullan would make the cut, Saturday’s round was pure excitement.

“It was fun today. Today the words are exciting and fun,” Emily said with a laugh. “The first day, the first tee shot was stressful. Then, waiting last night was brutal.”

Emily said the gravity of the moment seemed to affect her much more than Cullan.

“He has always been calm and relaxed,” she said. “Right before his first tee shot on the second day he was sending a former high-school teacher at home a text saying ‘Hey, here’s two new country songs you need to download.’”

In a sport where the most successful professionals thrive on routine, Cullan Brown’s inherent ability to remain relaxed should serve him well. A kink was thrown into his routine on Saturday morning when the caddie he’d used the first two rounds had to be replaced because of the cumulative effect of working in the sweltering heat for two days. Cullan’s father, Rodney Brown, stepped in to save the day.

“I had a great caddie the first two days ... he was phenomenal, he just got a little too hot yesterday so he had to sub out,” Cullan Brown said. “Dad was great today, he did a fantastic job. He carried the bag and had everything where it needed to be and let me do the rest. He was great.”

Rodney Brown said his job on Saturday was relatively easy.

“Figuring out the numbers and what he needs to do is very easy for Cullan, so I was just a pack mule today,” said Rodney. “He got hot and you could tell he was rolling. It was almost easy for him. Once he gets in a groove, after he hits a shot we just talk about hunting or fishing while we walk down the fairway until he gets to his ball, then he’ll just refocus for a minute and have at it.”

Jackpot Sunday

The professional golfers aren’t the only ones who have a shot at a big payday at the Barbasol Championship on Sunday.

Organizers are holding a raffle to benefit Caddie127, the charitable arm of the tournament. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Keene Trace Golf Club’s Champions Course on Sunday, or online at any time before the tournament ends, when a winner will be drawn.

The raffle winner will split the proceeds with the official charities of Caddie127, which include the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Kentucky Children’s Hospital, Refuge for Women, All God’s Children, and the Woodhill Community Center. The winner does not have to be present at the time of the drawing.

Josh Sullivan has worked at the Herald-Leader for more than 10 years in multiple capacities, including as a news assistant, page designer, copy editor and sports reporter. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Lexington native.