Photo slideshow: Troy Merritt wins rain-delayed Barbasol Championship in Kentucky
It would be an understatement to say Cullan Brown was not expecting the call.
“I had no idea,” UK’s sophomore golfer said Friday. “It was a true, complete surprise, no doubt.”
The Eddyville native was committed to going through the qualifying process to take a shot at playing in the PGA Tour Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville when he received a call last Monday informing him he had been granted a sponsor’s exemption to play as an amateur in the $3.5 million tournament.
“I am thankful for the chance and sure appreciate everything and everybody that was part of making it possible,” said Brown. “Would never want to leave that out.”
It’s both an honor and an opportunity for the 2016 KHSAA state champion from Lyon County who this time a year ago wasn’t even allowed to play golf. In February 2018, while in California to be fitted for a set of Titleist golf clubs, Brown played on a particularly dry course and suffered a fracture of the hook of the hamate bone in his left hand. Only he didn’t know that at the time.
“We think it kind of just got started that day out there on that golf course,” Brown said Friday. “It started as such a small fracture, it took us a long time, about six or eight weeks, to figure out what exactly it was. It’s so small, such a little bitty bone in your hand that it wasn’t showing up on the scan and that kind of thing. So we went along a long time thinking it was a pulled muscle, or a sprained muscle or some kind of minor issue.”
When the fracture finally presented itself, Brown underwent surgery in mid-May of last year. Twice he was cleared by doctors to start playing again, only to find the hand just wasn’t ready. Thus he missed the competitive fall portion of his freshman season at UK. “I didn’t hit a full shot until about Thanksgiving,” he said.
The forced layoff only made what Brown did in the spring that much more impressive. He earned All-SEC Freshman Team honors after posting a stroke average of 72.42 in eight collegiate events. He shot a low-round of 64.
“I was happy with the way I played in the spring,” he said. “There were certainly some times I felt I could have played better golf, but I’m sure there was a host of times when it could have been considerably worse than it was, especially given the abbreviated nature of the time we had to prepare for the season.”
He’s sort of in the same preparation boat for the Barbasol, having received the berth less than two weeks before the first round. But he does have a couple of home-field advantages.
He attended last year’s tournament to watch his friend Emma Talley play in the pro-am. The two grew up 5 miles from each other in Western Kentucky. A star at Caldwell County, Talley won the 2013 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Alabama, now plays on the LPGA Tour and helped guide Brown through junior golf.
“Our relationship with Emma and the Talleys as a whole has just been instrumental in us reaching the levels of success that I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to reach,” Brown said. “Coming up through the very early stages of junior golf, the Talleys were there to kind of guide us how to go through junior golf in such a way to set up successful college recruitment and then a successful college career, not to mention having a successful big-time junior career as well.”
Brown has not only played the Barbasol course, he’s won competitively on it; though this will be the first time he’s played it in a PGA event, or course.
“There’s going to be a host of fantastic people there, a lot of great hands to shake,” Brown said. “To be able to measure my game against some of the game’s very best to take a really honest look where I’m at compared to where I need or want to be, it should be the perfect opportunity.”
PGA Barbasol Championship
Where: The Champions Course at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville
When: July 18-21
Purse: $3.5 million
Defending champion: Troy Merritt
Website: BarbasolChampionship.com (for information about tickets, volunteer opportunities, event schedule, July 17 pro-am and more)
TV: All four rounds on the Golf Channel