Unknown journeyman Sam Brazel shows nerves of steel then breaks down in tears after stunning Hong Kong Open win
Ranked 480 in the world, the Aussie veteran birdies final hole to see off Ryder Cup star Rafa Cabrera Bello
For Sam Brazel, golf has been grind not glamour.
The little-known journeyman won the UBS Hong Kong Open on the final hole on Sunday after a seemingly nerveless display that belied his world ranking of 480.
It has been a long road of slog and toil in the game’s boondocks for the 37-year-old, who has been through dark times in his personal life after his partner died of bacterial meningitis while on holiday in 2009.
He broke down when asked if he had a message for the friends and family who have been with him all the way. “Thanks for all the support,” he began before his voice cracked and the tears started running. “Many years ...” he choked. “It’s been a bit of a tough ride, but we’re here ...”
It was Brazel’s first win of any significance. He only made it to the Asian Tour in 2013 after a career spent grinding around minor events in Australia. The US$330,330 first prize dwarfed his total career earnings.
“I’m still in a bit of shock,” he said after a win that no-one – not himself and certainly not his caddie who was worried about making his 8pm flight back to Malaysia – could have predicted.
“Never won a four-round tournament, this is my first,” he said. “I learned my trade playing pro-ams back in Australia and I think that’s been a great grounding, learning to grind out every shot every day and it’s held me in good stead.
“I certainly didn’t expect to be here this afternoon, but I’m thoroughly impressed that I am.
“Hong Kong Open champion – it sounds bloody great!” he said. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Brazel, playing in only his 17th European Tour event, battled it out with Rafa Cabrero Bello, 33 in the world and a star of the Ryder Cup, World Cup and Olympics this year, and sealed it in sensational style on the last.
Both men were tied on 12-under par going down 18, a par four playing closer to a par five on Sunday thanks to a fiendish pin position on the front right edge by the water.
Brazel flighted an iron to 10 feet. Cabrera Bello could only get to 15 and left his birdie putt an inch to the side.
Only one player had birdied the 18th all day long – from 67 attempts. Brazel stepped up and slotted his putt to become the second – and completely change his life.
Several fellow players from the Asian Tour, including Order of Merit winner and fellow Queenslander Scott Hend, stormed the green to douse him in beer and champagne.
They seemed even happier than the man himself, a measure of the esteem in which the soft-spoken humble veteran is held by his peers.
“Awesome. You beauty,” said Hend, who also won his maiden European Tour title here – though the field was much weaker in 2014.
“We went out and watched him, then didn’t want to jinx him on 17, so we came in, watched his tee shot and second on 18 – then went to find some champagne.
“He’s been a journeyman and it’s a life-changing thing for Braz. He’s a great guy, plays great golf, and it’s about time he opened the door and got through it. We’re so happy for him.”
The final day was tense and tight, with Brazel holding off a chasing pack including 11 former European Tour winners, reigning Masters champion Danny Willett among them.
Brazel, whose previous best finish on the European Tour was tied 11th, seemed utterly nerveless. The reality was different.
“To be honest I was a bit of a nervous wreck,” he said. “I’ve got some good procedures going, just smiling and trying to have fun, and it seems to be working.
“I might have seemed calm on the outside, but I’m not sure I was that calm on the inside.”
Brazel’s plans for 2017 now require major adjustment, as he won a two-year exemption to the big-money European Tour.
And his immediate plans needed some tinkering too, with a celebratory party ahead that was some 25 years or more in the making .
“I was supposed to be on a 9.30pm flight, but I don’t think I’ll be making that...”
He could certainly afford a last-minute replacement.