Quieter pace suits Mark Brown to a tee
All things going to plan, Mark Brown will be playing in the United States or Japan in 2014.
Despite earning almost $2 million in prizemoney in three years on the European Tour, Brown, the 2008 Johnnie Walker Classic champion, has put a line through golf's most global tour after plying his trade on it from 2009 until the end of last year, playing almost 100 tournaments and suffering from burnout.
Brown has had a quieter schedule after losing his European card last year and now he is reaping the rewards.
The 37-year-old from Wellington is third on the PGA Tour of Australasia order of merit with winnings of A$114,000 (NZ$145,200) and ninth in OneAsia with US$104,000 (NZ$127,500) - not bad considering he has essentially halved his playing schedule this year and was able to base himself back in New Zealand.
He has won recently, too, at the Tauranga Open on the Charles Tour.
A similar schedule beckons next year - though he may get the odd start in Europe - before he eyes qualifying school for the Japan Tour and the second-tier Web.com Tour in the US next year, which provides an avenue to the PGA Tour.
Depending on where he finishes in the Australasian order of merit, he should have exemptions through to the final stage of both tour schools. This week he said he hoped his future would lie there.
"I really enjoyed Europe but I didn't tend to play well there; I made most of my money in the Asian events [he won successive tournaments in India in 2008] so maybe it's time for a change," said Brown, who signalled earlier this year that he might try to regain his European Tour card.
"It's such a big schedule on that tour that you feel you should be playing every week but in hindsight I just got burnt out and didn't work hard enough in the off-weeks.
"This year has just been so different. When I've had weeks off, and I've had quite a few, I've worked really hard then buttoned off a bit ahead of tournaments.
"I've played 12 or 13 tournaments but every one of them has been good - it's the right approach for me.
"I will probably have a pop at both [Japan and the US] next year but the ultimate aim is PGA Tour.
"Even though I'm a little bit older at 37, having another quieter year next year I don't think will hurt my chances. If I work hard in the gym, it will probably be a year or two gained in the long term. I've shown this year that I can still play well doing a shorter schedule in Australia and Asia."
Failure to keep his European Tour cardmay have been a blessing in disguise for Brown. He's refreshed, physically and mentally, and it triggered a rekindling of his long-time partnership with coach Mal Tongue.
The pair had parted ways in 2009.
"Everything," he replied to a question about the significance of hooking up with Tongue again.
"I got myself into a bit of a mess playing in Europe. I didn't have any direction. Starting again with him in January fixed everything, but also the people around me now are excellent."
He doesn't like to use the word "team" but Brown uses Dean Eggers for management and David Galbraith for the mental side of things and physical trainers in Auckland.
They've all been "huge" for him.
Finishing off the year is crucial for Brown. After the New Zealand Open, there are two A$1.25 million tournaments in Australia (the Open and PGA Championship) and finishing high up the Australasian tour order of merit brings with it good rewards.
"For a reasonably small tour, they have good exemptions for next year, particularly if you finish in the top two, I think you get the British Open and perhaps a couple of World Golf Championship events.
"Finishing well on the Aussie money list, I'll also get final stage Japan Tour school and US tour school next year."
Brown is approaching 40 but shows no sign of packing in a game that has brought him highs and lows.
"I think in this game persistence is everything. It took me a long time to play decently and win, well into my 30s.
"I'm not quite as old as Cambo [Michael Campbell] but as long as you keep physically fresh and work hard, you can play for a long time and I'm still enjoying it a lot.
"I love the competition and it's a great lifestyle when you're playing well."
Brown is handily placed after the first round of the New Zealand Open, achieving an even-par 72 in tricky conditions at Clearwater yesterday.
- © Fairfax NZ News