U.S. SENIOR AMATEUR
2015 Runner-Up Brandes Enjoying a Eugene Homecoming August 24, 2018 | Eugene, Ore. By David Shefter, USGA

Tom Brandes has had the U.S. Senior Amateur at Eugene C.C. circled on his calendar since the announcement four years ago. (USGA/Chris Keane)

U.S. Senior Amateur Home

Tom Brandes pulled into Marist High School on Thursday and couldn’t believe his eyes.

“They paved the parking lot,” said Brandes, a member of the private catholic school’s second graduating class in 1974. “It was gravel and dirt [back then].”

Since arriving on Tuesday night for the 64th U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Eugene Country Club, Brandes, who turned 62 on Saturday, has experienced quite a few flashbacks. Since leaving the area to attend Seattle University in the fall of 1974, the Bellevue, Wash., resident has only returned on a few occasions – a 10-year high school reunion and two Pacific Northwest Golf Association events, in 2001 and 2011.

In all three cases, he didn’t stick around long enough to take a trip down memory lane.

This week, with wife Susan in tow, Brandes played tourist guide during breaks from his practice sessions. In fact, this U.S. Senior Amateur was circled on his competitive calendar even before he earned a three-year exemption for being the 2015 runner-up. Despite that defeat to Chip Lutz at Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Brandes knew his spot this week was locked up.

So he carefully crafted an itinerary. On Wednesday, he drove past his childhood home, visited the hardscrabble nine-hole municipal course where he first swung a club (Laurelwood) and dined at one of his favorite Italian restaurants (Mazzi’s), a place he didn’t think was still in business until he Googled it before leaving Washington. He also took Susan to Taylor’s Bar & Grill, a popular pub near the University of Oregon campus. When he was 18, Brandes played on a club soccer team sponsored by Taylor’s.

On Friday, he ran into Chris Gaughn, the recently retired superintendent at Eugene Country Club who also happens to be a Marist alum. Brandes was in the same graduating class with Gaughn’s older brother, Jeff.

“When we saw Eugene Country Club on the schedule, I literally said to myself, ‘Wow, I have to somehow get there,’” said Brandes. “And the next year, I was the runner-up and I looked up the exemptions and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I am in.’ The stars lined up.”

Brandes discovered golf through childhood friends. His father, who worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, didn’t play. So he borrowed clubs and shot 61 for nine holes.

Soccer was Brandes’ first love, but it was a fall sport. Tired of playing baseball, Brandes decided to try out for Marist’s golf team as a freshman. On Tuesdays, Marist had playing privileges at Eugene Country Club and one day on the range, the club’s pro, Wendell Wood, saw Brandes hitting balls. He told Brandes, “Just go play, kid.” A year later, he helped Marist qualify for the state championship.

But when soccer got shifted to the spring, Brandes, then a junior, was forced to make a decision and he chose soccer. It infuriated the school’s golf coach, but at the time, Brandes equated playing on the golf team with being a member of the band.

It wasn’t until a college knee injury finally caught up with his body in the late 1980s that Brandes turned his attention back to golf. In 1990 at the age of 34, he qualified for his first of 20 USGA championships, the U.S. Mid-Amateur. He has since become one of the most decorated amateurs in Washington. He is a six-time Pacific Northwest Golf Association and seven-time Washington State Golf Association senior player of the year. He’s qualified for five U.S. Senior Opens and was the runner-up in the 2013 British Senior Amateur (by one stroke to George Zahringer at Royal Aberdeen). That was a special week because his teenage son, Peter, served as his caddie.

He represented Washington in four USGA Men’s State Team Championships, including the finale in 2016, and qualified for the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. In 2015, he was inducted into the PNGA Hall of Fame.

All of this without ever taking a formal golf lesson.

“[Seattle native and noted instructor] Jim McLean and I are friends,” said Brandes. “His dad (Chet) was a member at my old club (Rainier Country Club). Jim always told me I wouldn’t know what to tell you except go practice and putt. I have what I call a caddie swing. It’s a swing you develop through watching good players swing.”

Having competed at Eugene Country Club in the 2001 PNGA Amateur and 2011 PNGA Cup, a team event involving players from British Columbia, Idaho, Washington and Oregon, as well as playing the course for his two high school seasons, Brandes said not much has changed in terms of the layout.

“The only thing is they’ve grown the rough up,” said Brandes.

Brandes has tried not to make too much of the homecoming because he wants his focus on the U.S. Senior Amateur. When his championship concludes – and he hopes that will be Thursday with him hoisting the trophy – he and Susan will drive up the McKenzie Pass to play Tokatee Golf Club, a public course owned by Eugene Country Club member Larry Giustina and another layout from his high school days. The trip will conclude with a round at Royal Oaks in Vancouver, Wash., a course he’s mentioned to his wife for the last 30 years.

But no matter what transpires at Eugene Country Club, this has been a special week for Brandes.

A USGA title would just be the icing.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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