Mike Brannan, who in 1971 became the then-youngest champion in U.S. Junior Amateur history and later represented the USA on the 1977 Walker Cup Team, died on Jan. 8 in Alamo, Calif., of complications from cancer. He was 57.
Brannan, who grew up in Salinas, Calif., enjoyed an outstanding amateur career, beginning with his 1971 Junior Amateur triumph at the age of 15 years, 8 months.
His record stood for 20 years until Tiger Woods, at 15 years, 6 months, surpassed it. Brannan was the equivalent of 12 over par for his six matches that year at Manor Country Club in Rockville, Md., capped by his victory over Robert Steele, of Dunkirk, N.Y., in the 18-hole championship match, 4 and 3. The field included medalist Curtis Strange, a future two-time U.S. Open champion who lost in the first round, and semifinalist and future PGA Tour pro Mike Reid. Reid would later become a college teammate of Brannan’s at Brigham Young University.
Brannan was eliminated in the first round the following year in his title defense, but in 1973, he again advanced to the championship match. He defeated future U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson in the semifinals at Singing Hills Country Club in El Cajon, Calif., before falling in 20 holes in the championship match to another future PGA Tour player, Jack Renner. It was the first championship match in Junior Amateur history to go extra holes. Brannan missed a chance to become the first multiple Junior Amateur champion when he missed a 3½-foot putt on the 18th hole. He holed a 30-foot birdie on the 19th hole, only to be matched by Renner’s 9-footer. Renner’s par at the 20th hole sealed the win.
|Last spring, Mike Brannan won the Northern California Golf Association Senior Championship. (Courtesy NCGA)
Brannan had a memorable summer season in 1973, winning the first of his two California State Amateur titles and the Pacific Coast Amateur at Desert Forest in suburban Phoenix.
He went on to play for BYU, where he was a four-time All-American. In 1975, he won the Utah Open while at BYU.
In 1977, Brannan advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur, losing to eventual runner-up Doug Fischesser at Aronimink Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia, and helped the USA Walker Cup Team to a 16-8 win over Great Britain and Ireland at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club. He had a 1-2 record in the Match, teaming with Jay Sigel to win a Saturday foursomes match.
Brannan played professionally on the PGA Tour for five years (1979-83), finishing runner-up at the 1979 Houston Open. In the late 1980s, Brannan became a reinstated amateur and a full-time equipment representative for Ping. He qualified for the 1989 U.S. Amateur at Merion Golf Club, where he eliminated two Walker Cup players on the same day – qualifying medalist Eoghan O’Connell of Ireland and David Eger of the USA – before losing to eventual champion Chris Patton in the semifinals. A year later at Cherry Hills Country Club, Brannan advanced to the quarterfinals, where Eger eliminated him.
Brannan also competed in three U.S. Opens, tying for 22nd in 1982 at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the same course where he won his two California Amateurs. He played in the 1978 Masters as an amateur, receiving his invitation by being a member of the 1977 Walker Cup Team.
“His fluid swing was a thing of beauty,” Ping chairman and CEO John Solheim told Golfweek, adding that he has probably played more golf with Brannan than anyone. “I was always so impressed by what he achieved at the amateur level. He was a quiet competitor who usually came out on top.”
Last spring while battling his illness, Brannan captured the Northern California Golf Association’s Senior Championship at Spyglass Hill in Pebble Beach. Solheim said that Brannan never mentioned his illness at that event.
“He was always humble about his achievements,” said Solheim. “Mike leaves a tremendous golf legacy, but he will be remembered for his generous, gentle ways.”
Brannan leaves his wife, Shelley, and two sons, Kyle and Chase.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.