Spokane man links up with Australian to caddy at Open
As Randy Brawner likes to explain, everybody has different interests.
Some like collecting, others crocheting. Some paint, others tinker with model trains. Some simply enjoy spending their spare time spoiling grandkids.
With Brawner, however, it’s all about experiencing interesting things.
That’s why the longtime local resident and golf enthusiast took the gamble of a lifetime earlier this year and turned it into a trip to this year’s British Open in Carnoustie, Scotland, which starts Thursday, where he will caddy for Australian upstart Ewan Porter.
“I’m just fascinated with really interesting experiences, that’s what I love,” said Brawner, 48, a financial advisor in Spokane, who also serves as president of the Rypien Foundation, an organization that assists families who are battling childhood cancer.
“Some people like fancy cars, but that just doesn’t do it for me. My deal is I love exciting experiences.”
It was to that end that Brawner got involved in his latest odyssey back in early April after hearing the story of Porter, a 24-year-old struggling professional golfer and native of Sydney, New South Wales, who auctioned himself off on eBay after qualifying for this year’s Open.
Porter, who made the field for the first time by putting together rounds of 66-69 to win the Australasian qualifier by three strokes, was looking for financial backing when he offered the highest bidder on eBay’s Internet auction site a chance to carry his bags at Carnoustie.
Brawner heard about Porter’s plan on television and made a bid.
“I took my dad to the British Open at St. Andrews in 1990 and experienced it for the first time,” Brawner said. “But now I’m thinking, ‘Holy Cow, the British Open again at Carnoustie and I’m inside the ropes?’
“It just doesn’t get any better than that.”
At the suggestion of a friend much more familiar with how eBay operates, he waited until just a few seconds of the auction deadline before submitting what he considered a “substantial” offer.
“They confirmed my bid, and I was holding my breath,” recalled Brawner. “By then, the auction’s over and all of sudden this thing pops up and says you don’t have a PayPal account. I didn’t even know what a PayPal account was, or that I had to have one.”
Disappointed, Brawner thought about dropping his dream, but reconsidered after his friend suggested he send Porter an e-mail explaining what happened and asking him to keep his bid in mind in case the winning offer didn’t work out.
Brawner did just that, and two days later received an answer from Porter, who said he had opted, at the last second, to terminate the auction and would be more than willing to discuss the possibility of accepting Brawner’s offer.
The two corresponded for several days, with Porter admitting his need for financial assistance.
“He didn’t have a lot of money behind this,” Brawner said. “What he really wanted was enough money to be able to play, practice and concentrate on getting ready for this Open – his big break – without having to worry about finances.
“And, again, my bid wasn’t cheap.”
Naturally, Brawner was a bit skeptical of Porter at first. But early this spring he bought in completely after the Australian came to the United States and happened to end up in Scottsdale, Ariz., about the same time that local sports icon Mark Rypien, Brawner’s close friend and fellow co-founder of the Rypien Foundation, was scheduled to play in a member-guest tournament in the Scottsdale area.
Rypien, an accomplished golfer who plays in numerous celebrity events each year – usually with Brawner on his bag – made it a point to invite Porter to play with him in the practice round prior to the member-guest. It was a chance, Brawner said, to learn more about the young man in whom he was about to invest.
“Obviously, the guy could play,” Brawner said. “He wouldn’t have qualified if he couldn’t. But I was more interested in his character. Is he someone I really want to help out, or is he not a nice guy? Mark kind of did my due diligence for me down in Scottsdale, and after the tournament, he called and said, ‘The kid can absolutely play. And he’s a great person, as well.’
“So I wired the money down there that week.”
Brawner, who admitted he could have bought a nice car with the money he wired to Porter, then helped arrange to have him come to Spokane, where he spent several days playing golf with Rypien. While in the area, Porter was also was introduced to members of the Idaho Club, the former Hidden Lakes course in Sandpoint that is being redesigned by Jack Nickluas.
He even had an opportunity to get together, at the invitation of Idaho Club members, with Nicklaus last month when he made a stop at the course to see how his redesign effort was going.
Brawner was also at the social event and marveled at the way Nicklaus took Porter aside and advised him on what to expect at this first British Open.
“One thing Jack told him was just to take it all in,” Brawner said. “And I think that’s going to be part of my caddy position. Now that he and I have developed this relationship, the idea is when we’re on the course to just have some fun and help keep his mind off the game.
“On one hand, he has to be prepared for each shot, but in between it’s a matter of keeping him relaxed and loose – maybe with some chit-chat stories – and have fun with it. Otherwise, I think the stress and focus would wipe you out.”
In addition to living out his dream, Brawner hopes to bring additional exposure to the Rypien Foundation, which was established in memory of Rypien’s son, Andrew, who died from a brain tumor eight years ago at the age of three.
Donations to the Foundation are being solicited from members of the Idaho Club in the name of Porter, who has agreed to donate some of his proceeds to the organization.
Brawner left for Scotland on Wednesday and plans to hook up with Porter today or on Sunday and caddy for him during a couple of rounds prior to heading to Carnoustie. The idea, Brawner said, is to familiarize himself with Porter’s preferences on the golf course.
“Ewan has never had a full-time caddy,” Brawner said, “so he’s had to take care of everything – yardage, green contours and pin placements – by himself, and he’s used to that. For me to come in and overload him with a lot of stuff, that’s not going to be my role.
“My role will be to listen to him, listen to his yardages and make sure he’s not making a mistake. I want to learn more about his game, because this isn’t just a one-time deal. This is about a relationship that may last for a long time.”
And another entry that Brawner can add to his growing list of exciting and interesting experiences.