Patrick Browne Jr., the New Orleans golf pro whose 23 national championships in the sport were even more remarkable because he earned them as a blind golfer, died Thursday. He was 84.
Browne, known as Pat, lost his sight in a car accident in 1966, when he was 32. He was a scratch golfer prior to his accident, a life-altering event which for many people would have ended any interest in or ability to continue the sport. For Browne, it gave him a new purpose, took him around the world to compete and also inspired many other golfers with similar challenges.
“I loved the game and I thought it was worth taking a chance to see if I could hit it again. I wanted to know if I could do it again and we did it and once I hit it solid, I was hooked again,” Browne said in an interview.
In the four decades that followed, Browne went on to become one of the most well-known and successful blind golfers in the world, with 70 blind golf victories worldwide and 23 United States Blind Golf Association national championships (including 20 in a row from 1978 to 1997).
Blind golfers like Browne are accompanied by a coach who positions the golfer and the ball on the course and even describes the action almost as a television commentator would. Browne’s first coach was his friend Henry Sarpy, who reintroduced him to the game of golf after his accident. A 2-handicap prior to losing his sight, Browne won his first national championship in 1975, with Sarpy as his coach.
“You’ll never hear me say that 'I' won a national championship. You’ll always hear that 'we' won because it’s a teamwork game. There should be two names on the trophy,” Browne said.
Browne’s coach for many years was Gerry Barousse. In 1990, Browne and Barousse played a nine-hole exhibition match with two-time U.S. Open champion Payne Stewart. Stewart was blindfolded the entire match and played with the aid of a coach. Stewart shot 62. Browne shot 42. Stewart later told a friend: “If I practiced every day I couldn’t beat Pat Browne.”
Browne and Barousse shot 85 at St. Andrews and 80 at Pinehurst, as well as recording the lowest ever nine holes of competitive blind golf, shooting an even par 36 on the back nine of the USBGA National Championship in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In addition to Barousse, Browne’s other coaches included Donald Doyle, David Clark and his son Patrick Browne III.
Browne had retired from golf within the past two years or so, according to his wife, Sherry Browne.
Last year, the United States Blind Golf Association voted to name its national trophy after Browne. He served as the group's president from 1974 to 1992.
Browne was also inducted into the group's Hall of Fame, as well as the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Allstate Sugar Bowl Greater New Orleans Sports Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Tulane University Athletics Hall of Fame.
Browne was an ardent supporter of the charity Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which provides service dogs to people with vision loss, and WRBH Radio, the New Orleans radio station that serves the blind and visually impaired. For more than a decade, Browne has lent his name and support to a golf tournament benefiting the station.
“He was kind, smart and a true gentleman who, despite his accident, made his life one of service and dedication to those in our community. I will miss his gentle humor and his unfailing support of WRBH,” said Natalia Gonzalez, the station’s executive director, in an email.
For his charity work with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Browne also recruited one of the athletes he once helped teach golf to: NFL great and New Orleans native Eli Manning. The New York Giants quarterback grew up with Browne’s son.
Earlier in his life, Browne was a standout athlete at Jesuit High School, where he served as captain of the basketball team and was a two-year letterman in baseball, earning all-state honors. At Tulane University, Browne lettered three times in both golf and basketball and was named captain of each team for two years.
Browne earned a law degree from Tulane in 1956 and practiced law for nearly two decades, before becoming president and CEO of Hibernia Homestead Bank, a position he held for thirty years.
Survivors include his wife of 39 years, Sherry; one son, three daughters and nine grandchildren.