-- Olin Browne began his afternoon three shots off the lead at the U.S. Open. He ended it telling jokes to Michael Campbell, trying to keep his playing partner at ease as it became clear Browne no longer was in contention for the championship.
After leading the U.S. Open over the first two rounds and shooting a 2-over-par 72 Saturday, Browne succumbed to the treacherous greens at Pinehurst No. 2 and shot a closing 80 to finish tied for 23rd.
"It's a bloodbath out there," Browne said. "The best players in the world are shooting 76, -7, -8, -9, 80, whatever. It was an absolute -- I can't even say what it was. It's not printable.
"Today was not a case of poor play because I did not play poorly. Today was a case of getting steamrolled [by the course]. Like I said, I got no ass left. It's gone. I left it on the course."
Browne, who was born in the District and attended St. Albans until after his sophomore year in 1975 when his family moved to New Hampshire, got an inkling on the first hole that it was not going to be a championship conclusion. Despite what he called a "beautiful stroke" on the green, the ball stayed out of the cup.
Browne again made two confident passes on the second green, only to come away with bogey 5.
"I started getting a little leery with green speeds," Browne said. "I hit my lines all day long. I just couldn't get comfortable with the speed. It was just one of those things. It was hard to explain."
A par at No. 3, a 336-yard par 4, steadied Browne momentarily before his afternoon unraveled completely. On the par-5, 565-yard fourth, Browne spent most of his time trying to get out of trouble. The result was a bogey that sent him to 3 over for the round. The backslide continued with a bogey at No. 5, a 472-yard par 4 featuring an approach shot late architect Donald Ross called the most difficult shot on the course.
Browne made his third consecutive bogey at No. 6, a 220-yard par 3 with a crowned green protected by a false front. He landed his tee shot one foot from where Campbell had gotten his ball to stop, but Browne's ball rolled off the green.
"I led the Open for two days. I can tell my grandkids I led the Open for two days," said Browne, whose father and son walked the course with him. "I'm just going to try and keep building on the things I did this week. I did a lot of good things. A year ago, I didn't even qualify for the Open. This year, I make it to the Open. There are good things happening with my golf game."
That was evident last Monday at Woodmont Country Club, where Browne shot a 59 in his afternoon round to qualify for the U.S. Open. It almost did not happen.
After shooting a 73 in his morning round, Browne was trying to find a USGA official to ask what the proper procedure would be to withdraw. Browne instead decided to play on, and he came within one stroke of tying the course record by closing with birdie, eagle, eagle. Then for two days, he played better than anyone in the season's toughest test of golf.
"This game teaches you to embrace failure because you spend an awful lot of time messing up," Browne said. "I played better today than I did yesterday, and I end up shooting 80. I think that goes to the severity of the course setup and the conditions that we saw today with the wind blowing. I think it's fortunate we got it in considering. But you know, of course I'm disappointed with the score that I shot today, but I'm not displeased with my performance this week, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the year."