Ray Browning Wins
1975 National Championship
By: Bill Kirby, The Fayetteville Times
22 June 1975 - Columbus, OH (PPA Course) - Ray Browning, in the summer of 1967, participated in his first competitive tournament in his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. He lost to the eventual winner - an 11-year-old fifth grade student - by 22 strokes.
Today, Browning reigns as the National Champion of the Professional Putters Association succeeding two-time champion Robert Smith who defended his title for only nine holes of the 144-hole event held here June 21 and 22, 1975.
The 26-year-old Certified Public Accountant, overcame a three stroke deficit in the final round and edged Eddie Turner, Orlando, FL, by a single shot for the most prestigious in the 22-year old sport.
Browning, now a resident of Euclid, Ohio, fashioned a 197, 91-under par narrowly missing the national record for eight rounds of competition by four strokes. Daryl Freeman of Bristol, Tennessee, the 1973 National Champion, set the record with his triumph in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The victory was worth $2,000 to Browning bolstering his lifetime earnings to just under $14,400 after six years on the PPA summer circuit. Turner, the leader entering the final round, collected $1,250. Charles Connor, Jr., Asheville, NC, Steve Lyon, Greensboro, NC, and Mark Grothier, Haughton, LA, tied for third at 203. Each won $816.16.
Browning, Turner, Connor, Lyon, and Grothier all qualified for the 1976 World Putting Championship along with the remaining top ten finishers; Gary English, Orlando, FL, Jimmy Harritos, Dothan, AL, Rob Ludgin, Indianapolis, IN, Gerald Knott, Dallas, TX, and Joe Marazzito, Orlando, FL.
Browning and Turner shared the first-day lead after five rounds with identical 122's, 58-under par. Turner pulled away in the first of Sunday's final three rounds with an opening 26, 10-under par while Browning could do no better than 31.
"I thought after the 31 that it was all over," said Browning, "but I was still clinging to the hope that there might be a slim chance of catching Turner. We played the sixth round on Course No. 2 and most of the holes play well. When I missed simple holes like Nos. 9, 10 and 11 it shook my confidence."
Turner's five stroke lead was cut to three after the seventh round when Browning fired a 22 with holes-in-one on Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17. Browning, a fourth place finisher in the 1970 and 1974 National Championships, knocked in seven of his first nine holes drawing event with Turner at the turn of the final round. Aces at Nos. 10 and 11 gave the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Browning a two-stroke advantage. Turned, gambling at the treacherous 14th, trimmed the margin to one with an ace but Browning rammed in holes-in-one on Nos. 15, 16, and 17 protecting his lead. Turner, a member of the Pros Players Committee, matched Browning's effort.
Browning stood at the final hole 91-under; Turner - at the same hole - 90-under.
Browning, playing safe, left his 30-foot ace attempt five-feet short, settled for par and left Turner with a final opportunity to salvage a tie. Turner's last grasp at the national title ended when his putt slid by one inch to the left of the cup at the elevated green.
"Of course I was aware that I could lock it up with a hole-in-one on the 18th," Browning stated. "I didn't want to get into any trouble though, so I lagged my first shot as close to the hole as possible. When Turner came up to the hole I just turned my back and decided not to watch. The way the spectators were hollering when he putted made me think there was going to be a playoff. I'm glad we didn't have to play any more," Browning chuckled, "because my playoff record isn't too good."
"Luckily," said Browning, "I did what I was supposed to do to win but I feel for Eddie. I've been close before and lost so I know what he must have felt. He played super and I'm sorry to see someone like him lose but he'll be back."
"When I first began playing this game, I thought it was for kids. Now I'm convinced it's a game of precision and skill. After that kid beat me by 22 strokes when I played in my first tournament, I've been striving for something like this. People in Euclid have been just great since I won. Especially my co-workers. They always knew I played the game seriously. Now, they're beginning to take it seriously."
"My personal goal is to do well in the World Putting Championship next year and try to repeat as the National Champion. I won $2,000 in the World Championship this year but I never was really satisfied with my play. The $2,000 I got from the World will go toward paying some bills and the rest I'll spend on things around the house and plans for a vacation."
Only five of the previous 13 living former National Champions competed in the $10,000 event staged at the Professional Putters Association Georgesville Road layout. They were: Daryl Freeman (1973), Bob Williamson (1964), Vance Randall (1967 and 1969), Tony Cross (1970), and Robert Smith (1972 and 1974). Freeman and Smith led the contingent at 77-under par tying for 12th place.
Smith, Dallas, Texas, was banished from play after completing only nine holes. He arrived 12 minutes tardy for his scheduled tee time Saturday. After consultation and recommendation from Pro Player Committee members, PPA President David Lloyd informed Smith of his disqualification.
"It hurt Robert very much," Lloyd later stated, "but it was the only fair thing to do. He told me three days before the tournament that he wanted to be the first man to win the National Championship three times. He did, however, accept the decision gratefully and we allowed him to compete although he was ineligible for the title or the prize money. He never said anything against the ruling and we're naturally quite proud to have that kind of man in our organization.
Browning, who recorded no bogeys during the duration of the event, foresees no major changes in his game for the remainder of the season.
"There really won't be a momentum carryover just because I've won the Nationals. I'll practice about the same amount of time as usual, working or regular shots and hitting about 100 practice balls on the really difficult holes. There's going to be some added pressure of being the National Champion. I'm sure the rest of the players will be out to beat me, but that's what the game's all about."