GORDON Brand has always had a simple philosophy, and that is to play golf as well as he possibly can, writes John Huggan
By most measures, Gordon Brand has had quite the career. As an amateur, the Kirkcaldy-born, Bristol-accented Scot was good enough to represent Great Britain & Ireland in the Walker Cup and the Eisenhower Trophy. As a professional, eight wins on the European Tour were the highlights of a two-decade run in which the now 57-year-old twice played for Europe in the Ryder Cup, seven times for Scotland in the World Cup and ten times in the old Dunhill Cup. Not too shabby for a lad who was a 15-handicapper at the age of 15.
I wanted more ham, egg and chips. I didn’t want to let those luxuries slip away
Through all of the above, however, Brand – not to be confused with his namesake, Gordon J, who was part of the 1983 Ryder Cup side – maintained a remarkably low profile. Pretty much every golf fan knew who he was and how good a player he could be. But not many knew much else, certainly not that the young Brand moved from 57 Piper Crescent in Burntisland to Bristol at the age of five.
Brand’s late father, Gordon senior, went south for a trial with Bristol City. That came to nothing, but when his son’s Uncle Tom (McNaughton) emigrated to Australia in 1969, the elder Brand took over as head professional at the Knowle Golf Club. Suddenly, the family was living in a bungalow 200 yards from the first tee.
“I quickly became a shop assistant, shoe-cleaner, ball-cleaner, club-cleaner and caddie extraordinaire,” says Brand, who is competing in this week’s Scottish Seniors Open at Archerfield in East Lothian. “Then at 15 I had my ‘eureka’ moment. Until then I was just a normal kid at the club with no aspirations to be a professional. I played in all the competitions and matches only because I could get a free meal of ham, egg and chips afterwards. And a pint of lemonade and lime. At the age of 14, that was heaven for me.
“Anyway, I was dropped from the team. Broke my heart. But I had no complaints. They had better players than me. So that was it. I decided I wanted more lemonade and limes and ham, egg and chips. I didn’t want to let those luxuries slip away for the rest of my life.
“So I decided to make sure that, from then on, I was better than everyone else. I went from mucking about all day to spending all my time on the range. I learned how to play. My goal was to get to scratch by 18, which I did. I had no record as a boy golfer. Then I had a really good amateur career. It is the base of everything I will ever do for the rest of my life.”
That ambition to be the very best never quite came to pass, of course. Playing against the likes of Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam, Brand was part of the next “B+” group of European Tour players alongside the likes of Sam Torrance, Howard Clark, Mark James and Ken Brown.
“I don’t think I was unlucky that I played against guys who were the best in the world at the time,” says Brand, who in 1987 at Muirfield Village was famously part of the first European Ryder Cup side to win on American soil. “I was just as good as I could be. It never made any difference to me that I was playing with Sandy or Seve or Nick. I couldn’t influence what they did. All I ever focused on was my own play.
“My philosophy was always simple. I’d hit balls on the range, then go and play. And when I found there was something I couldn’t do or a shot I couldn’t hit, it was back to the range. That made sense to me. But it’s not something many people do. I was always a doer in that respect. I still am. My goal has always been just as simple: to play my best golf. I just want to do it as well as I can.”
That attitude, inadvertently or not, led to Brand having a rather distant relationship with golf’s press and media. In short, he just wasn’t interested.
“I took a bit of knowing,” he admits. “To be honest, I always felt like the press almost got in the way. They never added value to anything I was doing. I never distinguished between any of them either. They were all the same to me – journalists who wrote. For me, none of them knew anything about the game or what the players went through. So they were an irrelevance to me. I wasn’t trying to be obnoxious; I just couldn’t be bothered.”
Still, what did get the Brand blood flowing – to an extent at least – was his failure to win the place he thought he deserved in the 1985 Ryder Cup side. Four years on from a controversial omission from the Scotland side that contested the 1981 European Team Championship at St Andrews – “I was treated really badly by the Scottish Golf Union” – he again felt hard done by.
“I thought I should have been in the ’85 team,” he says. “When I wasn’t I realised I would have to play better to get in the next one. So I won two events the next year and did get in. But when I got there I didn’t approach it any different from any other week. Even if Seve had been all over me about how important it all was, I still wasn’t going to try any harder.
“For me, the Ryder Cup was just another event running into other events. Even 1987. It was just another game of golf to me. That was it. I always looked at it like that. Yes, I was aware of the event’s history. But I was more concerned with my own path. Seve wore it all on his sleeve. So did Olazabal. But Langer never did. Nor did Faldo. They just played. They were never what I call ‘professional Ryder Cup players’. I was like that too.
“Having said that, the 1987 team was special. We had six of the best players in the world playing properly. So there was a bit of a feeling that the rest of us were making up the numbers. Which is OK. I wasn’t going to tell Tony Jacklin to drop Langer so that I could play. To say I was part of the ‘B-team’ that week is a bit harsh, but that was the reality.”
As should be clear by now, Brand is not your typical tour pro out there thinking typical thoughts. He’s different, a fact he has first acknowledged, then investigated. Back in 2004, he visited a hypnotist.
“She put me under and asked me to go to the place where I was happiest,” he says. “The image I came up with was me hitting balls at the end of the range with a cloud of smoke around me. That was my box, one that no one else was ever allowed into. I am happiest when I am preparing to play my best golf. And I’ve had that cloud around me from when I was 15.”