Play like Brazill: Hunting Walker Cup and pro dream after comeback season

Ronan MacNamara
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Robert Brazill (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/R&A via Getty Images)

Standing on the third tee box at Waterville Golf Links at a quarter to eight on a glorious summer’s morning, looking around and taking in a deep breath while watching the mist rise from Ballinskelligs Bay and disappear above the mountains in the distance. Beautiful, the kind of vistas that only golf can give even if this game drives the vast majority to their wits’ end with frustration.  

It was at that point in 2021 when Robert Brazill rekindled his love for the game of golf after cutting ties with the sport following a wrist injury. Sometimes when you don’t know where to turn, the universe will give you a clue… 

“I was down in Waterville last summer; my uncle is secretary there and it was the last three days of good weather in summer 2021,” recalls the Connacht Strokeplay champion. “He got me use of the course for three days. I went down and I remember standing on the third tee, unbelievable morning at a quarter to eight watching the mist rise off the golf course and over the mountains and I thought ‘what the f**k am I doing for the last year and a half?’  

“I had been either standing on a building site or pouring concrete in a trench at that time every morning. Yet when I stood on that third tee, I thought this is the life, this is what I should be doing, standing in the most beautiful places in Ireland and the world chasing the sun and playing the game that you love.  

“Those three days in Waterville were the turning point and I rediscovered my love for the game. I realised what an opportunity golf can give you in all aspects of life whether it’s playing as a professional or an amateur. I took golf for granted in 2019 and 2020 and I had to go to the other side of life to see what I was leaving behind. Earning money was great and I had great craic with friends but I realised I had the opportunity to do something that could change my life,” the Naas golfer says. 

A talented junior, Brazill began playing golf aged 10 in Rathsallagh Golf Club where his father was captain. Growing up there was no better inspiration for Brazill than Jack Hume who set tongues wagging as one of Ireland’s Walker Cup ‘Famous five’ and the pair played a lot of golf together in Rathsallagh, and soon Naas Golf Club. 

A former Kildare underage footballer, he won an All-Ireland Schools Football Junior Championship for Two-Mile House in 2014 in Croke Park. But golf soon won his heart and he credits a positive environment in both Rathsallagh and Naas for that. 

“The club atmosphere in Rathsallagh was unbelievable, you’d go a long way to get similar. They were such nice people and heavily invested in juniors like Jack coming up. We had a good run in Fred Dalys and the members were so good when we were kids, they were deadly, offering to help and that kind of thing was fantastic. 

“Everyone in Naas since I have been here have been so supportive. The likes of Brian Cagney looking after the juniors. Playing Barton Shield and Senior Cup was class last year, to be able to play for Naas and do so well is great. The teams we’ve had have been class, to win a pennant and win with the lads you grew up with was unreal. To go back this year and give it a run was class.” 

Rewind back to 2019 and Brazill had the world at his feet having become the third Naas player to win the West of Ireland Championship in five years (Jack Hume 2014, Jonathan Yates 2016) en route to topping the Bridgestone Order of Merit.  

Seemingly destined for a career in the pro ranks but having put such pressure on himself, his relationship with golf became strained and his world was turned upside down in Seville when he fell off an electric scooter and broke the scaphoid bone in his right wrist in March 2020. 

“It was one of those electric scooters, we were staying in Seville for the Spanish Am and I had seen people flying around on them all week and I always get a bit giddy in those situations and probably do something I shouldn’t,” Brazill laughs. “I told myself all week I wasn’t getting on one and after the tournament myself a few of us went out for dinner and a couple of pints and it was destiny, outside the restaurant was three scooters. 

“I just couldn’t stop myself! I got up and was flying around and they’re quick! I was going full tilt, tried to do a jump off a high kerb and it didn’t go well, came down on my wrist. I got up though and kept going for 40 minutes. I landed on cobble lock and I remember two Spanish people looking at me as if I was some sort of idiot and in disgust, not to see if I was OK.  

“When it happened, I didn’t go to the hospital for four weeks because mentally I was thinking my wrist can’t be broken. I could move my fingers and my hand so I was convincing myself it was a bad sprain and wouldn’t be out for too long. 

“It was hard to take then when I was told it was broken. I went back playing after Covid but I hadn’t done the exercises I was told to do by the doctors and I just wasn’t enjoying golf and I took a break.” 

It’s no secret that there is magic in the hands of Brazill but his powers aren’t just restricted to golf. During his hiatus from the game, the 26-year-old began working at a groundworks company owned by his friend and he loved it. In fact, he was enjoying working so much that if you caught him at the right moment and told him he wouldn’t pick up a golf club again, he would have been content. 

“I was delighted, I wasn’t dwelling on golf and I was earning a bit of money, driving tractors, diggers and having a bit of craic. I’d saved up a bit of money, bought a car I had wanted since I was a kid and was doing that up.  

“It was a getaway from golf. I played a little bit of golf towards the end of 2021 a few tournaments late on. Then that winter I didn’t hold a club and just worked. 

“If Covid hadn’t happened and I hadn’t broken my wrist the plan would have been to turn pro in 2020 and it’s a hard thing to take when it’s all taken away from you. But taking a break was the best thing I did and I matured a lot.” 

With maturity, and that morning in Waterville, came the realisation that he had to give golf another go. Fuelled by a newfound motivation and hunger Brazill cleverly combined his fitness with Peter O’Keeffe with the golf coaching of renowned teacher Noel Fox who also coaches O’Keeffe. 

“I knew I had to go back to it at some stage but I wouldn’t unless I gave it everything and did it properly. At the start of 2022 I said if I’m going back to golf, one proper go and that’s it. I got on to Peter O’Keeffe and he set a programme up for me. I had never gone to the gym before and I had no coach for a long time. I wanted to work with Noel Fox because I loved the way he coached but I had to go to the gym to get the most out of him and it worked out perfectly. 

“Peter was able to adjust my programme to suit Noel’s lessons which was a huge help to have those two to fall back on.” 

2022 proved to be a fantastic year for Brazill. A Connacht Strokeplay win, top-5 finishes in the South, East and Ulster Strokeplay Championships and third on the Bridgestone Order of Merit, paved the way for him to earn his place back on the Golf Ireland High Performance Panel for 2023. 

“It was a savage year, a lot better than I expected. I started off slow at the West which was my first tournament back so getting used to tournament golf again was slow. From the Ulster Strokeplay everything kind of kicked on from there and I got confidence from that and it was class to compete again in Irish tournaments. 

“It was a big confidence boost after being away for so long. 

“I felt like I played Ulster very smart, didn’t putt well but executed the game plan very well. I found playing the golf course smart was very beneficial to me and I did the same again at the East, made a bit of a mess of my 55th hole in Baltray but sure it happens. It was still good to come back and show that I could still compete. 

“Connacht, I played really well, especially on that last day, I left a lot out there on the first day. I said to my uncle before the final round only messing that if I can get it to six-under for the round and I was six-under through 12 to tie the lead at that point. 

“Being six back in the final round helped me and I was with two sound lads and we had a good laugh. I had an eagle on the front nine and had a couple of birdies then eagled 12 to get the confidence going. One bad swing on 13, made double but other than that I didn’t miss a shot. 

“To get a win anywhere after having so long off and to close off that little spell of good golf I had been having was really enjoyable. 

“To get back into the Irish team is a serious reward considering I haven’t played for Ireland since February 2020 and to be back competing with those lads again will be really beneficial for me. I wanted to get into the team before next year to keep in the loop over the winter and hit the ground running instead of dusting off the clubs at the West,” says Brazill. 

The former West of Ireland winner wasn’t named in the provisional Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup squad for St Andrews in September, but he still hopes to don the GB&I colours at the Home of Golf. 

Known for his aggression on the golf course, Brazill has got used to plotting his way around golf courses and is now plotting his way to the Walker Cup as his dream of turning professional glistens on the horizon. 

“This year everything will be geared towards Walker Cup and step by step put a plan in place and stick to it, not focus on the whole year on making it and having it as the end goal and then raging if it doesn’t happen but making a plan towards it and how I can get there. 

“I want to control things I can control. You could have an unreal year but selection for things like Walker Cup or your football team, unless it’s written in black and white, your selection is in someone else’s hands. As much as you can do for it, it’s in someone else’s control. 

“If I can do all the things I can do right, if I make Walker Cup all well and good, if I don’t I’ll make another plan. But it would be unreal to play Walker Cup, savage. 

“I’m not fixated on having to go pro but it’s something I would love to do. But I would love to get as high as I possibly can in the amateur ranks whether it be WAGR or Walker Cup.” 

Performances abroad will be key for the Irish hopefuls looking to force their way into Stuart Wilson’s team but Brazill knows he has work to do to get into the big events in Europe with his World Amateur Golf Ranking outside the top-1000. 

There will be no time to rest this winter as he plans to hit the ground running early. 

“With my WAGR I need a few good results in the winter to do that. If I can get the WAGR down quick enough by April I can pick and choose the bigger events abroad. I will still focus on the main ones in Ireland, but I want to target the big ones abroad to be able to try and put myself in the running. 

“That’s what I’m working towards and why I want to give myself a good head start going into the season. You never know if you get on a good run early on in South Africa you can catch the eye of a number of selectors. The plan is to try and get Walker Cup if I could, and then go pro. I certainly want to go pro, I would love to give it a go and see what it’s like. 

“Even just play European Teams and stuff like that, that would be a big achievement regardless of Walker Cup to play six-man. Abroad tournaments give more recognised finishes.” 

2023 looks like a year of endless possibilities for Rob Brazill who has a ferocious appetite to attack the year after bursting back on the scene over the last twelve months. He has emerged from the wilderness with the bit between his teeth as he looks to make up for lost time. 

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