Ken On The Course: Brown brings imagination, colour and insight to Augusta greens

IN a parallel, non-pandemic universe, Ken Brown would be springing into action at Augusta National this morning, grabbing a BBC cameraman and venturing out onto the course for his allotted 45 minutes of filming inside the ropes.
Ken On The Course: Brown brings imagination, colour and insight to Augusta greens

Ken Brown working as an on course analyst for Fox during the first round of the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach in California last year. Picture: Getty
Ken Brown working as an on course analyst for Fox during the first round of the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach in California last year. Picture: Getty

IN a parallel, non-pandemic universe, Ken Brown would be springing into action at Augusta National this morning, grabbing a BBC cameraman and venturing out onto the course for his allotted 45 minutes of filming inside the ropes.

Back in the real world, the plan is on hold, the 2020 Masters postponed until November due to Covid-19 and the five-time Ryder Cupper turned commentator is confined to home in England.

He has used his time in isolation wisely, publishing an updated version of his 2015 book, One Putt: The Ultimate Guide to Perfect Putting, which is much more than an instruction manual from a golfer once described by Seve Ballesteros as “the Picasso with the putter”.

With that released on April 2, he has embarked on writing a collection of stories from his 45 years in golf.

There is a lot to pack in but as Brown, 63, joked of life in lockdown: “I might have time for a second book the way things are going.”

The absence of the Masters has left a gaping hole in Brown’s schedule. He played in the major in 1988 and has been a part of the BBC’s commentary team since 2000.

You will be able to hear him tomorrow when a special programme, Tiger Roars Again, is aired at 5pm on BBC2, reliving Woods’s epic 2019 comeback victory.

Yet it is his Ken On The Course features that punctuate the BBC’s coverage of both the Masters and The Open for which he is cherished.

What once started as his solution to a problem during Sky Sports’ coverage has evolved into something of an institution, beloved for the enthusiasm, inside knowledge and skill Brown brings to his on-course vignettes.

Whether it is highlighting the speed of the greens, the steepness of slopes or the pitfalls of a pin position, Brown brings the course alive with imagination and humour and is loved for it.

Ken, on the course.
Ken, on the course.

“It’s been amazing for me really because people have enjoyed them so much and lots of broadcasters are doing them now in their golf coverage,” Brown told the Irish Examiner of the features he started them while working for Sky in the 1990s as a way of filling time during commercial breaks in the US feed.

“There were about eight short breaks every hour and I said: ‘I can fill those gaps, don’t you worry about that, just come to me and I’ll do something’. They asked: ‘What are you going to do?’ I said: ‘I don’t know but if you come to me and say we need a gap filled in 15 minutes I’ll find something’.

“So I’d go up on the leaderboard, or show how they marked their cards, or what impact the wind was having and that’s how it started. The producers loved it, I never told them what I was going to do and I just rolled with it. No-one else had ever done that before.”

Moving to the BBC in 2000 saw the pieces take a fresh direction.

They held the sole UK rights to the Masters and Augusta National came into Brown’s sights.

“I thought, there’s a lot of interesting things we can do on this course for Ken On The Course, why don’t we ask? They can only say ‘no’.

That was in 2001, 2002. They said go and try a few, they gave us 45 minutes to do two holes, it’s still the same today.

“They had to be back-to-back holes and they send you out with a person to look after you and keep an eye on what you’re doing.

“So off we went. They were well received by the BBC, all the people watching and I think they (Augusta National) liked them, well they must have done because if they don’t like it, it doesn’t go on.

“We’ve done it every year since. We used to do four days at the Masters but now it’s two days so they let us go out on Saturday and Sunday mornings before play.

“I’ve got to try and produce seven or eight bits on those two holes in that 45 minutes. Eight times out of 10 it’s done in one go. I know what I’m going to do and what I want to show but I have no idea what I’m going to say.”

Brown believes spontaneity is the key to its success.

“If you have to take two or three goes you lose that... so it’s just a case of ‘let’s go!’ I always say to the cameraman, whatever happens, if the ball goes in the water, I don’t care, I’ll carry straight on because that’s how difficult this shot is.

“I’m not trying to chip it in the hole, the first takes are usually the funniest ones but I’ve played some spectacular shots as well.

“The other unique thing is there are no cuts, just one cameraman and we do it straight, which meant that to go on air there was nothing else to do apart from putting a little bit of music on the front or something like that.

“I think that comes over on air. I think that’s part of why people enjoy them. If I fluff a line I just soldier on and see how it looks at the end.”

For those missing their fix, he has been posting some every day this week on his Twitter and Instagram feeds.

His hope for tomorrow was for a classic from the eighth green but that has been dashed.

“It’s not there, unfortunately. I hit two putts at once, 50 footers, and launched one 15 feet right of the hole and the other 15 feet left of the hole and the balls, which had been 30 feet apart, bump into each other a foot behind the hole.

“That could have taken you a month but I managed it second go.”

Brown’s meticulous planning for the 2020 Masters would have had him filming on the 14th and 15th holes this morning, and the 11th and 12th early on Sunday.

“Hopefully we’ll give it another run in November if we’re lucky, but who knows?”

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