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Carrollwood golfer Brad Brunner shoots record 58 at Babe Zaharias Golf Course

Brad Brunner of Carrollwood set a record recently at Babe Zaharias Golf Course. He shot a 58.

RODNEY PAGE | Times

Brad Brunner of Carrollwood set a record recently at Babe Zaharias Golf Course. He shot a 58.

FOREST HILLS

As the drives kept finding the fairway, the approach shots kept finding the green and the putts kept finding the bottom of the cup, Brad Brunner started to think this could be the day.

Like every time he and childhood friend Matt Cooney tee it up at Babe Zaharias Golf Course, they were out to set the course record on a steamy day last month. Unlike other rounds, the record was actually in sight.

Front nine

(The Babe Course): Birdie, Par, Birdie, Birdie, Birdie, Birdie, Par, Birdie, Par. 6-under, 29.

The course record at the Babe (as locals call it) was 10 under par, 60. It was set in 2009 by former head pro at the course T.J. Heidel. For years before that, the course record was 62, set by PGA pro and Tampa native Woody Austin.

Now the record was in danger, but only if Brunner could keep rolling on the back nine.

"We always start on the Babe side, and I've shot 29 out there before," Brunner said. "But the George is the tough side. I knew that whatever I did on the George was going to be key. You have to do something special on that side."

Back nine

(The George Course): Birdie, Birdie, Eagle, Par, Eagle, Par, Par, Par, Par. 6-under, 29. Overall score: 12-under, 58.

Fifty-eight?! That's hard to do on a video game. It's not like Babe Zaharias Golf Course is Augusta National. But it is a challenging par 70 layout that plays a little over 6,000 yards and has just enough water and sand to make things interesting.

It used to be known as Forest Hills Golf and Country Club back in 1926. In 1949, legendary Olympic athlete Mildred Ella "Babe'' Didrikson bought the course with famed wrestling husband George Zaharias. Hence, the Babe Course and the George Course.

Brunner not only set the course record, he broke it by two shots. His previous best at the Babe was 63.

"I made every putt I looked at, pretty much," Brunner said. "I missed two putts all day. I had about a 10-footer for 57 that missed on 18."

Golf 24/7

Brunner, 23, plays golf every day. After graduating from Chamberlain High School, he spent one year playing golf at the University of North Florida. He didn't see eye to eye with the coach and decided to turn professional.

Last year, Brunner tried to make the PGA Tour through qualifying school. He made it to the second stage but did not earn any status. This year he plays on the eGolf Tour, a mini tour based in North Carolina.

When he's not playing in tournaments, Brunner usually can be found at the two courses near his Carrollwood home, Emerald Greens and the Babe.

"I'm just learning every week," Brunner said. "It's a different game (on tour). Making the cuts are key. I just want to be consistent."

Brunner grew up in a golfing family, with his father, Larry, serving as head professional at Rogers Park and the Babe during his childhood.

"I think they have a picture of me with a club in my hands when I was 14 months old out at Rogers Park,'' Brunner said. "My dad would bring home hundreds of range balls in a brown box, and I would hit them over the fence into a lake when I was about 3.''

Brunner, who is left-handed, starred in junior events and at Chamberlain. Cooney, whom Brunner met while playing at Carrollwood Country Club (now Emerald Greens), pushed him in tournaments.

Cooney played at Gaither High and also aspires to be a professional. He is on the West Florida Golf Tour and, like Brunner, will try to make it through PGA qualifying school this winter.

"We grew up playing together," Cooney said.

Made to be broken

All Cooney could do on July 6 was try to keep up. As Brunner's putts kept falling, that was proving more and more difficult.

"Golf is one of those games where you can get on a roll," said Cooney, who shot a 67. "And the Babe is one of those courses you can go pretty low on. Any time we don't have anything to do we'll go out there and try to break the course record. He got hot early, and I was just trying to stay out of his way."

It didn't take long for Cooney to realize this was not going to be an ordinary round.

"On the third hole we both had short side chips," Cooney said. "He chipped his about 20 feet past and then made the putt. I told him after the round that was probably the shot of the day. I knew he was going to do it then."

The sign outside the clubhouse recognizing the course record holder has been temporarily taken down. It soon will have a new name and the jaw-dropping score of 58.

It will serve as motivation.

"I'm going to shoot 56 and break it by two shots," said Heidel, the previous record holder and current head pro at Rogers Park. "It's out there. One time I shot a 27 on the Babe side, and then it got dark. I'm going to take the record back."

Asked whether the 58 will last a long time, Cooney said, "Not if I have anything to do with it."

Carrollwood golfer Brad Brunner shoots record 58 at Babe Zaharias Golf Course 08/04/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 4, 2011 5:30am]

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