The death last week of 20-year-old Cullan Brown obviously touched the golf world in a big way because of his immense talent on the course.
He was a former Kentucky state high school champion and two-time state runner-up at Lyon County. He had a terrific freshman season at the University of Kentucky and then even made the cut in the Barbasol Championship last August in his first PGA Tour start and finished 10-under par for the tourney before finding out a few weeks later he had a rare form of bone cancer.
Brown made an impact on everyone who knew him on or off the course because of his personality and love for life.
Just ask Grace Gorrell who teaches an leadership studies class at UK. She had Cullan in class in the fall of 2018. However, once you know Brown, you have a lifetime friend.
“I have over 60 students per semester in my class so it is hard to get to know them all on a personal level. I was blessed to get to know Cullan because as an athlete he had to be gone and he would always make sure to meet with me one on one to catch up,” Gorrell said.
She often exchanged text messages with Brown the last year while he was undergoing chemotherapy and battling cancer.
“The last time we texted was mid July. That is when he shared how much it had spread and said that the chemo was much harder on him (than expected). But he ended the text by saying he really couldn’t complain because he could still get around,” Gorrell said. “Always found the positive.
“I can promise you when I am sharing my students examples of a good servant leader, it won’t be many of our current elected officials but instead I will be talking about Cullan.” ️
She posted on social media that was a “low key guy always willing to share his perspectives” in class.
“He was always early so I loved sitting down and solving all the world’s problems with him. He always had a book with him,” she said. “He never told me what an amazing golfer he was. It was others that told me.
“He just made you feel comfortable. He was humble and kind. As I started following his golfing career I found out he was quite the character that brought joy and laughter to his teammates and opponents. He was a good guy that left all who knew him way too soon. If our world was full of Cullans it would truly be heaven on earth.”
Certainly Dan Koett would agree. He was the director of media and public relations for the Barbasol Championship last year and got to be around Brown and his family a lot. He admitted when he had to put together a statement from the Barbasol Championship on Brown’s passing that he cried because of how special the young golfer was.
“To cross paths with someone like that is amazing. Someone of that caliber who was so mature beyond his years,” Koett said. “How blessed are all of us who had the opportunity to know the young man. We are all truly richer from having known him.”
Koett remembered when his wife and mother-in-law came to the tournament at Champions Trace in Jessamine County. They were going into the clubhouse as Brown was leaving. He opened the door for both of them.
When they came to the media center to see Koett, Brown was leaving and they told Koett what a nice young man he had on his staff.
“I said, ‘Honey, he is a golfer,’” Koett laughed and said. “He came over and they were just floored at how nice he was and what a gentleman he was. He just had values and virtues that are lost in today’s age. I was always impressed at how strong he was in his faith and he was not afraid to share that.”
Koett remembers how media members who had not been around Brown before just “fell in love” with him during the tournament. Former PGA and British Open champion John Daly played in the tournament but Koett said there were many more requests to interview Brown than Daly.
“He just had that folksy charm. Every interview he did was special because of that great sense of humor he had,” Koett said. “That smile just never left his face and the fact he happened to be just an incredible golfer only made him more lovable.”
Koett often checked on Brown the last year but now regrets that he had not been in contact for about six weeks before Brown’s passing.
“We had even talked to him about starting our tournament off by hitting the first drive this year before we had to cancel (due to COVID-19) because his doctors felt he was going to make a full recovery and even be able to play golf again,” Koett said. “The pain of his passing for all of us is just unreal. Even after his diagnosis I never met anyone more positive. It was never if I beat this, but once I beat it these are the next steps in my life. He always found the positive.”
That included teaching his UK golf teammates some of his culinary skills during his one year at Kentucky. His former teammates now hope to find a way to create a memorial fund at UK to honor him that could include a cooking challenge.
Kentucky golfers Jensen Castle and Marissa Wenzler both wore blue ribbons in Brown’s honor at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship last week. Last season both the men’s and women’s teams wore bracelets with the hashtag #B4B (Birdies for Brownie).
Both Castle and Wenzler were freshmen last season and met Brown for the first time during a team visit to see him at the hospital in Lexington.
“I remember one of our seniors asked him how he was doing. He said, ‘You know, I really can’t complain.’ I will always remember that. When people ask if I knew Cullan, I tell them that story. For someone in his situation, the way he was able to stay so positive and so upbeat was just amazing,” Wenzler told Tom Mackin of www.usga.org.
Yes it was and Pam Stallings certainly noticed that during her son Stephen Stallings’ senior year when Brown was a freshman.
“He was gentleman in a kid’s body. He brought so much joy to everybody,” she said.
He did and perhaps more than anything he ever did on the golf course that will and should be his legacy.