Barry Bremen: The Impostor who crashed the U.S. Open

July 08, 2011

On the eve of the playing of the British Open -- the would-be venue for those most memorable of golf impostors Maurice Flitcroft and Walter Danecki -- we pause to make note of the passing of another legendary golf wannabe, Barry Bremen, who died June 30 at age 64.

Bremen, who earned the moniker The Great Impostor for crashing a host of sports events impersonating players and officials, perhaps 1-upped Flitcroft, who starting in 1976, six times tried to get through British Open qualifying to play in the actual championship. Alas, the crane driver's poor play and bad aliases held him back. Danecki, of Milwaukee, preceded Flitcroft's antics by conning his way into British Open qualifying in 1965 and shooting rounds of 108 and 113 to miss the qualifying mark by 70 shots. Bremen, on the other hand, three times actually got onto the course at a major championship. In the 1979, 1980 and 1985 U.S. Opens, Bremen snuck onto the course and played practice rounds with actual tour pros. For instance, in 1979 at Inverness in Toledo, it was Kip Byrne and Wayne Levi; in 1985 at Oakland Hills, he played with Fred Couples, Jay Haas, Bob Eastwood and Curtis Strange.

Bremen got immediate publicity for his stunt in 1979. On Saturday of tournament week, a piece ran in the Houston Post with the headline, "Pros Laughed It Off, But USGA May Not." The story misnamed Bremen "Harry" but otherwise  described him as a 32-year-old insurance salesman from the Detroit area who claimed a 5-handicap. A week before the championship, Bremen and his caddie, Dr. Paul Rein of Detroit, planned the deception.

On Wednesday, Bremen saw that Jerry Pate, the Open winner three years earlier, had dropped out of a threesome with Byrne and Levi after nine holes, so he joined the two on the back.

A Colorado sports columnist, Frank Boggs, followed the group and said Bremen duck-hooked his first tee shot and then hit his second shot dead right. "It was that way all the way around and he kept asking his caddie for new balls," said Boggs, who thought he'd follow the group in hopes of talking with "the worst player in the Open." "After we sat down under a tree and talked about it, we tried to figure his score if he hadn't picked up so many times. His caddie first blurted out '100,' but we finally gave him a 45."

After shooting 77 in the first round Thursday, Levi, who had won the Houston Open a month earlier, was asked about the strange encounter. "We thought he was playing bad because he was an amateur," he said. "He told us it was his first Open, but we didn't ask any questions -- just what he'd been doing, where he'd been and stuff like that."

Bremen eventually confessed to Levi and Byrne after 18 that it had all been a ploy and the two pros took it good-naturedly. "He said he'd be seeing me again," the story quotes Levi.

Bremen boldly continued his charade after the round. He went to the range and hit a bucket of practice balls, and then on Thursday he was seen in the press tent wearing a media badge.

Bremen was quoted as saying that of all the deceptions he pulled off, he was most pleased with his golf exploits because they lasted the longest and he was never caught by officials.

Danecki died in 2005, Flitcroft in 2007. With Bremen they make up the Golf Imposters Hall of Fame, safely enshrined without worry of being thrown out for being discovered as the interlopers they were, just regular golfers trying to experience a dream.

-- Cliff Schrock