Denny Brauer is an amazing athlete. Now in his 60s, he continues to succeed at the highest levels of his sport. He's an inspiration to any angler wondering how long he can be competitive, how long he can keep taking the young guys to school.
With his win on the Arkansas River, Brauer becomes the oldest angler ever to win an Elite Series event, eclipsing the record set by … you guessed it, Denny Brauer. The 1987 Bassmaster Angler of the Year and 1998 Bassmaster Classic champion was 57 years old when he won the Elite event on New York's Lake Champlain in 2006. He was 62 years, 4 months and 9 days old when he sealed the deal in Arkansas last Sunday.
But those are far from his only successes at an age when most athletes are slowing down. Brauer won eight B.A.S.S. titles in his 40s and four in his 50s. Both are records (though Kevin VanDam has also won eight times in his 40s, and he has more than six years to go before hitting 50).
To plot the trajectory of Brauer's career, it's immediately apparent that he started at a high level and peaked at a later age than most. It's also obvious that he's still a force to be reckoned with on the Elite trail.
One reason he's won so often is that Brauer lives the phrase "swing for the fences." He and several of the other all-time greats truly believe that the second place finisher is just "the first loser."
While most pros measure their performance by AOY standings and prize money, Brauer considers it a good season only if he's won an event. Winning matters. He's already got an AOY crown and a Classic trophy. What he doesn't have is one more victory … and another after that.
Winning may not be everything, but it's the biggest thing in Brauer's eyes. His uncompromising approach sometimes backfires, but it's also left him standing on the stage holding the trophy 17 times — a feat surpassed only by Roland Martin (19) and VanDam (20).
Part of why Brauer is so good — and has been so good for so long — is that he measures success in the details. He applies a laser beam focus to each tournament. Each day is a victory or a defeat, celebration or disappointment.
Because he's been so successful, Brauer has the freedom to fish that way, and he knows how to do it. Others must fish for points or a check. Brauer fishes because he loves the competition and revels in the opportunity to show his peers that he's still got it, that he can still win, that on any given day he's better than they are.
But the all or nothing approach is a double-edged sword. The highs are high, and the lows come at the end of the season when he sometimes finds himself down in the AOY standings and outside the list of Classic qualifiers.
This year, of course, that won't be a problem.
His win at the Arkansas River will not only send Denny Brauer to the 2012 Bassmaster Classic and add another $100,000 to his prodigious prize money total. It will fire him up for another season or two, knowing that when he swings for the fences, sometimes the ball leaves the park.
Denny Brauer's still got "it."
As if there was any doubt.