Rookie Shows Nerves of Steele
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Steele celebrates with his caddie on the 18th green

If you’d heard Brendan Steele’s name before this weekend, it was probably for implying Tiger Woods mailed it in on Sunday at the Farmers Insurance Open earlier this year. The horrified rookie clarified his comment and sent Woods an apology. Steele is making headlines again, but for a much better reason — winning the Texas Valero Open. The 28-year-old Californian held the 54-hole lead and played steadily alongside fellow Californians Kevin Chappell and Cameron Tringale. Steele, who won the Nationwide Tour Championship, shot one-under 71 to hold off Chappell and Charley Hoffman.

“I was really calm today until we got to 18 fairway,” said Steele, who gleaned from his experiences on the NWT to close.

Fighting off nerves, he rolled in a seven-footer for par on No. 18 to clinch the victory. He let out a burst of emotion, pumping his fist twice after it dropped safely in the cup.

“I try to keep it pretty much under control,” said Steele. “Just an outrush of emotion there. I couldn’t believe that I had actually done it. It was one of those kind of things. You thought about it as a kid and in high school and everything, this putt is to win a PGA Tour event, this putt is whatever, and you actually have a putt to do that and you actually make it.

“There’s so many times in this game when you don’t do what you want or you don’t make the putt that you need or you don’t hit the shot that you need to hit. It’s really something when you pull it off.”

Steele and Chappell were trading shots for most of the back nine until Chappell made the first mistake, which led him to bogey the 71st hole and cost him the tournament. However, he still takes away positives from the runner-up finish.

“It was just a lot of fun out there today,” said Chappell. “Obviously making bogey on 17 probably was the least amount of fun I’ve had all day but, you know, if you would have told me I would shoot 2-under today with the wind blowing 20mph, I would have thought I would have won the golf tournament. I walked off the golf course with my head held high with a lot of positives.”

Steele tries on his first pair of cowboy boots

Despite knowing his game was good enough to pull away with a victory, Steele admitted he didn’t expect a win so quickly.

“It’s such an elusive thing because I can play just as well as I played today the whole week and somebody could shoot a better score than me,” said Steele. “It’s not like I’m playing another team or anything like that. It only takes one guy to push you down that one spot. I didn’t see it coming this fast but I thought that I did have the game for it.”

In other words, he’ll take it, but it’s not easy to nail down that first victory as many great players still looking for theirs will tell you (including Rickie Fowler who congratulated Steele on Twitter).

Steele clinches a spot at next month’s PLAYERS Championship, along with an invitation to the 2012 Masters — just a short 51 weeks away.

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)