Brandt Snedeker entered the final round of the Tour Championship with a share of the 54-hole lead with Justin Rose. In Snedeker’s previous three PGA Tour victories, he overcame deficits of five strokes or more on Sunday to win. There’s always less pressure if you’re teeing off an hour before the leaders and posting a low score early than playing in the final group, where it’s yours to lose.
Snedeker was well-aware he’s never won as a frontrunner. There have been several occasions in his career where he’s led or co-led going into Sunday. The result has been less than ideal. To be blunt, he’s thrown up on himself, like at the 2010 Waste Management Open, where he shot 78 in the final round, and we all remember the outcome (and tears) at the 2008 Masters.
Chalk those up to learning experiences. It happens to just about every player and the more they are put in those positions, the more comfortable they become. Snedeker has come a long ways and closing out with a two-under 68 solidified his ability to handle the pressure and make clutch putts — or even chip-in as he did on the 17th hole on Sunday.
“I’m sure 90% of you all probably didn’t pick me to win today, because I’ve never done it before, and I don’t blame you,” said Snedeker, one of the nicest and all-around pleasant guys on Tour. “But today was my day to go out and prove a bunch of people wrong, that I can play with the lead. I can handle the pressure. I’ve done it my whole career in junior golf, and high school golf, college golf, even on the Nationwide Tour I’ve played with the lead and won. I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of doing it when the pressure was on, and I did it today.”
After missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Snedeker needed to play his way onto the Ryder Cup team with top finishes at The Barclays and the Deustche Bank Championship to impress American captain Davis Love III. He placed second and tied for sixth, respectively. As the best putter on Tour this season (he’s ranked No. 1 in strokes gained putting), it was a no-brainer he deserved a spot on the team. Well, he got one.
“I’m not under any illusion of being calm next week (at the Ryder Cup,” said Snedeker, who will be one of four rookies on the American squad. “I know it’s going to be a very pressure-packed week. But I am going to use today as a huge thing to fall back on next week. I played against the best in the world this week for 72 holes and I beat them.”
Indeed, he did.
I’ve seen Snedeker play quite a bit, including his win in 2011 at The Heritage, where he rallied from six shots back, and shot 64 in the final round to eventually beat Luke Donald in a playoff. The Nashville, Tennessee native made some big putts under pressure, but not with the confidence and aura I’ve seen him display this week — or the past month. I walked with him for five holes on Saturday and you could just tell he was going to be tough to beat. He had his game face on and looked unflappable, hitting fairways and rolling in putt after putt. What’s more, he looked extremely calm and even-keel. There was no hint of doubt in his eyes as he strolled down the fairways at East Lake Golf Club.
Ryan Moore, who briefly tied Snedeker for the lead before bogeying the final three holes, echoed similar sentiments.
“I think he came out and started pretty tough on Thursday and he wanted it,” said Moore after shooting a even-par 70 to tie for third. “You could just see it. I played with him Friday. He just had it in him. He was doing everything he could just to get everything he could out of it. He knew he was in that position. If he wins the golf tournament, the prize is his. So it was an impressive week.”
Snedeker drew from his experience at the Open Championship, where he held the 36-hole lead and ended up finishing tied for third.
“I looked back at the British, and this morning when I came to the golf course, I thought about how great that was for my pressure, handling the pressure, and being in a situation like that,” said Snedeker, who shot a two-under 68 despite a double-bogey on the 6th hole. “Even though I didn’t play particularly great, I hung in there very, very well. It could have gotten really ugly on the weekend, and it didn’t.
“So I knew that by just hanging in there today, just stay patient. You hear me say that a hundred times, stay patient. This golf course wants you to become impatient. Got a couple of good breaks out there, and I stayed patient. The double-bogey on 5 or 6 didn’t even bother me. I mean, it was a hard hole. I knew guys would make mistakes there. That’s why you play great to overcome that.”
Indeed, he recovered well and brushed off dumping his tee shot in the water on the par-3 6th (but as he alluded, he wasn’t alone).
Heading into the Tour Championship, the fourth and final leg of the FedExCup playoffs, Snedeker was fifth in the points standings, meaning he “controlled his own destiny” (as I suggested on Twitter, that would be a good drinking game — drink every time you heard the commentators use that term or some rendition of it). By capturing the Tour Championship by three shots, Snedeker simplified the confusing points system and various potential scenarios to win the FEC.
His caddie Scott Vail, who was more jacked up than his boss, said with a hint of amazement and awe, “He was so calm out there.”
Snedeker said he didn’t look at leaderboards all day, and I believe him (some guys say that, but they’re not being 100% truthful). He knew what he had to do, which was win the golf tournament and then everything else would fall into place.
It wasn’t about the money — it never is. In fact, Snedeker has no idea what he’ll do with the $11.4 million. He’s a modest guy with perspective and a good attitude and even better demeanor (and again, his pace of play should be emulated).
Snedeker drives a GMC Yukon Denali, which is four-years-old. He says he doesn’t need a new car because the one he has only has 24,000 miles on it, making it practically new. He lives in a modest home in Nashville, which “is not grandiose by any means.”
The first thing that popped into his mind was how much he could give to charities and help people in need.
“You start throwing around a number like $10 million, it’s like crazy talk. It’s like winning the lottery…Looking at what we can do to help other people out with that money,” said Snedeker. “I’m not by any means a flashy guy. Of anybody that I know, I do not need $11 million.
“So there are going to be things we can do to really help people. This is unbelievable to be financially stable for the rest of my career. As long as I’m not an idiot, I should be fine. Really. I really think we can make a difference and help a lot of people out in Nashville and Tennessee and the surrounding areas, for sure.”
Switching gears a bit. There’s been some controversy over Rory McIlroy winning two of the four playoff events yet not taking home the FedExCup. I don’t see what the big deal is. If you’re a regular reader, you know that by no means am I a huge fan of the format. It’s just the way it works and the players know that going into it.
Just ask McIlroy, who shot a disappointing four-over 74 to drop from T4 to T10.
As the 23-year-old from Northern Ireland finished his media rounds, he was met by his agent, who said something to him that I couldn’t discern, McIlroy shrugged and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “$3 million isn’t so bad for losing.”
I laughed because it was the simple truth. When he saw my reaction, he chuckled, as well, realizing the absurdity of what he had just said (it’s a lot of money). It was refreshing.
Besides, there’s a more important event to look forward to — the Ryder Cup at Medinah next week.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)