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    Former Vandy Golfer Snedeker Proves Nice Guys Can Finish First

    On Sunday, former Vanderbilt golfer and Nashville native Brandt Snedeker shot his best PGA tour round of the year, a seven-under par 64 on the last day of The Heritage, and won a playoff to capture his second PGA event ever in five full seasons on the tour.
    On Thursday, he shot a 5-over 77, his second worst round this season, on the opening day of the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
    But if you know Brandt, he’s not going to dwell on a terrible round for too long, just like he wasn’t continually reveling in winning a tournament for the first time since 2007.
    “I have a charmed life,” says Brandt, 30, who’s off to the best start of his career with five top 10 finishes in his first 11 events to place him seventh on the money list $2,031,100, more than he earned in each of the last three years. “How many people can say they are living a dream by playing a sport, playing the best golf courses in the world and getting paid handsomely to do it?' "
    Even though he has struggled with his consistency the last three seasons since being named the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in ’07 when he earned $2,836,643, Brandt has never lost faith in his ability to play the game that he fell in love with at an early age.
    Brandt and his older brother Haymes, a former Ole Miss golfer who's now an attorney and a judge in Fairhope, Ala., both got a well-rounded golf and life educations from their parents Larry and Candy, now retired.
    Larry, who had been an attorney, took his boys golfing mostly on Nashville municipal courses, not country clubs, where Larry had his boys play quickly so they wouldn't hold up the adult golfers. Brandt plays with the same quick pace today.
    "The golf course was my babysitter," says Brandt, who paid homage to Shelby Park, one of his favorite Nashville public courses, by displaying his 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links championship trophy for a year in the Shelby Park pro shop. "I'd be there all day, and I loved it. I loved the way the club felt in my hand. I loved the smell of the golf course."
    Brandt's desire to beat his older brother drove him to perfection. Haymes didn’t back up an inch, deviously plotting ways to torture little brother.
    He'd lock Brandt in a closet and tell him it was the "bogeyman" closet. Once in a backyard football game, Haymes threw a pass intentionally long and led a focused Brandt face-first into a tree.
    "Sometimes, I still look at Brandt and he's perpetually that chubby, uncoordinated 12-year old who gets sunburned every time he goes outside," Haymes says. "There are nights every now and then that I wake up thinking, 'Man, I was so hard on that kid.' It was that 'Boy Named Sue' mentality. I made him tough."
    When Brandt played in The Masters as an amateur in 2004, one of his favorite memories was arguing over club selection with Haymes, who was serving as his caddy.
    Brandt wanted to hit a 6-iron to the 10th green. Haymes told him to hit a 7, because he didn't need to land on the upper part of the green.
    "We're arguing back and forth, I'm calling him an idiot," Brandt recalls. "I hit the 6. It goes right in the cup, tears it up and pops out about an inch. I look at Haymes and say, 'Told you it was a 6,' knowing if I hadn't hit the pin, I would have been over the green dead as a doornail."
    Away from the golf course, the Snedeker boys had their eyes opened when they worked with their mother Candy, who operated a Nashville pawn shop called Pawns Unlimited. Candy’s boys learned how to deal with people from all walks of life.
    Like the customer who plopped a boa constrictor on the counter to pawn, with Candy’s immediate reaction, “"We don't take anything we've got to feed ... store policy."
    "We were taught to understand that we weren't any better than the people coming in the pawn shop," Haymes says. "Dad, who represented many different classes of people, always told us, 'Hey, you're one bad break away from being on the other side of the counter. Y'all remember that.' "
    It’s something that Brandt has never forgotten. Even on his worst days on the PGA tour, he still tries to connect with galleries.
    "You can see some of these guys out here, spoiled rotten making millions of dollars (complaining) and moaning," says Scott Vail, Brandt’s caddy, "but you'll never see Brandt do that. You never see him in a bad mood. He has that Southern-boy charm, who's kind and courteous to everyone watching him."
    One secret to playing great golf is playing an even temperament, the ability to erase the memory of a bad shot or a bad round. Brandt was like that as a kid, and it has always stuck.
    The late Mason Rudolph, who recently died on April 18 at age 76, was Snedeker’s golf coach at Vanderbilt when Snedeker became the school’s first all-American golfer ever.
    A couple of years ago, Rudolph said he marveled at Snedeker’s mental toughness.
    "Brandt looked like a player the first time I saw him play," said Rudolph, a Clarksville native who played more than 400 PGA Tour events before eventually becoming Vanderbilt's director of golf. "When he hit a bad shot, he showed no emotion.
    "That's something you can't teach. That's something all the great players have.”
    Brandt has had to summon that toughness many times early in his career, especially at the ’08 Masters which was emotional from start to finish
    For that year’s par 3 tourney, the Snedeker boys convinced their mother to caddy for Brandt. He wanted Candy involved, because just five years before, she had congestive heart failure.
    "We're out there ready to go, she has her full gear on and she said, 'I can't believe you talked me into this, I'm going to trip,'" Brandt recalls of his mother. "I was trying to make her nervous, so I told her, 'There's just millions of people watching on TV and thousands here, you'll be fine.'
    "After we got going, she was always the last one on the green because she was enjoying it so much. She had all her jewelry on, her big sunglasses, her big hat and she kept waving to the crowd. We call her Lucy after Lucille Ball, so I'd say, 'Come on, Lucy.' "
    In the first two rounds of the tournament, Brandt got to play with Tom Watson, the golfer he idolized and emulated growing up (“I had Ram golf clubs and Tom Watson wedges,” Brandt says). Watson returned the compliment, saying that Brandt "hits it a lot straighter and further than I ever did."
    The Hollywood ending would have been Brandt winning the world's most prestigious golf tourney, despite playing in the final group of the last day, battling relentless winds and slick greens.

    But he couldn't pull it off. He tied for the lead in the last round after an eagle-3 on No. 2 but fell back with eight bogeys over the final 16 holes. His irons grew inconsistent and the makeable birdie putts he enjoyed in the first three rounds disappeared.
    When he finished with a final round 77 (5-over), and 284 (4-under) for the tourney, he walked off the green smiling. But inside, he was devastated.
    Before Brandt walked in the press room, he saw his family. He saw his dad, who's always so nervous he chain-smokes and listens to the crowd reaction rather than watching Brandt hit. He saw his ailing mother, worn out from walking the course all week. He saw his older brother, who probably still has more hours than anyone as his golfing partner.
    Brandt began to cry and he couldn't stop.
    "He looks me square in the eye and says, 'Man, I'm so sorry I let y'all down and all these people who were here rooting for me,'" Haymes remembers.
    "I said, 'Brandt, you didn't let anybody down. You far exceeded our expectations. You did great. You're going to win this tournament one day. Shake it off. Give it three days, let it sink in, look back and you'll realize what you did.' "
    Brandt composed himself, walked in the interview room, began to speak and again broke down in front of the media. When he finished, his raw emotion caused a room full of usually cynical writers to applaud.
    "I wasn't crying because I lost," Brandt says. "I poured my heart and soul into that week. I gave everything I had and it wasn't enough, and it all started hitting me right there what had happened. It was special to me that those writers realized it was just me being me."
    By exposing his feelings, Brandt touched a nerve.
    Country music star Vince Gill, an avid golfer and one of Brandt's friends, called him and said, 'It's hard to live out a country song, but you're doing it.'"
    Watson, who became Brandt’s mentor, called and advised, "Brandt, I lost a lot of majors before I won one. That's part of being a golfer. Not everybody is a Tiger Woods who can win a Masters one of the first times out. To win a major, you've got to learn from the ones you lost."
    There were also the average golf fans that didn’t recognize Brandt before that Masters. But he won over a lot of followers that day, and they’ve been pulling for him ever since, even the last couple of seasons when wins have eluded him and his swing blew hot-and-cold.
    But not this season.
    For starters, Brandt’s physically better after off-season left hip surgery repaired a torn labrum.
    “It's not fun when you're 30 years old and your body is not 100 percent healthy,” Brandt says. “I never had to worry about aches and pains my whole career and then all of a sudden I had to have surgery.
    “You can't do what you want to do, you can't hit balls when you want to practice, you can't work out the way you want. You can't do anything you want to. It becomes frustrating, because you see what level of golf you should be play at, you can't get there because you can't do it.”
    Mentally, Brandt is in a happy place. In early March, Brandt’s wife Mandy gave birth to their first child, a girl named Lily Hayes.
    “Having a newborn at home gives me something else to focus on instead of my golf game so much,” Brandt says. “So I don't live and die by Thursdays and Fridays anymore, which is nice.”
    Sunday’s win was suspenseful for Brandt. Because he came out of nowhere in the last round to be the leader in the clubhouse, he had to wait two hours to see if his score would hold up.
    It didn’t. Luke Donald managed a final round one-under 70 to force a playoff, which Brandt won on the third playoff hole. He parred and Donald’s chip for par hit the flag and bounced off.
    “That was the longest two hours of my life,” Brandt says. “It was brutal. I tried to watch some of the golf, but then I never want to root against anybody, so it became hard to watch the golf, because I don't want them to do bad, but I don't want them to do great, either.”
    Brandt could have taken this week off, but he’s always felt if he’s swinging well, the last thing he wants to do is rest.
    “I've never understood, a lot of guys take weeks off after they win,” Brandt says. “They say they're tired, and I was like, well, you also just finished playing the best golf of your career and won last week. Why don't you keep going?
    “We tend to play on runs. I'm not naive enough to realize that most golfers make their year in about six or eight weeks if they play 30 tournaments. Hopefully I get on a little six-week run here that's really special.”


    Ron Higgins Bio

    •  Ron Higgins of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis has covered the SEC for more than 30 years.
    •  He’s a 1979 graduate of LSU and son of former LSU sports information director Ace Higgins.

    •  He is a past president of the Football Writers Association of America and an eight-time honoree as the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Writer of the Year.

    •  Working for The Commercial Appeal, Tiger Rag Magazine, the Shreveport Times, the Shreveport Journal, the Morning Advocate in Baton Rouge and the Mobile Register, he has won more than 150 national, regional and state writing awards. He has also written and co-written two books.
    •  Higgins is married to the former Paige Blanchard, also an LSU graduate, and has two sons, Carl, a Southeastern Louisiana University graduate who is serving in the military, and Jack, a high school student.