By: Ron Higgins
SEC Digital Network
The first rule for golfers hoping to win The Masters is simple.
You don’t win The Masters. The Masters wins you.
No one knows this better than former Vanderbilt golfer Brandt Snedeker. On Sunday, for the second time in six years, he led golf’s most prestigious tournament on the final day, only to falter.
In 2008 at age 27, he tied for the lead in the last round after an eagle-3 on No. 2 and finished tied for third after a final round 77 (5-over) and 284 (4-under).
He was so emotionally spent from the week that he cried during the press conference following his final round.
On Sunday, age at 32 now married and a father, and winner of last year’s FedExCup as the best golfer on the tour, Brandt shared the lead going into the final round. But after carding a birdie on his first hole, his putter betrayed him. The once-fast greens slowed to a crawl, Brandt didn’t make the adjustment and finished tied for sixth place after a three-over 75 gave him the same 284 (4-under) that he had in ’08.
This time, though, there weren’t tears at the end of the day. Hurt, yes, but no wet stuff running down Brandt’s face, because he is now a mature golfer in full control of his game.
“I had no clue what I was doing in 2008,” he said. “I had no game plan, no idea of when to be aggressive, when not to be aggressive, how to play this golf course the way you're supposed to play it.
“I'm not as crushed as I was in 2008 because I know I'm going to be there again. I'm very disappointed that I didn't win, but I realize that I'm not that far off from winning this thing. I'm going to do it soon.”
With golfers joining the pro tour barely out of high school, it’s easy to forget that 2013 is just Brandt’s seventh season on the tour. He’s already one of the most successful former SEC golfers ever, earning $19,236,143 lifetime with five career wins, five second place finishes, sixth third place finishes, 40 top 10s and 67 top 25 finishes in 174 tour events played.
Brandt probably could have even been on a faster track had he not had a list of injuries. In 2005, he broke a rib swinging a club and then in 2007 he broke his collarbone. He had a shoulder problem in '09 and underwent hip surgery after the 2010 season.
He changed his workout habits from three to four days a week to 30 minutes pre-round and 30 minutes post-round to make sure his body stays strong and flexible.
Even then, injuries occur, such as earlier this season after he got off to a sizzling start finishing in the top three in three of the season’s first four tournaments, including a win in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Sixteen of his first 19 rounds were in the 60s and two other rounds at 70.
It appeared Brandt was picking up where he left off last season (when he won twice, had seven top 10 finishes in 22 tourneys and won $4,989,739) when he sustained a left rib injury (a strained intracostal muscle) that sidelined him for five weeks.
“The healing process actually came at a great time with me,” Brandt said. “I got to spend a lot of time at home with my family. I had played a bunch of golf in a row and came at a good time. I did everything I could to make it faster, come back faster between injections and therapy and stuff like that, but it's an injury that you have to let heal on it's own time.
“Trust me, I’ve been in way too many doctor’s offices in the last couple years. I can go without seeing too many for a while. I definitely could have minored in the human anatomy in college for what I’ve learned over the last three years and what I’ve been through. Hopefully I've wrapped up my injuries for about the next ten years.”
Maybe it has been becoming a husband to his wife Mandy and father to his 2-year old daughter Lily, but there’s a definite maturity to Brandt’s game that wasn’t there five to six years ago.
I remember talking with him at a Nashville restaurant for two hours a few months after his ’08 Masters finish. At the time, it seemed like even he wasn’t quite sure how it happened, like the golf Gods wanted to make him “the Cinderella that came out of nowhere,” referencing Bill Murray’s Carl the Groundskeeper character from Caddyshack.
But the Brandt I’m seeing now. He’ll tell you he:
Knows exactly who he is: “I'm not Tiger Woods. I'm not a Rory McIlroy. I'm not going to be a guy that makes a hundred cuts in a row or be an overpowering player. I'm going to be a guy that goes through up and downs, and I realize that. I try to minimize the downs and maximize the up.”
Understands his approach to every tournament: “I have a mental game plan of how I'm going to play every hole on the golf course, a mental game plan of how I'm going to play certain holes for the week, like a standard. Maybe it's the par 5s I need to play 8 under par or make sure I play the par3s at even par or better or something like that. Something like that gets me into an idea, a game plan of certain parameters I need to hit throughout the course of the week to have a chance of winning. It gives me a focus for the week.”
Realizes the best is yet to come: “I talked to my family and agents all the time about this is my primetime, from now until about 40, historically what golfers do, this is the time we play our best golf. I have to take advantage of my skills and really put golf first and make sure that this is my primetime to win majors, win tournaments and try to maximize that time.”
That’s why in the next few days, the pain of a couple of missed putts and two loose swings on Sunday that cost Brandt his first green Masters champion jacket will fade.
Just like in his youth, spending long, hot summer days at Nashville municipal courses working on his game, Brandt will head back to the driving range, beat some balls, correct any minor flaws and get ready for a new week and the three remaining majors down line (U.S. Open June 13-16, British Open July 18-21, PGA Championship August 8-11).
“Any time have you a chance to win the Masters and you don't come through, my life long dream, you're going to be upset, you're going to cry, you know, but I'll get through it,” Brandt said. “I really good chance to win a major, but I learned you’ve got to make adjustments on the fly at majors.
“I'm playing great, I look forward to what the next weeks are going to hold. I fully expect to be in contention for the U.S. Open. I know my game can hold up to it. I'm ready to go do it.”