I first met Brandt Snedeker at the 2005 U.S. Open in Pinehurst.
It’s the only time I’ve met Snedeker, and our conversation — me as reporter, him as fledging pro golfer — lasted only a few minutes.
At the time, Snedeker was a 24-year-old Nationwide Tour player chasing a dream, barely a couple of years removed from being a college golfer under the tutelage of Sanford native Press McPhaul at Vanderbilt.
I was essentially who I am now, the sports editor of The Sanford Herald. And in fact, I wasn’t the first reporter from The Herald to speak with Snedeker that week. That honor fell to Jonathan Owens, who was a sportswriter at the time.
I was covering, for the week, the ups and downs of the Open experience for Snedeker’s former teammate, Luke List. List was a rising junior coming off a U.S. Amateur runner-up finish and T-33 at The Masters that April. Jon did a story on both Snedeker, List and McPhaul and their week together. I did a quick story about Snedeker later in the week.
Neither Sneds nor List made the cut that week, but it’s been fun following the guys since then. While List has started his first full season on the Nationwide Tour this season, Snedeker is now a veteran of the PGA Tour. And not long after he won at Greensboro in his rookie season (two years after the Open), I got to chat with 2007 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year again, this time on the phone, for a quick interview.
I told Snedeker that he probably didn’t remember me or Jon from the Open. His response? “Are you kidding? Of course I remember you guys. Nobody else even knew who I was that week.”
It’s easy to root for a guy who seems as grounded as Snedeker. He endeared himself to tons of fans with the way he reacted to his final-round play at the 2008 Masters, where he played in the final pairing and came in third. And, I must say, it broke my heart last season when he four-jacked his way out of the Tour Championship last season — placing himself outside the Masters field as things stand now.
But Snedeker can still play his way into Augusta; he probably just needs a win to do it. He’s in position now, leading after three rounds at Phoenix, and as usual, was his typical self-depricating self following his round on Saturday.
A few quotes:
On the stadium experience of the par-3 16th:
“It was crazy,” Snedeker said. “You’ve got to take it with a grain of salt and realize golf needs that. We need people out here having fun, being excited about being at a golf tournament. If you can’t take it for one hole, good God, get over yourself and have some fun.”
On his rough season last year, where he battled too much confidence and injuries:
“You just listen to your hype,” Snedeker said. “You hear people talking about how good you are and how much you could be the next big thing, you should be winning each week. And the minute you think that you should be winning the golf tournament each week, you’re completely out of bounds.”
Some notes from The Associated Press’ story from the tournament:
*The turnaround, he said, came last July at the AT&T National, where he tied for fifth.
“Literally like a flipped switch,” Snedeker said, “and I said, ‘I’m sick and tired of this.’ I don’t care if I have to quit playing golf, I’m not going to keep playing the way I’ve been playing. And ever since then I’ve been playing good.”
*Snedeker’s only bogey Saturday, on the par-4 14th, was the most critical hole of the round, he said.
He pulled his second shot into the left bunker. He failed to clear the bunker with his third shot and, with a bad lie, knocked his fourth shot 32 feet past the pin. Then he nailed the putt.
“That says a lot about where my head is right now,” Snedeker said. “… It completely changed the way I walked on the 15th tee, feeling excited, confident, everything still going good.”
* The scene around the 16th was madness, with the mostly young crowd packed elbow-to-elbow, beer in hand.
People lined up to get into the bleachers as if it was some trendy Scottsdale night club.
When Snedeker teed off, fans nearest the tee shouted “gentleman, scholar, athlete,” the golfer’s high school motto.
Now you know why I root for Brandt Snedeker.