Snedeker not long, but rarely wrong
The two most famous and accomplished active golfers, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, may have won in exclamatory fashion in consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour, but the blooming of Brandt Snedeker stands out as the game’s most compelling story of 2013.
Knocking such kingpins off the marquee is no simple task, of course, but the freckle-faced, moppy-haired strawberry blond from Nashville has done so with a remarkable rise fueled by top-level consistency. In his past nine starts dating to last season, he has two victories, three second-place finishes, a third and a sixth. A record 267 score fueled the latest in his 2-2-1 streak, a two-stroke victory Sunday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
“It seems like over the last three months I’ve been waking up in a dream world,” he said.
The reality, though, is that Snedeker has figured it out at age 32, for decades the average age of a Masters champion, the prime age in golf when the mental and physical tend to merge upon high. He has solved the puzzle to the point he won at Pebble apparently despite a recurring case of sore ribs, an ailment he cited Tuesday as reason for withdrawing from next week’s WGC-Accenture Match Play.
In his seventh PGA Tour season, Snedeker long has had a terrific short game and has developed into one of the game’s best putters, ranking first last year. When a great putter significantly improves his swing and ballstriking, he will ascend. We’ve seen this before, as when Brian Gay cruised to 10-stroke victory four years ago. So it has been with Snedeker, now No. 4 in the world thanks to shooting in the 60s in 16 of his past 17 rounds.
He has never finished a season ranked better than 103rd in greens in regulation — and dropped as low as 182nd in 2010. This year, he’s sixth. He has never fared better than 110th in ball-striking and has been as low as 183rd. This year, he’s 30th.
The current groove, interestingly, was born out of what Snedeker and his instructor of almost seven years, Todd Anderson of Sea Island, Ga., call a “blessing in disguise.” Snedeker shot 77-78 and missed the cut at the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island last August. He put that weekend off to good use, resting and then visiting Anderson and tweaking his swing.
Something clicked. Or, as Anderson says, “The light went off the week after the PGA.” Off, as in emitting rays. Off, as in loud alarm. And so he went from streaky ballstriker to hot streak.
Anderson showed him video of old swing and new and went to work on fixing the downswing path and releasing the club properly. Snedeker’s clubface had the tendency to come into the ball too steeply and closed. Now, the face is more open and shallow as it moves toward the inside of the ball.
The change has helped Snedeker eliminate the left side of the course and hit his stock shot, a baby draw, more consistently.
“I’ve never seen a guy who is less satisfied with where he is than Brandt,” said Anderson, the 2010 PGA Teacher of the Year. “He always wants to get better. Money doesn’t motivate him. His challenge is reaching his potential and seeing how far and good he can get.”
Anderson says he’s somewhat surprised this kind of success didn’t happen earlier. Hip injuries and equipment issues, though, held Snedeker back some. Specifically, he cracked his driver at Doral last March, and it wasn’t until August that he found a suitable replacement.
“If we keep him where he is and fine-tune, I think he can do some special stuff,” Anderson said.
Special stuff means winning major championships and becoming America’s top player, two of Snedeker's reachable goals. Given his hot start, Snedeker can’t wait for the Masters.
“I go in there with a ton of confidence,” he said. “I know that if I play the way I played the last three weeks that there’s very few people in the world that can beat me.”
He has that type of swagger now, even though he is not a long hitter, averaging 278 yards off the tee and never having fared better than 108th in distance in a season. He can’t overpower a course, but he can systematically dismantle one. Little wonder then that he says he has closely watched and learned from the likes of Luke Donald, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and David Toms.
“Luke gives us hope, guys that don’t bomb it, because he (became No. 1 in the world),” Snedeker said.
Snedeker’s skill and style have allowed him to win at such golf shrines as Harbour Town, Torrey Pines, East Lake and now Pebble Beach. That kind of game also has turned him into the current talk of golf.
“I wish I could hit it farther,” he said, “but I think I’m OK doing it the way I’m doing it right now.”