Brandt Snedeker is a different breed of golfer. He plays fast. He’s a wizard on the greens. He doesn’t think he’s a great ball-striker yet. And after years of watching Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson bomb drives, he’s taken inspiration from Jim Furyk, David Toms and Steve Stricker.
Snedeker’s 2013 has been like he never stopped after winning the Tour Championship. He’s been second to Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and third at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Sunday, to no one’s surprise, he won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am by two shots over Chris Kirk, who is in his third full season on the PGA Tour.
“There's not much better place to be on the planet with a two‑shot lead on that tee box,” Snedeker said about the 18th tee at Pebble Beach Golf Links. “It was a nice feeling. One‑shot lead would have been a completely different story, but that two‑shot lead, it felt pretty special there.”
He had said his plan was to attack early on the first six holes because that’s where the birdies were.
“I did see his interview last night,” James Hahn, who played with Snedeker, said. Hahn, a PGA Tour rookie, was tied with Snedeker at the start of the round and eventually finished T3. “I kind of made that my game plan, but I put good strokes on holes two and three, and the putts just didn't fall.”
Snedeker’s putts dropped. He eagled the second, birdied the fourth and the sixth. He never lost the lead, and he continued to make putts as necessary, faltering only at the par four 9th where he had a three-putt. He added birdies on the back at the 10th, 11th and, surprisingly, at the 17th, where birdie is atypical for anyone.
“Seventeen was the first putt I had since, it seemed like 10 or 11, that was up the hill, be really aggressive with, take the break out of and give it a good chance to go,” he said about getting a two-shot advantage with the final birdie.
However, according to Snedeker, losing Farmer’s Insurance and Waste Management Opens really gave him incentive to win.
“I definitely didn't want to do anything but win today,” he said. “I was out there for one purpose and one purpose only, and I was extremely focused all day. I did a great job of staying patient and I did a great job of playing the golf course the way you're supposed to play it.”
He’s now included in the next-player-sure-to-win-a-major conversation, which can be pressure no one needs. But at this point in his career, he’s learned to handle pressure and to measure his strengths and weaknesses against the rest of the top players in the world.
“You watch Tiger Woods or Fred Couples or Tom Watson hit a golf ball, and it sounds different; hits the center of the bat every time and never misses it."
"I'm not one of those kind of players,” he admitted comparing ball-striking to what he calls elite ball-striking.
“Probably one of the hardest things I've had to deal with is, my rookie year out here, I thought I could hit the ball far. And you get out here and you realize you can't. There's a lot of guys hit it a lot farther than do I,” he admitted, adding that instead of trying for distance, he decided to model his game after guys who play more the way he does: Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and David Toms.
“You watch those guys pick their way around a golf course and the way they play and what their strengths are and what they need to focus on,” he added. “So it really kind of inspired me to go that way instead of watching Tiger and Phil and Dustin and all those guys bomb it. I was watching Jim and Steve and David Toms and those guys, the way they have made their careers.”
He also cited Luke Donald’s ascension to the world No. 1 spot.
“Luke showed it can be done and that you don't have to bomb it to be the No. 1 player in the world. You have to do everything really well, and he gave us the blueprint of how you do it. You just have to follow that.”
Just as Brandt Snedeker learned by playing with and watching Woods, Mickelson, Furyk, Stricker and Toms, James Hahn learned by playing with Brandt Snedeker.
“To be able to play in a final round with Brandt Snedeker or whoever I play with, I feel like I can learn a lot from the experience,” Hahn said, adding that he also learned he needed to work on his putting. “I learned that he is a better guy than he is a golfer. The dude is world class. He's obviously one of the best, if not the best golfer right now, and possibly for the last year. But how he conducts himself as a person on and off the golf course, that's also world class. He's a great role model and just unbelievable golfer, and he deserved to win today.”
Snedeker also said something no one ever says. After four out of five weeks in contention, he admitted he’s tired.
“Today the last nine holes was a struggle to stay focused,” he explained. “I knew I was exhausted and knew I needed to really, really focus on doing the small stuff well.”
Now he gets a well-deserved break. He’s off to Hawaii (again) for a few days of R&R.
By comparison, because he finished in the top 10, James Hahn, PGA Tour rookie, earned the right to tee it up at the Northern Trust Open.
“No. 1 priority when I get to a golf tournament is to make the cut and just to have fun out here and learn as much as I can from other players, from the golf course and just have fun,” Hahn said. Tired or not, he’s going. It will be his sixth tournament in a row.
Phil Mickelson, assuming he did not injure himself slipping on the rocks in search of a golf ball Saturday, will tee it up at Riviera CC. He is one of four winners from the 2013 season who will tee it up in Pacific Palisades: Dustin Johnson (Hyundai Tournament of Champions), rookie Russell Henley (Sony Open in Hawaii) and Brian Gay (Humana Challenge).
In addition to Haas and Mickelson, past champions of the Northern Trust Open in the field include Robert Allenby (2001); Fred Couples (1990, 1992), who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in May; World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els (1999); Charles Howell III (2007); Corey Pavin (1994-95); Rory Sabbatini (2006) and Adam Scott (2005).
Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.