Sept. 27, 2012
This article on Brandt Snedeker was written by Vanderbilt graduate Andrew Derr in 2003 and was published in the Vanderbilt Flagship, which is now known as Commodore Nation. Derr is a former sportswriter at the Vanderbilt Hustler, a Russell-Rice Scholarship recipient and recently completed a wrote a biography on Fred Russell. The book is titled Life of Dreams, The Good Times of Sportswriter Fred Russell and was published in June.
Snedeker is a member of the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team that begins play on Friday.
Thousands of golfers make birdies every day. Not many, however, accomplish it at the age of seven.
Meet Vanderbilt's Brandt Snedeker, who accomplished just that, not to mention a whole lot more
At the age of nine, Snedeker broke 40 for the first time with a score of 38 over nine holes. And at the "veteran" age of 13, this golfing whiz kid carded his first ever hole-in-one, the rarest and most coveted of golf feats.
Proving it was no fluke, Snedeker has recorded five more aces in his young career, all of which have occurred in competition, and the most recent of which occurred this past September when he finished in second place at the season-opening Kiawah Island Intercollegiate Tournament in South Carolina.
To put it mildly, this guy is good.
With the NCAA Championships scheduled for the last weekend in May, Snedeker is putting the finishing touches on a brilliant career at Vanderbilt. After garnering 2nd-team All-America honors last season, the Nashville-native won three times last fall and recorded a Top-10 finish in ten of 12 events this season. Snedeker also finished second twice and third twice this season.
Snedeker is currently ranked No. 6 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings and his 70.55 stroke average has led the Southeastern Conference the entire season.
In recognition of these accomplishments, the SEC recently named Snedeker its Male Golfer of the Year. It is the first time in Vanderbilt's history that a Commodore has received this award.
"It's probably one of the highlights of my career, but to be quite honest, it hasn't even sunk in yet," the senior and local Montgomery Bell Academy graduate admitted. "A couple of years down the road, I'll probably realize what a great honor it is."
In typical Snedeker style, when asked recently about the award, the golfer preferred to focus on the team, rather than himself.
"Right now, I'm just thinking about playing well and getting the team through to Nationals," Snedeker said prior to the NCAA East Regionals. "The awards are great, I love getting them, but they really don't do much for you when you go to tee it up."
For all his team-first approach, though, make no mistake about it: Snedeker is a golfer who feeds off a high level of individual confidence.
"If I tee it up and play my game and play well, I know I can beat anybody in the world," he said. "That includes Tiger Woods. Sure, Tiger's going to beat me 9 out of 10 times, because he is the best in the world, one of the best ever, but I can't let myself think that if I were to ever play him.
"It's just the way I think, kind of a dumb arrogance I suppose," Snedeker added with a laugh when discussing the thought of playing against the world's #1 golfer. "But it's just the way I play, and I would not be scared to tee it up tomorrow against him if the opportunity came to me."
Turning Confidence into Victories
For the past three years, Vanderbilt head golf coach Press McPhaul has witnessed that confidence up close.
"Brandt has a tremendous amount of confidence in his ability to hit golf shots," McPhaul said of his senior leader. "Brandt is as confident as any player I've ever been around, and things just don't bother him. When the tournament starts, he has full confidence in his ability and he just doesn't let a lot of doubt creep in."
During the last off-season, McPhaul noticed the changes that Snedeker was making in his mental approach to the game.
"During his junior year, after getting through freshman and sophomore year and seeing that he could play with these guys, he really took his commitment to a new level," McPhaul said. "Brandt really started to work very, very hard, and once he made that decision to see how good he could be, that's when he really took off."
The fruits of that focus reached new heights this past fall. After opening the season with a second-place finish at the Kiawah Island tournament in September, Snedeker followed up that performance with his first-ever collegiate victory. Shooting 65-68-65 to finish at 12-under par, Snedeker captured the Mason Rudolph Championships, the tournament hosted by Vanderbilt at The Legends Club and named after the Commodore's former coach.
"Winning the Mason Rudolph Championships this year meant a lot to me," Snedeker said. "Mason has been so instrumental in my growth as a player, and my growth as an individual. He is such a great role model and a nice guy to be around. Winning his tournament, I could not be more honored than to do something like that."
Snedeker counts his first college victory as one of his greatest golf accomplishments.
"I knew I was good enough to win, and to do it here in Nashville in front of my family and friends, I played my own game and played really solid," Snedeker said. "I shot 5-under par so I didn't back into the title and that was a great way to finish the tournament."
Snedeker continued his torrid play in October, winning his next two tournaments at a combined 21-under par. His play in the fall resulted in a No. 1 collegiate ranking, a first for a Commodore golfer.
"I really worked on my game and practiced really hard over the summer," Snedeker said when asked about his phenomenal start to his senior season. "It all kind of came together in the fall, and I wish I could point to what it was exactly. But I had everything working the first few tournaments, and it came really easy to me."
Short Game Key for Senior Swinger
Even though he has not finished first this spring, Snedeker has remained in the top 10 in five of seven tournaments.
"I've been playing pretty good in the spring, but I haven't quite been able to get the magic going again," Snedeker said. "I am doing a lot of the same things I was doing before, but I'm just not getting the breaks or making the game as easy as it was in the fall. It's just one of those things with golf. You have great periods and then you have some down periods."
Like all golfers, Snedeker knows the sport can be unpredictable, if not maddening.
"Golf is funny. I could go out and play three of my best rounds ever and lose to a guy by five shots," he said recently. "Or I could play three mediocre rounds and win by three shots. Sometimes you score better when you are playing mediocre than when you are playing great, so you just have to play as well as you possibly can and let things play out."
If he has mastered any one element of his game, Snedeker has learned that to score well in golf, it comes down to the short game.
"If you ask anybody about my golf game and what I focus on while I'm playing, it's not so much how far I hit the ball," the senior said. "It's more about saving shots around the green. I really focus on my putting."
That focus has paid off. Snedeker is currently ranked No. 1 among Division I golfers in putts per round (28.36) and putts per greens-in-regulation (1.737).
Coach McPhaul has analyzed Snedeker's technique and believes his putting success stems from his confidence and instincts.
"He holes a lot of putts, and he plays his shots very decisively and assertively," McPhaul said. "Brandt picks out his target and trusts his instincts. On the putting green, that's a key factor. He takes a look at it, he visualizes it, and he doesn't waste a lot of time."
Snedeker's competitive nature is also a clear factor regarding his mental focus around the green.
"I just hate losing. No matter what we're playing for, it kills me to lose," he said. "There's nothing more demoralizing than when you are playing with somebody, you're hitting the ball better than they are, but they are tying you on every hole because you are missing putts.
"And then they make a long putt and beat you. That just kills you," Snedeker added. "It's so frustrating to have someone hit the ball worse than you but walk out of there with a better score. I try to make sure that doesn't happen to me."
Prior to his collegiate career, Snedeker made a name for himself on the Tennessee high school circuit. He won back-to-back state titles, and next to his first collegiate victory, Snedeker's first ever title in competitive golf is not far behind in terms of memorable moments.
"My first win was junior year in high school when I won the state tournament in a playoff," he recalled. "There were pressure packed moments, but I did well under the gun and I won on the 4th playoff hole. I knew what was going on and I knew what the moment meant."
Despite growing up in Nashville and attending high school at MBA, however, Snedeker's commitment to Vanderbilt in 1999 was not a foregone conclusion. His older brother Haymes was a four-year letterman in golf at Mississippi, and the attraction to Oxford was a strong one.
"I was thinking about going to Ole Miss right up until the signing time," Snedeker recalled. "But I really wanted to take advantage of my four years and I really thought I could do more at Vanderbilt."
In the end, distance did not make the heart grow fonder.
"I've been a fan for a long time, and Vanderbilt's always been close to my heart," Snedeker said. "It was a good choice for me and it's been one of the best decisions I've ever made."
The summer after his freshman year, however, Snedeker learned there would be a new head coach, someone other than the role model (Rudolph) who recruited him to play at Vanderbilt.
"I was very worried about it when it happened," Snedeker admitted, when asked about the hiring of then 29-year old coach Press McPhaul. "If the wrong guy is brought in, or there's a tough transition period, it can be hard. And it occurred right when I was in the middle of my playing career."
In the end, however, things worked out for the best.
"Press came in, there was a smooth transition, and it's been a great fit," Snedeker said.
At first, McPhaul had only heard of Snedeker's play.
"There was no doubt that he was extremely talented and had a lot of God-given ability to play the game. I had heard that from some coaches before I came to Nashville," McPhaul said.
In McPhaul's first tournament as Vanderbilt coach, Snedeker was kind enough to provide his new coach with a "Welcome-to-Vanderbilt" gift, so to speak.
"At tournaments I'll go around to par 3 holes and watch the guys play the par 3's," McPhaul said, thinking back to that first tournament.
"It was my sophomore year in Chicago and I hit a 7-iron," Snedeker added. "It was the first par 3 that he watched, and I was the first guy to come through."
McPhaul still shakes his head at what happened next.
"It's my first tournament at Vanderbilt, the first hole I watched, and he made a hole-in-one. He knocked it right in," McPhaul recalled.
In the years since that day, McPhaul has helped Snedeker become a Top Ten collegiate golfer. Already a proven successful recruiter, McPhaul finds it hard to overstate Snedeker's value to the Vanderbilt program.
"Two years ago, he was our first All-SEC player when he made the second team," the third-year coach and former North Carolina State player said. "Last year, he was our first All-SEC first team player, and now this year, it's another first with the SEC Player of the Year.
"This means a lot to the program when I go out and recruit people," McPhaul added. "We're still building here at Vanderbilt. We still want to be better nationally than we are right now. When I talk to people, I can say, `Look. Brandt Snedeker is proof-positive you can be as good as you want to be here at Vanderbilt. You can be the SEC Player of the Year.'"
Playing with Tiger?
Only time will tell if this year's SEC Golfer of the Year will one day be teeing it up with the world's #1 golfer Tiger Woods. But Brandt Snedeker is ready for the next phase of his golf career to begin.
After he knocks down his final putt as a Commodore, Snedeker will turn pro at the end of the summer. Like almost all amateur players trying to make the jump to the next level, Snedeker will attempt to qualify for the PGA Tour through "Q School", a grueling process that occurs each fall. Each year, over 1,000 hopefuls play in regional qualifying tournaments around the country. The field is narrowed to less than 200 and these golfers compete in a six-round, 108-hole tournament. The top 35 receive their PGA Tour cards for two years.
Always confident, Snedeker is nonetheless realistic about his chances.
"The hardest thing about golf is there's no draft. There's no easy way to get in," he said. "You have to work your butt off to get in there. There are guys who have been working their butt off for 20 years trying to get in, so it would be arrogant and naïve of me to think that I'm going to go out there and do it my first try."
Snedeker's coach has a similar outlook.
"I think Brandt has a great opportunity to succeed at the next level, but I don't think anyone can guess as to how quickly it can happen," McPhaul said. "He knows it will take some time to learn the ropes. He's really looking at it from a long-term perspective, and I think he has a great chance to do it."
As to whether or not Snedeker is ready, even the SEC Golfer of the Year admits that's hard to know right now.
"I know the kind of competitor I am, and there's not a person out there who I wouldn't tee it up with and think I can't win. In that sense, I think I'm ready to get out there and play with those guys," Snedeker offered.
"But in another sense, I don't think my game is quite where it needs to be in order to compete week in and week out. I think I'm getting there, but it's going to take a while," the senior concluded.
For now, Snedeker has the benefit of not having to think about it just yet. Having been ranked at the top of collegiate golf this year, Vanderbilt's top player hopes to finish strong and compete in the NCAA Championships. Who knows - maybe this Commodore can capture one more title before playing with the big boys.
Ryder Cup Photo Credit: Montana Pritchard, PGA of America