Brice Garnett was never supposed to be here, defending a title on the PGA Tour. Growing up in Gallatin, Missouri, a town with a population of just over 1,600 people, becoming a professional athlete in any sport, let alone golf, had to be a pie in the sky idea. Garnett would have been more than happy making a living behind a desk.
"My sophomore and junior year of college I was in school to get a finance degree and I’d probably have found myself working in an investment bank somewhere," said Garnett, who attended Missouri Western State University, graduating in 2006 with a degree in business finance.
"I really had no plans of going pro, it was always a pipedream. But [Missouri Western] played a huge part in me being on the PGA Tour right now."
Right now, Garnett is in the Dominican Republic, defending his first PGA Tour title at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship. Last year Garnett opened with a first-round 63, following it with rounds of 68, 69 and 70 to defeat 2019 Honda Classic winner Keith Mitchell by four strokes.
The victory came in the first year that the tournament was an opposite field event, being played the same week as the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. In some cases, winning an opposite field event can serve as a springboard to the next step in a pro's career, which could include trips to the WGC events, and hopefully the majors.
But Garnett has fallen into a bit of a post-victory slump, missing 13 of his last 31 cuts on tour, including six out of the last seven. At 142nd in the world, well outside of where he needs to be to qualify for events like the WGCs, Garnett is back in the D.R. as defending champion, which could be viewed as a step back. Garnett doesn't see it that way, and why should he? The 35-year-old journeyman is is still soaking it all in.
"Any time you can get in those WGC events, those are great to be in, but I’m super happy to be back down here," said Garnett. "They put on such a great event last year and treated us so great, I’m happy to be back to defend my title and support this event."
That's not to say he doesn't want more out of his career, and based off his history, he's going to work as hard as he can to get where he wants to be. Garnett has played on every mini tour you can think of: the Adams Pro Tour, the eGolf Tour, the Web.com Tour back when it was the Nationwide Tour and the Web.com Tour as its known now. Missouri Western, that tiny college in Saint Joseph, Mo., is where Garnett learned how to grind, and where he became the most decorated golfer in school history. He won 12 career tournaments, including six in a row, and was named an NCAA Division II All American three times. He did all that after a University of Missouri golf coach sent him a letter that said Garnett could try to walk on the team if he wanted.
"Definitely some fire and motivation for me," said Garnett. "But I truly believe everything works out for a reason and there’s a greater plan. I was meant to be at Missouri Western and I often look back and think if I would have gone somewhere else or transferred, just how crazy life is and the different path my life could have taken. I’m so thankful to Missouri Western for giving me the opportunity to come there, meet some great people and hone my skills.
"Had a great junior and senior year in college, ended up winning 12 times those two years, and my dad brought to my attention that some guys around town wanted to put some money behind me and get my start on the mini tours. It’s just been a steady, slow, grinding process the whole way, and I really never gave up. Had a lot of people behind me."
Some of those people included his close buddies he played with countless times at Daviess County Country Club, a nine-hole course in Gallatin that barely stretches over 3,000 yards from the tips. It was at there where Garnett earned the nickname of "skillet," one he still doesn't really understand. But you don't get to choose your nickname.
"I really don’t know how that nickname came about, it’s just a nickname a buddy gave me growing up on that 9-hole golf course. About eight or ten of my closest friends we’d play every day, a lot of ribbing, a lot of trash talk going on, and a guy called me home skillet one day and it just stuck. Went from home skillet to skillet and now I have a drink (vodka, fresca, cranberry) named after me at the local Mexican restaurant in Gallatin. I’m not really Mexican, but I guess they make a lot of money with it."
Considering his record South of the Border, Garnett might have to rethink that. He's finished seventh or better at the Mayakoba Golf Classic three times since 2015, including a solo fifth this year, his best finish this season and his only top 10. The host venue, El Camaleon Golf Club, has some similarities to Corales, which could explain why he's done so well at both courses.
"Growing up in the Midwest I played a lot of conditions, I learned how to play in the wind and struggle. Maybe not know exactly where the golf ball is going but learn how to grind out rounds in high school and college in the Midwest. Any time it gets windy, my caddie and I kind of lick our lips and get excited."
Both rain and wind are expected in Punta Cana on Thursday and Friday, so don't be surprised to see Garnett lurking on the leader board, even if he's been struggling of late. Garnett insists that the results are not indicative of his play, and a T-35 at the Players would suggest he's close to turning a corner.
"It’s a long season, sometimes you get in these little ruts where you’re not playing terrible but you just don’t have the momentum or your mindset might not be looking in the right direction. I’m staying positive, the two-year exemption is great and I’ve got a lot of golf ahead of me this year and all of next year as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if I have a good week coming up pretty soon."
When that good week comes, he's hoping there will be many more to follow. This time next year Garnett would like to be in Austin, Texas, playing in the Match Play. He'd like to be inside the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking, which would help him get into more majors, as he's played in just three (two U.S. Opens and a PGA). He wants the same thing every player wants, to compete against the best on the biggest stages. A little more hard work, something he's become quite accustomed to, could get him there.
"I think any time you grow up a grinder and a fighter I don’t think that leaves you at any time, and that’s living proof in my golf game."