September 14, 2009

Cruel Lesson

Brandt Snedeker's missteps on the 72nd hole of the BMW Championship cost him a spot in the FedEx Cup finale, but he intends to learn from it

"Nobody died," Brandt Snedeker said of his four-putt on Sunday at Cog Hill. "I just have to keep going."

"Nobody died," Brandt Snedeker said of his four-putt on Sunday at Cog Hill. "I just have to keep going."

It wasn't like Brandt Snedeker was over it, or that he had moved on, but the fact that he called back was an indication that Sunday's four-jack from 12 feet 9 inches on the 72nd hole of the BMW Championship wasn't as bad as it looked. "I didn't get a lot of sleep last night," Snedeker admitted from his home in Nashville on Monday . "But it's not the end of the world."

No, but it was the end of his road to the Tour Championship, a pathway that started 13 tournaments and 14 weeks ago, with a rib injury and the possibility that his season would end at Q school. That's why all the stunned silence when his second putt from 3 feet 4 inches lipped out, and his third putt from 1 foot 2 inches lipped out, and finally his fourth putt from 8 inches mercifully disappeared for a triple-bogey 7.

Playing with Snedeker was Tiger Woods, who said afterward, "You feel bad for him." Snedeker walked off that green like a ghost, signed his card along with a few autographs, and took questions in the parking lot. Mandy, his wife, was with him for the flight to Tennessee, so he had a support group.

Remembering the tears that flowed following his hard-fought loss to Trevor Immelman at the 2008 Masters, there was a concern that Snedeker's final four strokes in a round of 76 would be career threatening.

Not knowing whether he'd pick up the phone or not, swing coach Todd Anderson called Sunday night. Snedeker not only answered, he answered with a tone in his voice that indicated to Anderson that long-term, "Sneds" was going to learn an expensive lesson from this one, and come out the other side a better player. "He's grown a lot since Augusta," Anderson said. "Regardless of what level you're on, there's adversity you have to overcome to become a better player. There are two ways you can go: you can embrace it or let it get you down. Brandt sounded strong. I told him, 'You'll play in plenty of Tour Championships.' "

What did it cost Snedeker? In terms of cold, hard cash, the estimates range from $750,000 to $1 million. Had he two-putted for bogey, it would have immediately meant roughly $80,000 more from the BMW purse. Last place at the Tour Championship is $120,000, plus the FedEx bonus pool, plus endorsement contract bonuses, plus -- and here's the big hurt -- by qualifying for East Lake, he would have locked down spots in the 2010 Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.

"It was completely a mental yip on my part," Snedeker said, assessing why the damages occurred.

Business manager Mac Barnhardt doesn't see this as a career-defining moment. "This is not an Ed Sneed," he said. "Brandt will look at it as the glass being half full. This will not destroy his spirit."

Snedeker told writers in the parking lot his first mistake was to ask NBC's Roger Maltbie what he needed to make to qualify. After a poor drive, Snedeker punched out and hit a wedge over the water to 13 feet. Statistically, Snedeker leads a category on the tour called Total Putting, but the real irony is that in the range from 10-15 feet -- which is where he was after reaching the 18th green at Cog Hill in three shots -- he is also No 1. Statistics mean little when the nerves are fried.

"I'm sure John Senden thought he was toast," Anderson said. Senden started the week ranked 29th but shot 77 to drop out of the top 30. Snedeker was 42nd going into the BMW, but after going nine under over the first 54 holes, was projected inside the Tour Championship bubble. "It's good to play with Tiger in the last group, it means you're doing something right," Snedeker said. "When you get that up close and personal, you feel like the game's there. I played good golf the last two months. That's why it's so frustrating to end the year like that."

Besides his mop of strawberry blond hair and old-school visor, the 28-year-old Snedeker is known for one-putting his way to ridiculously low scores. As the Public Links champion in the 2004 Masters, he birdied his way through Amen Corner in his first competitive round at Augusta. In 2007, in his third event as a rookie on the PGA Tour, he shot 27 on the front nine at Torrey Pines and 61 for the day on the way to a T-3 finish. In his lone PGA Tour victory, Snedeker made 10 birdies and shot 63 to win the 2007 Wyndham Championship. He won Rookie of the Year honors and was equally adept in the pressroom as he was on the greens. "The only time I've been nine under after nine holes," he said, "was playing Tiger Woods on PlayStation."

Cog Hill was the first time he played with Woods, and it was no video game. He closed in a Snedeker flurry on Saturday, rolling in a 35-footer on No. 15 for the first of four straight birdies over the final four holes to conclude a round of 66 and secure a pairing with Woods. Sunday was the end of an exhausting journey that started in Memphis the week before the U.S. Open, a schedule necessitated by a slow start caused by an equipment adjustment (TaylorMade to Bridgestone) and malfunction (the face of his Odyssey putter was dinged up and the feel couldn't be replicated).

But the real interruption of Snedeker's 2009 season came with a rib injury suffered at this year's Masters, causing him to miss nine straight weeks. In May, he was worried about keeping his tour card. At Cog Hill, after four top fives to conclude the season and a solid start in the playoffs (T-12 at the Barclays), Snedeker played himself back into the mix.

If he gets that 3-footer in the hole for bogey, he's set up for 2010. "It's frustrating," he said. "My main goal for the year was the Tour Championship and I pretty much wrapped that up. I struggled through Sunday, but I was hanging in there. It was just one of those things. I think fatigue played a role. I was thinking the wrong stuff. I never should have hit that putt. I should have backed off. That's just something I have to learn. I was thinking about all the stuff that comes along with that putt, everything you're not supposed to think about."

Now he is thinking about how to make it up. Snedeker is going full bore into the Fall Finish, starting with the Turning Stone Resort Championship the week after East Lake. His goals are to finish top 30 on the final money list, which would mean a Masters invitation, and win a tournament, which would mean getting on a plane to Kapalua for the season-opening event.

"Nobody died," he said, reciting the words his idol, Tom Watson, used after losing this year's British Open. "I just have to keep going."