Golf Magazine Interview: Brandt Snedeker on his grudge against the USGA and why drug testing pros is a waste of time
When Brandt Snedeker was growing up in suburban Nashville, his older brother Haymes tormented him. Haymes would pick on Brandt, pummel him in backyard football games, even lock him in a bedroom closest. Their lopsided rivalry extended to the golf course, where the Brothers Snedeker whiled away steamy summer days honing skills that would eventually land them starring roles on the golf teams at Ole Miss (Haymes) and, a few years later, Vanderbilt (Brandt). Only Brandt, though, possessed the drive to thrive at the next level, for which he still partly credits the affectionate beat-downs and put-downs administered by his big bro. “It toughened me up,” says Brandt, now 32 and a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, “and taught me how to compete.” This explains why at any given Tour stop, lovable, mop-topped “Sneds” morphs into a smack-talking killer, with a putting stroke that shows no mercy. [RELATED: Snedeker shares his putting secrets] On a drizzly morning at the Golf Club of Tennessee, Snedeker sat down with Golf Magazine to explain why he’s not afraid to get in Tiger’s ear, why he believes his major moment is coming, and why, even after his $10 million FedEx Cup windfall, he still sweats his finances.
Plenty of aspiring golfers are pushed by their fathers. You were pushed by your brother. Did Haymes really trap you in a closet?
Only when my parents were out. It was very traumatic. He would lock me in the bedroom closet and say, “Bogeyman, come get me!” He left me in there for about 30 minutes. I think that’s why I’m still scared of the dark. [Laughs] He was a great big brother, but he would literally beat the snot out of me all the time. My main goal in high school was to beat him at golf, because he was such a good player. But I didn’t do it until I got out of high school.
Haymes was a big talent at Ole Miss. Finally beating him must have confirmed to you that you had some serious game.
It did. He was a first-team All-SEC guy in college. He had just decided he wasn’t going to turn pro, that he was going to go to law school. We played in a tournament here in town called the New City Invitational. He had won it three years in a row and I played him. I had just committed to Vanderbilt and was getting ready to go in the fall. I went out there and shot 66 on Sunday and he shot 72. It was fun. Payback. A changing of the guard.
You’re one of the Tour’s speediest players. How’d you learn to play so quickly?
My dad [Larry, an attorney] was a stickler. When we played with him, it was, “Play fast first, play good second.” If you play golf in over four hours, that’s unacceptable. If there was nobody in front of us, nobody was ever going to wait on us.
Your mom owned a pawnshop, where you spent time working the counter. Some interesting characters must have passed through the store.
For sure. You saw some of the best people on the planet, with unbelievable work ethics, and then you’d see some of the worst people on the planet. There was this one family that my mom treated like her own family. They couldn’t afford their health care and monthly bills, so they pawned a drum set, still in the box. My mom had given them about $1,100 for the set before she finally decided to sell it. So I go downstairs, open up the drum set and the box is full of rocks. Stuff like that happened all the time. You learned lessons like that.
Did you buy or sell any cool golf gear?
Sure, we were always moving cool stuff. Golf clubs, stereos—this was back when stereos were still cool—all the newest movies, DVDs, guns, bows and arrows, impounded cars. Me and my brother got our first cars through the pawnshop.
What was your first car?
A Toyota Camry that had spent about a month at the bottom of a lake.
You’re regularly cited as one of the nicest guys on Tour. Do you have a darker side that we don’t see?
Not really. I try to treat people the right way. But I am extremely sarcastic. I like cracking the whip on people. I’m also extremely competitive. As nice as you might think I am, when I’m out there playing those guys on the course, I’m trying to whip the crap out of them. I don’t want to lose to anybody, and for me to do that, I really don’t like them when I’m playing. I’ll say, “Great shot,” and make sure they have a good time. But I could care less if they go out and shoot 60 or 80. I’m going to try to find a way to beat them.
You’ve been known to talk trash, too.
I’m not real big on people getting too big for their shoes. People do that with me all the time. When I think I’ve become this big deal, my brother, my friends or my wife will bring me right back to where I belong. So I try to do the same thing with Phil and Tiger and all those guys. I try to make sure that we all stay in the same bubble.
You’re not afraid to needle Tiger? That usually doesn’t end well for his antagonizers.
Not at all. Tiger loves giving it to you, so the only way you’re going to be able to hang with him is if you give it right back. You don’t want to get pushed over. One of the funnest rounds I’ve had was this year at Phoenix, when Phil won. I was four back going into the last round and made a run. Every time I hit a good shot, I would let [Phil] know. I’d say, “You’re getting old. Can you handle this?” Just messing with him. And he was giving it back. Every time he made a birdie, he’d stare over at me and smile: “I can’t see where that went. Where did it go?”
You’ve said that not getting selected for the 2003 Walker Cup team was a bitter pill to swallow. Where does that rank among your biggest disappointments?
It’s up there. It was the first time I really felt overlooked. I thought I had done some special stuff my senior year in college: winning three times, being SEC Player of the Year, being first-team All-American. And I had a great amateur career that summer, won the U.S. Public Links. Not to get picked, it was tough.
Did you get an explanation?
Fred Ridley [then the USGA president] wrote me a letter, letting me know what their thinking was.
What was it?
It’s a tough process. Someone gets left out every year. It was just upsetting. I’m still a little bitter. It’s something that I missed out on and I still hold a little bitterness toward the USGA. I still let them know about it every once in a while. I’d love to win a U.S. Open and let them know again.
One of your other toughest moments came at the 2008 Masters, when you were reduced to tears after falling from contention with a fourth-round 77. Why the waterworks?
Just sheer disappointment. I hadn’t really been in a moment like that before. It was really the third major I’d ever played in. To be in the last group with a chance to win, and to think I’m going to win, and to not play that great that day, it was tough. I was ill-equipped to handle the emotion. I knew the Masters was really important to me, but I didn’t realize just how important until I lost. It was a great learning experience. I realized how tough it is to win a major, how patient you have to be. I realized how unemotional you have to make it.
At this year’s Masters, you were tied for the 54-hole lead, then shot 75 to finish sixth. Afterward, you seemed more ticked off than heartbroken.
Yeah, because I realized I’m really, really close. In ’08, I didn’t know that I would ever be back in that situation. I had no clue where my career would go at that point. Now I know I’m going to be in that situation again. I was upset, pissed that I let that one slip through my fingers. I felt like I had a chance. But the more I put myself there, the better chance I’ll have of winning.
Do you fully expect to win a major?
I fully expect to win a major.
Earlier this year you revealed to Golf Magazine that you have a condition called low bone turnover, which is the cause of the repeated rib fractures that have plagued you in recent years. Are you concerned that your susceptibility to injury will hamper your career?
I’m just going to try to get through a year without injury. I’ve probably spent more time at doctors’ offices this year than at my house. But if you look over the course of guys’ careers, guys have injuries. Hopefully all mine have happened in a row. I’ve had my hips fixed; my hips are great now. I’m on some medication to deal with [my bone condition]. I’ve made a concerted effort to be more conscious about my diet and fitness.
You led the Tour in strokes gained-putting in 2012 and are fourth in 2013. Justin Rose says the key to your prowess is that you give every putt a chance.
I feel like with every putt I hit, if I’m not going three feet past the hole, I’ve not done my job. That’s why I practice inside five feet all the time. I feel like if I make my one-putts inside five feet all the time, I’m never going to three-putt. I’m going to make a lot of putts from 15 to 20 feet, because I’m not worried about a three-putt. I also have a great mentality with putting. I call it the law of averages. When I’m putting poorly, not making stuff, I know I’m a great putter. I know that when they’re not going in, they’re going to go in. It’s just a matter of time. It’s going to average out.
Like in blackjack?
Right—I just bide my time until I start hitting, and when I start hitting, I make those runs go for a long time.
Your abbreviated “pop-gun” putting stroke raised eyebrows when you first came out on Tour. Did you ever feel pressure to lengthen or “loosen” it?
No. You find out what you do well and don’t listen to anybody else. I know I’m a good putter. The best thing I ever did was to refine my stroke so that it’s more consistent. I’ve stuck with it, and it’s kind of my M.O. now. We actually work on getting more poppy, less loose.
Chicks dig the long ball, as they say. Are you jealous of guys who can bomb it?
Oh, yeah, for sure. [Laughs] Playing with Dustin Johnson or playing with Angel [Cabrera] that last day at the  Masters, those guys can really move it. If I could just do that, man, this game would be a lot easier.
If you had Tim Finchem’s job for a week, what’s the first thing you’d do?
The first thing I’d do is hire Tim as my vice-commissioner. I think Finchem is probably the most underrated commissioner in sports. He gets a hard time from everybody—from the players, from the media. If you look at what he’s done since he’s taken over the Tour, it’s phenomenal. Tiger gets all the credit, and Tim seems to get none. Tiger is a big part of it, of course, but utilizing Tiger to make the Tour better is probably Tim’s biggest asset to us. So I’m a huge fan. Oh, I also like him because he envisioned the FedEx Cup. [Laughs]
Lofty praise, but there must be some issue you’d like to tackle.
Pace of play is one. We’re avoiding the issue. We’re playing five-and-a-half-hour rounds—for threesomes! We don’t give the rules officials enough power, enough strength to say, “Hey, there’s somebody playing slow this week. I know there is. And I have the power to give them a penalty.” And that penalty needs to be a one-shot penalty, not a timing and a fine. You start giving guys a one-shot penalty, trust me, they’re going to figure it out. I understand our courses are tough—blah, blah, blah. I think there’s a way to solve it.
Any other changes?
I would do away with drug testing in a heartbeat. It’s a complete waste of time and money. Plus, I don’t know if steroids are really going to help you hit a golf ball.
But there are other ways PEDs can help you in golf, such as improving your conditioning or settling your nerves.
We’ve had drug testing for almost six years on the PGA Tour and we’ve had two cases of people getting caught doing it. One of them was Doug Barron, who had low testosterone, who didn’t go through the proper channels and ended up testing positive [for anabolic steroid testosterone and propranolol, a beta-blocker that calms nerves]. The other was Vijay Singh, who took deer-antler spray, which may or may not be a performance-enhancing drug. We’ve had two instances in six years.
Some argue that the testing isn’t stringent enough.
I don’t think it’s ever been a problem in golf. I don’t think it ever will be a problem in golf. The PGA Tour is different from football and every other sport in that we call penalties on ourselves. The worst thing you can be called in golf is a cheater. Trust me, if there’s a guy that gets caught doing anything a couple of times, whether it be bending a rule, we know about it, and we let him know about it. You don’t want to be labeled “that guy.” There are a couple of guys on Tour who are labeled “that guy.”
I can’t go down that road. But we know who they are. Trust me, you don’t want to be that guy. Life is no fun for you out there. It’s a pretty lonely place.
Nashville isn’t a lonely place for you. You grew up there and never left. Why?
I’ve yet to find a place that’s like Nashville. You can literally be in the middle of downtown, drive 15 minutes, and be in the middle of the country, and beautiful country at that. And the people here are so nice, so welcoming. When I was up at Merion [in Pennsylvania], you have to play bumper cars to get around. People are flicking you off, cutting you off. Here, it’s the complete opposite. This is my home. It’s always going to be my home.
Given your roots, you’re a country-music buff by default. How many John Daly tunes do you have in your collection?
Come on. Zero. [Laughs]
Does J.D. have any country-music cred?
No, he does not. I love John. He’s one of the best things to ever happen to the game because he brought in a bunch of people that normally wouldn’t be golf fans. But he was destined to be a golfer, not a singer.
On the Sunday morning before you won last year’s Tour Championship and FedEx Cup, you went to an Atlanta hospital to visit Tucker Anderson, the son of your coach Todd Anderson. Tucker was fighting for his life after a car accident just days earlier. What was his condition at that point?
I just didn’t know what to expect. I knew he was hurt really bad. He had no muscles in his legs. His legs were completely just bone. He had a breathing tube and could only really see out of one eye. But to see him that morning was really awesome. To see Todd and Stacy [Tucker’s mother] and how upbeat and excited they were [about Tucker’s improving condition] was a huge, uplifting moment for me.
Could he speak at that point?
No, the only thing he could do was blink. He had one good eye. Every time I asked him a question I would say, “Blink once for yes, twice for no.” I told him that I was going to play the tournament today. I asked him if he thought I could go out there and beat Rory McIlroy. He blinked once. So I said, “Okay, today is my day.”
And it was. You shot 68 to win by three.
Yeah, I went out there that day and realized how unimportant golf was. I knew that all I can control is the next 30 seconds and to focus on that, and that it’s not life or death. It was one of the best rounds I had ever played.
You said later you knew you were going to win.
Yeah, it’s funny. I had the same feeling [when I won] at Pebble Beach on Sunday [in February], an inner calmness and quietness and confidence. I had that feeling at Augusta [in April], too—it just didn’t work out the way I planned. I don’t get the feeling very often, but when I do, it feels good.
Have you discussed this phenomenon with other players?
Not really, but I think that when most guys look back on the tournament after they win, they realize, I felt really calm. I felt like this was going to happen.
You’ve said you’re conservative with your money, but there must be something you’ve splurged on with your $10 million FedEx Cup bonus.
The biggest thing I’ve wanted I literally just ordered. Did you know there are ice machines that make that ice they serve at Sonic [restaurants], those little [chewable] ice chips? Well, the ice machine in our house broke, so I bought one.
An ice machine? We were thinking of something along the lines of a diamond-encrusted ball marker.
[Laughs] I’ll make sure to let you know when I go down that road. I’m very frugal. I don’t want to be a guy who’s 45, playing on the PGA Tour, and having to make a putt for my mortgage. Some guys like spending their money on cars and big houses. I’d rather do that when I’m 50 than when I’m 30. I should be financially secure for the rest of my life, but you never know. As somebody once told me, it’s a lot easier to go forward in life than it is to go backward.