Brandt Snedeker won legions of new fans at Augusta, but as always, family came first

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A contemplative Snedeker found splendor in the Augusta National grass on Friday afternoon, when he was still loose and carefree.
John W. McDonough/SI

Round 1
An Augusta National member was
on the 1st tee, introducing the fog-delayed 12:24
group: John Senden and Tom Watson and …
“Now driving, Brandt Snedeker.”

Toby Wilt, in his green club jacket, didn’t struggle
with the golfer’s I’ll-buy-a-vowel name. First and
last, it is Dutch, but Snedeker, 27, was born and
raised and went to college in Nashville, where Wilt
lives too. They’ve known each other for years.
There was warm applause. Watson, who was 27
when he won his first Masters, always gets a crowd
to the 1st tee, but people also are drawn to Snedeker.

There’s something about him: blue eyes, narrowly
spaced; freckled face protected by a bright-white,
broad-brimmed visor seemingly lifted from Watson’s
locker, circa 1985; lanky, boyish frame; easy, bashful
smile; longish, curly strawberry-blond hair. He lets
people in.

He had played in one other Masters, as
the U.S. Publinks champion in 2004. He stayed in
the Crow’s Nest with the other amateurs, soaked up
the lore, shot 300 for four rounds. He came to the
Masters this year as the reigning PGA Tour rookie
of the year, a winner in ’07 at the Greensboro stop,
engaged to his college girlfriend, brimming with
life. All around the 1st tee was a slew of people with
a rooting interest. Among them:

• Mandy Toth, formerly of Cleveland, whom Snedeker,
jumping the gun, sometimes refers to as “my
wife.” (They have an October wedding date.)

• Brandt’s parents, Larry,
a lawyer and real-estate
man who had played so
much hard-swinging golf
he needed back surgery, and
Candy, retired from both her
Nashville pawn shop and
her career as a middle school
teacher. (Nothing says “take
early retirement” like open-heart
surgery, right? A pacemaker
and two dozen pills a
day keep her going.)

• Brandt’s only sibling,
his brother, Haymes, who
knew Brandt was the real
deal when Brandt beat him
for the Nashville city men’s
title on the muni course they
grew up playing. Haynes
was 23 and Brandt 18.

• J.D. Jones, a retired Nashville
narcotics cop, avid duffer
and family friend, who
would spend a week here
and there on the road with
Brandt when he was on the
Nationwide
tour and feeling
lonesome.

• Todd Anderson, Snedeker’s
swing coach, who got
Brandt to move his ball position back four or five
inches with the driver in a session in Sea Island,
Ga., just six days earlier.

And here was Toby Wilt — chairman of the Christie
Cookie Company of Nashville, a founder of the
Golf Club of Tennessee, donor of the golf scholarship
that allowed young Sneds to attend Vanderbilt
for four years tuition-free — telling the crowd that
Snedeker was now driving. Wilt had been Brandt’s
host at Augusta National on many occasions, including
one when he stayed in Tennessee Cabin,
just down the path from Butler Cabin, where the
winner’s green coat ceremony takes place.

Snedeker, absorbed by every facet of his favorite
event and course, had no real thoughts of winning
the 72nd Masters. His last time out, at Doral, he
had finished 48th and left Miami thinking of his
swing as “mangled.” His goal for Augusta was to
give it his all, nothing more, nothing less. (Same
as always.) He hoped to play well enough to get an
automatic invitation for 2009 (top 16). He wanted
to put on a good show for his many people, his
family and his friends and his fans. Regarding that
last group, he had no idea how its ranks would
swell over the course of four days.

Round 2
He couldn’t believe his good fortune,
getting paired with Tom Watson. In the mid-1980s
when Brandt was five and six and seven and first
taking up the game, Watson’s name was a fixture
on sports-page headlines and golf telecasts, and the
eight-time major winner was a model for the boy
golfer.

Candy and her sons would make summer
trips from their home within the city limits of Nashville
to rural Missouri, and Haymes and Brandt
would play all day at the West Plains Country Club,
a place where they’d see tractors in the parking lot
and where Candy’s mother, Honey Hayes, was a
manager and boss of the restaurant.

As a young
woman, Honey dated Bill Stewart, who later had a
son named Payne, so there was a rooting interest for
sweet-swinging Payne, too. Brandt had good swing
models and no formal instruction. When Watson
won the Memorial in 1996,
ending a nine-year drought,
15-year-old Brandt felt the
tingle of victory himself. By
then he was playing Ram
clubs, same as Tom.

Snedeker began the day
one stroke back after a three-under
69 on Thursday, and
his play in the second round
picked up where the first left
off. Through five holes he
was one under for the day.

On number 6, the downhill
par-3, Snedeker faced a
monster-long birdie putt. The
route to the hole was blocked
by fringe. He took out his lob
wedge and played a pitch
shot off the green, landing
it where he knew the grain
would kill it, and watched the
ball roll into the hole for an
unlikely birdie. He took no
divot but could see where the
club had brushed the grass.

Watson clapped and smiled
and said nothing. Snedeker’s second-round 68 left
him one shot out of the lead.

Round 3
Snedeker was paired with the
leader, Trevor Immelman, in the last group of the
day. This was the round in which they were both
supposed to make a mess of things — neither had
ever contended for a major before — and let the
big boys take the stage: Tiger, Phil, Vijay. When
Brandt made bogeys right through Amen Corner,
he looked to be playing his role. As an amateur, in
his first round, he had made three straight birdies on those very holes. Now, as a pro, he had played
them in six shots more. His caddie, Scott Vail, told
him he’d make three birdies coming in, and he did,
on 14, 15 and 18, to go along with two pars.

The hardest shot in that five-hole stretch was
the third shot on the par-5 15th, a sand wedge
from 85 yards.probably the one that looked like a
standard-issue pitch to the millions of people watching
on TV. Four yards too short can funnel the ball
to the water. Four yards too long, the same. Snedeker
nipped it just right — dead arms, no spin — and left
himself with an eight-footer for birdie.

In that third round Anderson could sense that
Snedeker was feeding off the gallery, which was joyful
behind him. He realized for the first time how
much the Masters means to Snedeker, how much he
wants to be one of the best players in the game and
how much he enjoys showing
people what he can do
with a golf ball.

His third-round 70 left
him two shots behind the
leader, still Immelman.

Round 4
Nobody prepares
you for the long wait
leading up to the most
important round of your
life.

On Saturday night, at
the home Snedeker rented
at West Lake, a sprawling
development on the
out skirts of Augusta,
J.D. Jones worked the grill,
just as he did every night.

Grilled bologna and prime
rib and chicken wings, of
which Brandt ate at least 12, maybe 15. No beer,
but many diet Cokes. He went to bed but never to
sleep and got up at 7 a.m., 7 1/2 hours before
his tee
time.

Haymes came over for a visit, “but after a
while you run out of things to talk about,” he says.
“There’s an elephant in the room that nobody
wants to bring up, that you’re in the last group
on Sunday at the Masters.”

Larry and Candy and
Mandy were in and out, everybody putting on a
brave face, everyone feeling the tension. Anderson
was on the practice green. Wilt was on the 1st tee.
Now driving, Brandt Snedeker.

The course was hard and fast, and the wind was
strong and gusty and all over the place. Brandt found
that he could not get comfortable over the ball. His
new ball position didn’t feel right and the ball crept
forward in his stance and his shoulders were open
and he was aiming right and hitting pull-hooks.

Snedeker gave Immelman a congratulatory soul
shake on their way up 18 and a warm favorite-uncle
smile to Immelman’s red-haired son, Jacob, then
came off the green, aching with disappointment.


His final-round 77 left him tied for third place, four
shots behind Immelman. He could have won the
tournament with 72, even par.

Later Immelman praised Snedeker for being
gracious
in defeat. Brandt’s
people huddled around him
and the patrons gave him a nice
hand. Here was the happy-to-be-
here kid, giving it his best
shot and coming up short. How
endearing.

He came into the
press building for his fourth
straight formal, recorded session
with reporters. He had been
funny and light and candid all
week. He had talked about the
pleasures of Masters week, his
joy in people-watching,
looking
at the way people walk and
dress, identifying the overserved
and the under-sunblocked.

Now he was fighting tears
with every sentence, and then
he finally gave up. Applause
filled the interview room. (Beyond
rare.) An excellent adventure
was over. Next year he’ll be back for more.

The Aftermath
On Sunday night Wilt went
to the winner’s reception, Anderson headed home
to St. Simons Island, Ga., and Jones and Haymes
and Candy and Larry packed up for the trip back
to Nashville. On Monday, Mandy and Brandt drove
to Hilton Head, where he was committed to play.

He was spent, mentally and physically — he had lost
eight pounds during the Masters — but he played
Hilton Head on a sponsor’s exemption when he was
a struggling Nationwide player in 2005 and out of
loyalty there was no way he would pull out. He had a Tuesday press conference at Harbour Town, during
which he asked for a box of Kleenex before he
took his first question.

For his Wednesday pro-am
he had a gallery of at least 200 people. (Unless you
are Tiger Woods, a more common gallery is three.)
At breakfast at the Hilton Head Diner on Thursday
morning people asked for his picture and he happily
(truly happily) obliged. Watson called — Tom
Watson! — and told him how impressed he was with
his game and his manners and gave him a tip on
how to play the second shot on 13, a tip Snedeker
wisely wants to keep to himself.

He spent a lot of time trying to figure out what
went wrong on Sunday and some time trying to
figure out why he was so emotional
when it was over. He finally
decided that it was a lot of
things, but more than anything
it was this: Candy.

Candy was the one who took
him to play at West Plains, and
Candy taught him what to say
when a customer came into the
shop looking to pawn a boa
constrictor. (“We don’t take
anything you have to feed.”)
Brandt is close to his father
and closer yet to his mother. He
describes himself as a “mama’s
boy.”

When he was at Vanderbilt,
Candy’s heart issues nearly
claimed her life. Seeing his
mother become suddenly frail,
“grew him up,” Larry Snedeker
recently said of his son. But at
the Masters she was able to
trudge up and down Augusta’s
mighty hills, exhausted though
she was.

Brandt’s mother and father
and brother will tell you that
Brandt has a personality that
impels him to please the people
in his life, and there are a lot of them, but especially
Candy. And what would please Candy more
than seeing her son walk through their Nashville
front door with a green jacket on?

“I’m aware,”
Brandt said last week, “that she’s living on borrowed
time.”

That may be, but at the Masters this year, she
had the time of her life: her family and friends
together, chasing a dream.

“I heard somebody
say, ‘Who’s that blond boy with the smile?'”

Candy Snedeker recalled the other day. “And I
said, ‘That’s mine.'”

A win wouldn’t have changed a thing.