It takes a furious focus to thrive on the PGA Tour. Brendan Steele, 33, has learned a thing or two about toughness, thanks in part to a lesson from Lefty. We discussed that and many things in the Q&A below.
You’re a PGA Tour winner, and you’ve averaged more than $1.3 million in winnings over the last five years. What’s the secret to your consistency?
BS: We’re always trying to get better, but that can be tough to do. A lot of guys try to get better and in the process lose what they do well, and they’ll actually get worse. I’ve made a conscious effort to be more professional over the last few years—to work harder and smarter. Three years ago, I started working on nutrition and fitness, and I’ve seen a big increase in distance since I’ve been working out a lot.
You spent six years playing on developmental tours before getting your Tour card. What did you gain by coming up through golf’s minor leagues?
BS: My game wasn’t that polished when I turned pro. I needed a lot of time to learn how to play tournaments. Playing the Canadian Tour helped me learn how to play away from home. The Web.com Tour helped me learn how to play against better and better players. There’s always that doubt at every level that you’re good enough to compete. I only started playing when I was 13, so my progression was a bit behind that of guys like Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth.
Does their relative youth make Spieth and Fowler’s achievements even more impressive?
BS: Yes, but those guys are still the exception to the rule. It’s a testament to the coaching they’ve had growing up and the events they played along the way. I know that’s the case with [former Web.com Tour player] Smylie Kaufman. He’s played with a lot of the good, young players who are having success, and he was like, “Hey, I can play with those guys.” Sure enough, he wins in his second [PGA Tour] start. I think [today’s young players] are just more prepared coming on Tour than any other generation we’ve seen.
ONE THING I KNOW FOR SURE: I’m not even the most famous person in my family.
BS: That’s a fact. My uncle, Anthony Geary, is easily the most famous person in my family. He’s an actor—he played Luke Spencer on General Hospital for 37 years. I think he’s won eight daytime Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series [Editor’s note: Steele’s memory is correct.] That definitely puts me way behind!
You’ve made the transition from a belly putter to a short putter. What was the most difficult hurdle you faced when changing that part of your game?
BS: The timing worked out for me, because I wasn’t putting that well with the belly putter back in 2014. By that June, I had already locked up my Tour card, so I had time to give it a try. My buddy, [golf instructor] Chris Mayson, helped me hone my technique first, and then I went out in the first round of the 2014 Travelers Championship and shot 62. It gave me a lot of confidence to have a day like that. I tied for fifth, and tied for fifth again the next week. It opened my eyes to the idea that it wasn’t going to be a very big deal to make the transition.
Switching sports, you’re an L.A. Kings fan. Are you the biggest hockey nut on Tour?
BS: I’d say I’m equal to the biggest, and the other guys who are right there with me are all Canadian guys, like Graham DeLaet and David Hearn. I consider myself even with those guys, even if they don’t think so. Hockey is by far my favorite sport. I have buddies playing in the NHL who are big golfers. They come to California in the offseason, and we play quite a bit.
What would you rather lock down—a top-five finish in a Tour event, or a Stanley Cup win for the Kings?
BS: That’s tough! I’ve been blessed to see two Cup victories so far, and I went to the last one [in 2014]. It gets tough these days, because depending on who the Kings are playing, I might have a friend playing on the other team. You’ve got to pull for your buddies first. I wouldn’t want them coming out to watch me play in a tournament and cheer for Phil Mickelson just because they’ve cheered for him longer than they’ve known me. [Laughs]
Speaking of Phil, you two have played a lot of practice rounds together. What’s your best Mickelson story?
BS: I remember this one time when we first started playing together, in 2011. He was drumming me—I don’t even remember how bad. He missed a green and was in a bad spot, and I hit a really safe wedge. He recovered and hit it to a foot, and I three-putted. As we walked off the green, he said, “You know what your problem is? You think I’m going to give you a hole. Every time I hit a bad shot, you think you can play safe. You need to play like I’m never going to give you a hole, and if I do, it’s a bonus.” He was right. If you’re trying to win a tournament, you can’t expect guys to give you anything. You need a killer instinct—you have to step on their throats.