Despite a tough finish, Snedeker has week to remember on a course he knows well

January 23, 2012

AUGUSTA, Ga. — He looks like the love child of Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and Brad Faxon, plays like Seve Ballesteros and was the breakout star of the 2008 Masters, if not the guy slipping on the green jacket at the end.

Brandt Snedeker exuded old-school cool to the end. He might even singlehandedly bring back the visor.

"I told him never to cut his hair," said Haymes Snedeker, Brandt's 32-year-old brother and one of a large posse of Brandt backers following him around Augusta National on Sunday. "He got it shaved one time in college and I said, 'Brandt, man, there's a reason why people in this family have long hair. You got big ears, man. If you want to be recognized you can't just look like everybody else.'"

After rounds of 69-68-70, Snedeker elicited the biggest roar of the day Sunday when he rolled in a twisting eagle putt on the par-5 second hole, but he hit too many loose shots and missed too many short putts and stumbled to a front-nine 39. A birdie on the par-3 12th hole got him to within three of the lead when Trevor Immelman bogeyed, but it was as close as Snedeker would get the rest of the day. He shot five-over 77 and finished four under for the tournament.

On Sunday evening, an emotional Snedeker had trouble keeping his composure as he spoke with reporters. "Just a rough day out there," he said, his eyes watering. "It's hard to put that much effort into something and get so little out of it. But it's just part of life, part of growing up. Obviously, I need a lot more of that. It's just tough right now."

The final day was hard, but it was still a week to remember.

The large Snedeker clan rented a house at the West Lake development, near Snedeker's agents. A friend of his dad's manned the barbecue nightly, although the Snedekers don't call it a "cookout," they call it a "grillout."

"It's been like a block party," said Haymes, who caddied for his little brother in his only other Masters start, in 2004. "The last thing you want to do is sit at home and watch the Golf Channel and listen to what they're saying about you."

What many at Augusta and elsewhere were saying is Brandt doesn't look a day over 15. (He is in fact 27.)

He looks like a kid having fun because he's playing a game, and that youthful enthusiasm is how he ended up playing in the final group Saturday and Sunday in just his second Masters. Snedeker said after his second round 68 that he'd played Augusta "40 or 50 times easily," a quote that sat for about 24 hours before the writers realized it made no sense. He was asked the next day to explain exactly how he had such open access to the exclusive club.

"Well, we used to come here once a year in college," he said. "The Vanderbilt golf team used to be able to come down here and be able to play; a couple of the members sponsored us. And then when you get that invitation to come play the Masters" — he won the 2003 Nashville Municipal Amateur, earning a spot in the 2004 field — "I guess starting right around Christmas you can come down and play as much as you want. And I was out of school, had not turned pro yet, and they almost changed the rule the next year because of me, because I was down here every day. I wore it out. I thought, how many times can I have a membership at Augusta National for four months?"

He was the golfing genius of a grandson most of the members never had, and they warmed to him. The kid would drive 5 1/2 hours from his home in Nashville, Tenn., and play 36 holes a day, gaining an appreciation for the angles and quirks of the place while losing his sense of awe and fear. By Friday he felt so comfortable he elected to nip a lob wedge off the sixth green, over a knob, and, in a twist of fate even Snedeker admitted was lucky, into the hole.

"I figured it would be O.K. if I didn't take a divot, and I didn't," he said. "So the green is no worse for wear."

It was the kind of crazy recovery shot typical of Watson in his heyday, which was no accident. Snedeker grew up idolizing the two-time Masters champion. He made sure he had Ram equipment, Tom Watson wedges.

"Every time he was on TV," Snedeker said, "I pretty much tried to follow him."

Lo and behold, Watson followed Snedeker and Johnson Wagner in Tuesday's practice round, and caught up to the younger players by the time he walked off the 15th green. They all played in together, and wouldn't you know it, Snedeker ended up playing with Watson on Thursday and Friday, almost as if the members had played so much golf with the kid they knew who he used to root for on TV.

But there was something else about Snedeker, something that went beyond his youthful enthusiasm and known only to his closest friends: He had some Tiger in him. Give him a sniff of the lead and he could be a killer. Wagner recalled the summer of 2006, and a pair of Nationwide tour stops in Chattanooga, Tenn., and just outside Rochester, Minn. Both tournaments would go into sudden-death only if Snedeker could summon an eagle on the final hole, and both times he came through. (He lost the first playoff but won the second.)

The kid knew how to make an entrance: In his third start as a member of the PGA Tour, at the 2007 Buick Invitational, he fired an 11-under 61 in the first round to tie the course record at Torrey Pines North. But he could also close. He shot a final-round 63 to break out of a tie for eighth place and win the 2007 Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, N.C. "When he's playing well," Wagner said, "he tends to keep playing well."

His older brother Haymes, who used to play golf for Ole Miss and is still a scratch player, says he retired from competition the moment Brandt beat him in the 2001 Nashville Municipal Amateur.

"The torch was passed," he said. "He hates to lose, man. That's the way my dad brought us up. It was never any fundamentals. It was just get the ball in the hole and win."

The Masters is arguably the most freighted golf tournament in the world. Brandt held up well for his second crack at it, but he couldn't hide his disappointment when it was all over. It was hard to remember what a great week it had been after so many late bogeys.

"I need a minute," he said after being driven in a golf cart to the outside of the media center. His eyes were already red, and he got out of the cart and walked a few paces away to try to pull himself together, a white towel in his hand to dab away the tears. Perhaps getting it in the hole and winning will come another day.