Pebble Beach: Brandt Snedeker and His Apprentice

And so the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am begins with two men with disparate goals tied at the starting line, Brandt Snedeker, winner of last year’s Tour Championship and the FedExCup, and James Hahn, 5th on last year’s Web.com Tour but who isn’t exempt into next week’s tournament at Riviera. They are at 12-under.

How much is Hahn thinking about winning on Sunday so that he can get into the Masters? 

Ah, zero.  Yeah, I’m not even in next week’s tournament (laughter) so to me a Top‑10 finish would be great.  So if you want to compare the Northern Trust Open to Augusta, we can.  I would love to play another week out on Tour, but just to learn from Brandt Snedeker, he’s one of the hottest golfers on the planet right now.

So if I have the opportunity to play with him, that would mean more to me than playing in any golf tournament on the PGA Tour.

Although Hahn has shot some excellent rounds in the 60s in his four starts this season — two closing round 62s in Palm Springs and Phoenix — he has measured goals coming into this tournament:

Yeah, I’ve had a great start to the year and to me winning is definitely a goal but you can’t win golf tournaments if you don’t make the cut.

So No. 1 priority when I get to a golf tournament is to make the cut and just to have fun out here and learn as much as I can from other players, from the golf course, and just have fun.

I feel like every golf course on the West Coast Swing has its own little intricacies, it’s own uniqueness to them, and Pebble is one of them, Spyglass, Monterey Peninsula; last week was a blast playing hole 16 at TPC Scottsdale.

So just going out and enjoying the moment is kind of my goal for every week.

Everyone talks about enjoying the moment and going out there and having fun, but Hahn seems to have really thought this through:

[This is] definitely not the best golf that I’ve played in my life.  But I feel like I’m playing well just because I feel comfortable, and you know, comfortable and having fun, that’s when I’m playing my best golf.

It’s kind of which came first, the chicken or the egg; and I have fun when I’m playing well, but I also play well when I’m having fun.  I try to psyche myself up and have fun a little bit and if that carries over to my golf — and it has over the last couple weeks.

I feel like my attitude on the golf course is better than it has been in recent years, and not getting so frustrated out there; just kind of enjoying the moment.  I keep saying that, but it’s a blast to be inside the ropes and a member of the PGA Tour.

If you’re keeping score at home, Hahn was the one who made birdie at the 16th hole in Phoenix and broke out into the spontaneous Korean dance, “Gangnam Style.” [Believe it or not, 1.3 billion hits and still climbing.] He went on long enough that it was clear that he knew what he was doing and he knocked the fans out.

But now into the pressure cooker of being on the brink of winning his first tournament. And he seems to have this sorted out in his mind too:

I’ve had some very nerve‑wracking moments on the golf course.  Q‑School, for example, very stressful.  Final round of Tour Championship on the Web.com Tour, very stressful.

So I feel like the Web.com Tour has allowed me to get to a point in my life, in my career, to feel comfortable in the final group in a PGA Tour event.  Not exactly sure what I will be feeling, but it’s — going to be very excited, going to be very nervous.

To be able to play in a final round with Brandt Snedeker or whoever I play with, I feel like I can learn a lot from the experience.

All the possible learning well and good, but what about winning the tournament?

I feel like winning the golf tournament is almost out of my control.  I can shoot 62 out there and still lose a golf tournament.  I can shoot 81 and win a golf tournament [not on this Tour, but the point is the same].

So I feel like the only thing I’m in control of is what I do on the golf course, and if it’s good enough, then you know, I’d be very happy hoisting the trophy at the end of the week.  But for me it’s all learning experience, and I’m going to hit some bad shots out there, and how I handle that and clear my mind for the next shot.

But here’s the balance to all of this, “I’m just a poor supplicant trying to learn…”

I mean, you ask all the members on this Tour and every one of them will tell you that they are the best putter and the best ball‑striker on Tour and I feel the same way.  I feel like I’m one of the best putters and best ball‑strikers on this Tour and I think that you have to have that mentality to be successful on the PGA Tour.  To me, it doesn’t make any difference who I play with.  I feel like I have a legitimate chance of winning a golf tournament.

And he doesn’t just have specific strategy to be able to get that out of himself, he has practiced tactics:

What I do is the same thing I’ve been doing all week.  You look over to the right, see the ocean and you think about how cool it would be to be a surfer.  And I think the waves are perfect for surfing, and I just want to jump in there.

I know how cold northern California water is, but once you’re just thinking about that, everything is bound to fall in line.  It’s like, you just put yourself — Happy Gilmore, put yourself in your happy place, and I guess this is my happy place.

But Snedeker feels like he has his own advantages. While Hahn played Spyglass, his favorite course of the three, Snedeker played Pebble and will have a more recent feel for how the course might be playing on Sunday.

I played relatively well tee‑to‑green and didn’t quite make the putts I wanted to.  Day could have been better, could have been a lot worse.

So I feel good about the golf course going forward tomorrow. I feel like I have a good handle on how Pebble is playing and try to use that to my advantage going into tomorrow.

And he has had the experience of playing with the lead, an art form unto itself:

It’s definitely a different animal and something that you have to be prepared for.  The Tour Championship did a great job of letting me — how I should handle it and how I need to handle it.

I think when you have a lead, you almost need to be more patient than you typically play and give yourself a little bit more slack, or a little bit more credit for how you have played.  Go out tomorrow and just try to play the same way I have the last three days.

The last three days I’ve been very smart, pick my spots when to be aggressive, play away from certain pins and leave it on the proper side of holes, and I’ve been doing a pretty good job of that and hopefully I can keep doing that tomorrow.

But Snedeker is also a player; 15 of his 18 rounds this year have been in the 60s:

You know, a lot of it has to do with confidence coming off of last year.  Obviously with the FedExCup, The Tour Championship, the confidence I gained from there, I definitely took it into this year and realized how good I can be.

Worked on my stuff that I was not particularly excited about with my game at the end of last year, and a lot better this year.  My scrambling is a lot better.  My proximity from 150 yards and in is a ton better than it was last year [that’s why some of his approach shots Saturday looked so effortless and easy.] And I’m making less dumb mistakes than I did last year, so all of that on top of each other has produced a lot better golf out of me.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s in the zone:

I don’t think I’m in the zone by any means.  Hitting some really horrific shots in the middle of this stretch and I’m able to survive.  So I don’t feel I’m striping the ball by any stretch of the imagination.  I feel like I’m playing very smart golf.

When you hear about Jack Nicklaus or those — Tiger Woods in 2000 when he was winning all the time, what they did was managed their golf game very well every day, and it’s very hard to do that.  And I feel like I’ve been doing that great the last few weeks. The days I haven’t been hitting it great, I’ve put it in spots where I can minimize my mistakes.  The days I have been hitting it good, I’ve been going after pins and making a lot of birdies.

So I feel like that’s what makes this game so great is that when you don’t have your A stuff, you can still manage your game around and play some pretty good golf.  Hopefully tomorrow I will have my A+ game and won’t have to do too much; I just need to make a lot of birdies tomorrow.

Okaaay. But how are you going to do that without doing too much?

It’s pretty obvious how you play Pebble.  You have to play the par 5s very well.  You have to get off to a very good start.  First six holes are extremely important.  The hard holes, even though I made some birdies on them today, 8, 9, 10, 12, 14 can be playing tough at times and 17 are holes that you need to kind of play smart on.

There’s no secret here.  Everybody knows, first six holes, you have to be aggressive early on and make some birdies and after that you have to hang on for a few holes and then get back at it.

So that’s the game plan for tomorrow.

The night before his victory in the Tour Championship and FedExCup, he spoke with certainty about how he was going to win the tournament. Could he conjure up that mindset up again for Sunday?

I don’t think it’s something that you can conjure up.  I wish I could; I’d do it a lot more often.  I think it comes with calmness.  I think it comes with being okay with your golf game, being okay with where your preparation is, being okay with your setup and how you’re going to play on the golf course.

Feel very confident with all of that right now, and you never know what tomorrow holds, but I feel like I’m in great position and I’m going to be surely more prepared, no matter who is around me in the last group; I’m probably going to have the most experience of anybody in that last couple groups of winning a golf tournament.  So I’m going to lean on that and use it to my advantage.

Third year player, Chris Kirk, is one shot back at 11-under.

Monday qualifying master [six times last year], Patrick Reed is at 10 under.

Richard H. Lee shot 6-under on Pebble on Saturday and is at 9-under.

And given that such contenders as Retief Goosen, Jason Day and Robert Garrigus [who also shot 6-under on Pebble on Saturday] are at 8-under, we should have a very captivating Sunday.

The Golf Channel begins the broadcast from 1:00 to 2:30 ET and CBS picks up the home stretch from 3:00 to 6:00.

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