Brandt Snedeker: Out of the rut of working on his golf swing and just playing golf

Brandt Snedeker has done a great job of transforming his swing into a thoughtless affair and that’s the reason he says that he won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. He beat his playing companion Nick Watney by three shots and set a new tournament scoring record of 22-under par.

All week long the players sung the praises of the perfect warm, windless weather and the immaculate conditions of the three courses: Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill and Monterey Peninsula. And for Snedeker it was a matter of all of his hard work over the last year colliding with those perfect conditions…and hooking up with Butch Harmon: 

We started working just after the U.S. Open or right before the U.S. Open last year and he did a great job of kind of helping me understand how I swing the golf club, what I need to do to be successful.

The great thing about Butch is he’s not technical at all.  He instills confidence in you when you don’t even realize he’s doing it.

We might have a three‑hour practice session and he might say one thing about my swing and 15 things about the mental side of it or what you should be thinking in certain situations or what he learned from Seve or Tiger or anybody else.  He’s got all these little nuggets that are great that come in handy on days like today.

The secrets of golf are often very simple things that you don’t think of under pressure. We tend to stay stuck in the things that worked for us even when they’re not working for us on that day:

You know, I used [one] today, the pressure gets on and it gets tough and you need to hit fairways, teeing that ball down and getting after it and trying to hit it low helps a lot.

I did that a lot on the back nine.  When things got tough and I was trying to — didn’t feel like I was swinging great at it, but I was kind of managing it, doing something as simple as that, kept the ball in the fairway and kept it in front of me and made me play to my strengths, which is my short game and my putting.

But while there may be secrets, there are no secret shortcuts. How often have we tried to make a change to our swings and after ten or so swings, “Well, that doesn’t work.”

I just put a lot of hard work in.  There’s no shortcut.  Just tried to make sure that these changes I made, I put the time and effort in to practicing and making sure I’m getting better each week.

And the last four tournaments was the first four tournaments I can think of that I haven’t been thinking about my swing.  I’ve just been playing golf and going out there and trying to manage my game as best as possible.

And playing golf and swinging the golf club are two different things completely.  And I did a great job the last couple weeks of doing that and kind of getting out of the rut of working on my golf swing instead of playing golf.

Snedeker has now won seven tournaments, but that came in spurts and order of magnitude. He won at the end of his first year on Tour, the 2007 Wyndham Championship in Greensboro. And then it took him four years to win again, the 2011 Heritage Classic at Hilton Head in a playoff over Luke Donald who was very hot at the time. Continuing his rise in 2012, he won at the Farmers in San Diego and, of all things, the Tour Championship and FedExCup at the end of the year. It was a monumental achievement.

In 2013 he won Pebble Beach for the first time and the Canadian Open. And there he sat after that, an otherwise highly competent player who just couldn’t move the needle in 2014. He made a lot of money, $1.7 million, but he only had 3 top-10s and 10 top-25s. And he missed the Ryder Cup on points and because Captain Tom Watson didn’t pick him. With a lot of missed putts, he didn’t blame him. The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup are all about making putts.

This win at Pebble had a completely different feel to it than the first time around:

Completely different.  Two years ago I was — had a string of great golf coming into here. I knew where my game was coming into here.  I don’t think anybody else believed me or understood how good I felt I was playing.

But to come out here and do it though, obviously with a new thought process and the way I’m playing golf is ‑‑ the only way you’re going to be able to find out how you do under pressure is to get under pressure. So to do that today and to handle the pressure, I’m very excited.

And the key to his victory? The best thinking week he’s ever had on the PGA Tour. He only had one bogey for the entire four days. The significance of that is that it gave him an entirely different perception of himself as a player. It was very empowering:

This is probably the best thinking week I’ve had on the PGA Tour.  Thinking is probably underrated on the PGA Tour of how you play a golf course, of where you miss the golf ball, where you hit the golf ball, and trying to limit your mistakes.

For me to make one bogey in 72 holes, I’ve never thought that that was possible.  That’s just not the kind of golfer I am.  I kind of make a lot bogeys, make a lot of birdies that’s kind of how I am.  To do that over four days is something I’m very proud of and let’s me know that I’m thinking and doing the right stuff.

As he was coming down the 18th fairway and then again on the 18th green, he became a little emotional, just as he had when he blew the 2008 Masters with a final round 77.

Y’all don’t see the low times, the tough times.

Over the last year I’ve not played up to my capabilities and I was not happy with my golf game.  I also wasn’t happy with a lot of stuff on the golf side.  It’s tough, it takes a toll on you.

You wonder if you’re going to be able to get back to where you were or if you made the right decisions and that kind of stuff.  So to go out there and validate it the way I did and I  — my family is here, my kids are here, mom and dad are here, it’s really special.  So it’s a big win for a lot of different reasons.

One of the other reasons is that he got to feel what it’s like to be in the hunt again and how to effectively deal with that. And he liked it:

I was as nervous as I’ve been in a long time.  It felt good to be — to feel those nerves again.  Felt good to calm those nerves again.

There was so much on the line today.  So much stuff going through my mind that I had to quiet down and keep focusing on the small stuff.

I got emotional on 18th green before I hit my putt because I realized how important this win is for me.  Gets me back on track to where I feel like I belong.  All the stuff I’ve been doing has been validated.

What is it that he thinks was responsible for his slump?

I wish I could — if I knew, I wouldn’t have let it happen.  It’s the game of golf.  You just never know.  Some things you get off a little bit and it snow balls.

The funny thing about golf is when you’re playing bad, you never think you’re going to play good and when you’re playing good, you never think you’re going to play bad.  That’s just kind of a cycle like that.

I got in one of those cycles where I didn’t think I was ever going to play good again and was struggling and it’s tough.  The game of golf is not easy.  I don’t care who you are out here everyone’s had their down times, even the best players in the world do it.  So it will beat you down, but you just keep fighting and luckily I was able to do that.

So take heart fellow travelers, it’s not just you. Even a great player like Snedeker who had won six tournaments including the Tour Championship gets lost in the wilderness. When you get to the end of your rope trying to expand your own consciousness about what’s going on in your swing, find a good coach who can help you feel what you can’t.

Practice with discipline, integrate the changes and then go play without thinking about it. That is, pick a target, imagine a shot to that target and then hit that shot.

At least that’s what Brandt Snedeker says he did.

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One Response to Brandt Snedeker: Out of the rut of working on his golf swing and just playing golf

  1. Terry Jackson says:

    Great article! It was really nice to see Brandt get back in the winner’s circle. It was really interesting to hear from him personally how he worked through the down times and got back on top. I also think all of us mere mortals can take heart and realize that if we work at it smartly, and long and hard enough we too might be able emerge from our bad periods.