A funny thing happened to Brandt Snedeker on his way to the golf course.
His first child, Lily, was born early last year, his seventh season of professional golf. Suddenly, this sport the Nashville native had played since he was 5 — the only profession he had ever dreamed of — took a back seat. And his game took flight.
Weeks after Lily was born, the proud papa outlasted the eventual No. 1 golfer in the world, Luke Donald, in a three-hole playoff at the Heritage Classic for just his second PGA win. That was just the start.
Offseason surgery couldn’t slow the momentum from 2011, and he started 2012 with a win at the Farmers Insurance Open. In July, he led the British Open after two rounds before tying Tiger Woods for third. Heading into last weekend's final tournament of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, he sat in fifth place, hoping to dethrone leader Rory McIlroy. He also cracked the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list with his second straight year of more than $3.5 million in earnings.
“I don’t think it is any coincidence with the birth of our child I’ve had my two best years on tour,” Snedeker said. “It has given me priorities in life. I used to definitely live and die by how I played. If I didn’t play good I was miserable to be around. If I played good I was great. Now, with Lily being 18 months old, she is so much fun. She has become a lot of my life right now. I have a bad day, and she doesn’t care. She wants to go play or have fun or do something. That keeps my mind off golf.
“I couldn’t have scripted a better last couple years professionally and personally for myself.”
The final chapter of this season will come on one of golf’s biggest stages.
The former Vanderbilt and Montgomery Bell Academy standout will play in his first Ryder Cup this weekend outside Chicago. The 31-year-old was one of four golfers picked by U.S. captain Davis Love III to compete on the 12-member team that will try to wrestle the biennial title back from the Europeans.
“I’m through-the-roof excited,” Snedeker said. “I would love nothing more to win Davis that cup and keep it on U.S. soil. It is going to be a lot of pressure. It is something new for me, which is going to be great. I really think I’m going to enjoy the whole experience.”
The turning point for Snedeker came when he edged Donald last year. Rallying from a six-shot deficit on the final day at Hilton Head Island and forcing extra holes boosted Snedeker’s confidence.
Perhaps the bigger sign of growth, though, was Snedeker’s reaction to winning for the first time in nearly four years.
The frustration of putting the work in the first several years and not seeing the “fruits of his labor” would have caused a younger Snedeker to overhaul his game. He had tried that before.
“I was guilty of that my first few years on tour. I’d have some success, and now it is time to change,” Snedeker said. “But you’re good enough the way you are. Obviously, you’ve proved that. So I didn’t make that mistake this time. I had some success, and I kept doing the same things over and over again. It’s boring and repetitive, and you want to work on new stuff. But the same stuff seems to work. I’ve really done that the last two years — not trying to reinvent the wheel.”
Sticking to his strengths has guided Snedeker, the 2007 PGA Tour rookie of the year, to 13 top 10 finishes the last two years.
Of course there have been bumps — literally and figuratively. A congenital condition surfaced nearly two years ago when he tore the labrum in his left hip, leading to surgery. Nearly a year later, his right hip required a similar procedure, and he was on crutches for five weeks. He responded well to both — winning tournaments just months after both procedures.
He stayed healthy until a cracked rib due to a hard cough caused him to miss the U.S. Open. He again responded well after injury, surprising the field at the British Open and equaling the lowest two-round score in the championship’s storied history. But then a month later, he missed the cut at the PGA Championship.
Even so, Snedeker didn’t change his course. He stuck to the same “boring and repetitive” routine and “didn’t reinvent the wheel.” He focused on his putting, which leads the tour in numerous categories, and rolled into the playoffs.
“It’s funny. I’m not ... working out as hard as I did earlier on in my career. I’m just working a lot smarter now,” he said. “When I’m on the golf course, I’m doing certain things, then getting away from it. Resting a lot more and trusting in my abilities. I’ve hit millions of golf balls in my time. I know how to hit a golf ball. It’s more about being focused and prepared to where I have a clear plan of what I want to do.”
And he’s not trying to get caught up in the results. Because he knows waiting back at home in Nashville is his biggest fan, Lily, who couldn’t care less how Daddy fared on the links.
“She definitely put things in perspective and makes you realize what really is important and what is just my job,” he said. “It has been great for me to leave all the stuff on the golf course.”
If this is the sort of impact Lily has, there’s no telling what is in store for Snedeker’s career. His wife, Mandy, is due to give birth to the couple’s second child, a boy, on Oct. 24.
“I’ll keep popping them out if I keep having the best years of my career,” Snedeker said laughing. “I might have a big family.”