Brett Stegmaier, 30, lost in a playoff two weeks ago to Kris Blanks at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open Presented by NACHER. But it was a glass-half-full result considering it was his best career finish and that he had missed four consecutive cuts to open the season. A Connecticut native now living in Vero Beach, Fla., Stegmaier is in his second season on the Web.com Tour and fully exempt after finishing 65th on last year’s money list. He talked recently about the runner-up finish, spending a year behind the counter at a country club and playing in his home state’s biggest sporting event.
Q: First things first, you’re a Connecticut native that went to the University of Florida. Which side were you on in the Final Four?
A: I’m actually a UConn hater, so pretty big-time Florida. But it didn’t work out for us. (Laughs)
Q: When you were in school were you more of a football fan or basketball fan?
A: Definitely football, I’m really not a basketball fan at all. I watched the tournament this year because they were good, but I went to 10 football games and not one basketball game when I was there. It’s pretty crazy, I remember the Tennessee game my freshman year, loudest noise I’ve ever heard in my life. Gets your heart pumping. I haven’t been back since ’06, but definitely want to go back for a big-time game. Hopefully they can be a little better this year.
Q: One could look at your season and think that the Louisiana performance came out of nowhere. How did it feel to you?
A: That’s the way I thought I would play at the start of the year, it just didn’t happen. I played good in Chile and Brazil and just scored terribly, then I kind of lost my patience in Panama and played kind of stupid golf. Then I took a step back and met with my coach early last week, and tried to start to play more conservatively and stay patient. I knew I was hitting it good, it was just a matter of making a few putts. Wish I would have made one more putt on the back nine on Sunday, but the way my year started it was definitely huge to pick up a big check and get in good position for the rest of the year.
Q: Missing four straight cuts anytime is rough, but with the jet-setting nature of the early season, it’s not cheap. Did any anxiety build?
A: Yeah, definitely for me. I’m a worrier, I worry about a lot of stuff. Traveling to all those places puts a pretty big dent in your bank account, and not seeing your name on the money list after a month of the season kind of hurts. I’m not in the reshuffle, which is good. My coach just kept telling me, most guys only have four or five really good weeks every year, so that’s where they make most of their money. It’s not a tour where you want to make every cut and finish 30th, you want to have four or five really good finishes. I had a really good one last week.
Q: I’ve talked to other guys this season and it seems to always work where they meet with a coach, reset, and all of a sudden the very next time out they have a monster week. Why is that?
A: It’s just nice to hear somebody tell you you’re hitting it good. The biggest thing I did in Louisiana was I didn’t try to make birdies, I hit a lot of greens and gave myself a lot of chances. I didn’t play any more aggressive at any point during the week, whereas I probably did that the (previous) weeks, trying to make things happen rather than letting things happen. Everybody asks me what I did differently, I really didn’t do anything differently in my golf swing.
Q: You said you were playing more conservatively, are you usually a fire-at-the-flag guy?
A: I’m pretty conservative usually, but in Panama I thought I was hitting it good so I took on some flags that I shouldn’t have. I think I made 11 bogeys in two days. It wasn’t the way to play that golf course. In Louisiana you could be a little bit aggressive, but I just didn’t want to get into that mode. I was in the top 5 in greens in regulation, played the par 5s well, didn’t do anything stupid. Hopefully I can keep that going forward.
Q: What’s the feeling mentally in a playoff? Unlike any other experience you’ve had in golf?
A: On the last hole of regulation I was really nervous because I knew I was tied. Once the playoff started there was definitely some nerves, but knowing you have second-place money locked up, I don’t want to say you have nothing to lose – there was a win and 40 grand to lose – but it made it a little easier. It was a pretty big crowd and I hadn’t played in too many settings like that.
Q: And you had an ace in the third round.
A: Yeah, kind of a tucked pin on the right and I aimed about 15 feet left, hit a nice little cut that pretty much flew right in the hole. Then the next day I hit it to six inches on the same hole.
Q: Six inches from a pretty good trivia question.
A: Yeah, I saw where Laura Diaz did it last week (two aces) in an LPGA Tour event. That would have been a cool thing. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t a car, maybe next year on the PGA TOUR they’ll have some good hole-in-one prizes.
Q: You mentioned that you were a worrier; on your Tour bio it says you’re afraid of flying. Is that right?
A: I’d say less now just because I flew so much last year, and once you do it a lot you get more comfortable. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid, I would say it’s not my favorite thing to do. If there’s no turbulence or anything it’s fine. I don’t like when the plane’s shaking around. When I’m not in control of something, I’m not comfortable.
Q: Any habits or superstitions about flying?
A: I like the window seat. If I can’t look out and see what’s going on, then I’m more uncomfortable.
Q: You turned pro in 2006, can you name all the mini-tours you were on? It was quite a few.
A: I never really played a whole season on one, I played the Hooters Tour, eGolf Tour, a small tour down here called the Golfslinger Tour, which was a bunch of one-day tournaments. I quit for a year, worked a real job at a country club, then once I did that I realized that playing golf for a living is a pretty good deal. Took me two more years after that to get through q-school.
Q: What country club? What did you do?
A: It was 2010, Silver Spring Country Club in Connecticut. A lot of answering phones and folding shirts, junior golf camps, stuff like that. Good experience, I enjoyed a lot of it, but once you do that you realize that being independent, working for yourself and playing golf for a living is definitely a lot better.
Q: What was life on the road like on those tours – cheap hotels, cheap dinners, all that?
A: Yeah. Really didn’t like it at all, not making a lot of money, not playing the greatest golf courses. It’s probably the reason why I quit playing in the first place. But once you get out on the Web.com or PGA TOUR, it’s a lot different. You’re playing big-time golf on better courses and bigger purses. This year, we’re all playing for a chance to play for $6 million a week next year. That definitely gets your attention more than the mini-tours where it’s 15 grand every week or whatever.
Q: Growing up in Connecticut, how many times did you go to The Travelers Championship as a kid?
A: Probably every year. When I get on TOUR that’s going to be my fifth major for sure, I’ve been lucky to play in it twice (in 2006 and 2010). It’s a week I look forward to every year. Hopefully I’ll be able to Monday-qualify this year. It’s probably our biggest sporting event in the state.
Q: What do you remember about the first year you played in it?
A: Not being able to tee a ball on the first hole, my hand was shaking so much. Took a few tries.
Q: Where did the first tee shot go?
A: A little bit right. I think I parred the first hole, then doubled the second hole and never recovered. I was a pretty inexperienced, just-out-of-college pro golfer. I’ve come a long way since then.