Garnett stays true to small town roots
January 14, 2020
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Brice Garnett is in the midst of his fifth season on the PGA TOUR. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Whenever he goes back home to Gallatin, Missouri, it’s a good bet that you’ll find Brice Garnett at Daviess Country Club.
He learned the game at that nine-hole layout playing with what turned out to be lifelong friends – who have grown up to be a dentist, a high school coach, an insurance agent and an electrician, among others -- who still reside in the town of 1,700, so small it only has one single flashing four-way traffic light. He even shot 59 at Daviess once.
“I don't know if it really counts, but one of my buddies did shoot like 64 and he called his friend -- he goes, hey, I shot 64 today, but I lost by five,” Garnett recalls with a smile.
As much as he likes playing there, though, the PGA TOUR veteran might just as easily be found helping the maintenance crew. He says everyone in the tiny farming community chips in to keep the course in tip-top shape.
“I'd jump on a greens mower, jump on a fairway mower and just mow grass,” Garnett says. “It was a great getaway. ... I'd go change the pins, whatever. I enjoyed it and they needed help.
“You know, the golf industry is struggling, and those small courses are taking a hard hit. So, it was just fun for me. I mean it's special to me. I enjoy making it look better or whatever to the eye.”
The 36-year-old Garnett, who is playing in The American Express this week in La Quinta, California, was known as “Skillet” back in those days. No one knows exactly why – the nickname actually started out as “Home Skillet” but was mercifully shortened, and stuck.
He was introduced to the game at the age of 5 by his father, Tom, an insurance agent. As he grew older, Garnett and six or eight of his closest friends would spend their summers at the course, playing 27 or 36 or even more before the sun set.
“They let us drive our parents' golf carts and we just would whizz around three or four times and then jump in the pool,” Garnett recalls. “And so, it was like a babysitter. We'd go out there and we'd have matches, we'd play for soda pop or Snickers bars, whatever.
“And you know, we still remain, our childhood friends still remain great friends now.”
Tom Garnett knew the fundamentals, his son says, but “maybe not a lot of the technicalities of the golf swing.” So, the younger Garnett watched a lot of videos of Ben Hogan – “I always liked how Ben’s lower body kind of worked through the golf shot,” he says. “And I would try to emulate that a little bit.” On a more modern front, he looked to Ernie Els for tempo.
“I always was able to kind of feel my way through it,” says Garnett, a fairways-and-greens specialist who didn’t hire an instructor until he was 31 years old. “It was kind of nice. I owned my golf game.”
Garnett and his friends were good enough to win the state title three out of the four years he was in high school. He ended up going to Missouri Western State – famously using a we-don’t-have-a-scholarship-but-you-can-walk-on letter from Missouri as motivation – and ended up earning NCAA Division II All-America honors three times. He won 12 times as a Griffon, including six straight tournaments at one point, and earned a place in the school’s athletic Hall of Fame.
Continuing to defy the odds, Garnett navigated the mini-tours and made his way to the Korn Ferry Tour, eventually winning twice there. He is currently in his fifth season on the PGA TOUR and won his first tournament in 2018 at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
While he gets back to Missouri as often as possible, Garnett lives in Georgia now. But the kid they used to call Skillet is hardly forgotten. All you have to do is go to the local Mexican restaurant and order the drink that’s named after him.
“It is a vodka, Fresca, cranberry juice and a lemon,” Garnett says. “I found that drink when I moved to Georgia in Valdosta. ... Three or four of my good friends will come down to play TPC (Sawgrass) every year with me. ... I introduced it to them, and they loved it.
“It's just a really refreshing drink. So, they took it back and they said, you've got to start selling this drink at the Mexican restaurant. And they decided to name it Skillet.”
After Gallatin’s favorite PGA TOUR winner.