Snedeker's ascension to FedExCup title grounded in early life lessons

Born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., Brandt Snedeker makes Music City his home with his wife and daughter.

ATLANTA -- Brandt Snedeker vividly remembers the first and only professional golf tournament he attended as a child. He was 9 years old and it was the Sara Lee Classic, where he followed LPGA star Helen Alfredsson all the way around the back nine at Hermitage Golf Course in Old Hickory, Tenn., before asking for her autograph afterward.

“She completely blew me off,” Snedeker recalls instantly, despite the 23 years that have since passed. “I hated her. She ran over me like a truck.”

Snedeker would see Alfredsson years later, this time from inside the ropes at a charity tournament the two were at, and thank her for the experience. Perplexed, she asked why. “I told her you’re the reason I sign every kid’s autograph,” Snedeker says. “Being a TOUR pro now, I can see why she did it -- she had a bad day on the course and just didn’t want to do it.

“But at the end of the day what we do is entertainment. The last thing I want to do is be seen as another spoiled TOUR pro or another spoiled athlete. I care about what people think. It might be to my detriment in the long run, but I’m trying to do the right stuff.”

The moment didn’t deter or steer Snedeker away from the game as much as it helped shape him. He has a hard time saying no, and that moment with Alfredsson is one of many life lessons he has carried with him through six wins, one FedExCup and millions of dollars.

Not that you would know he made $15 million on the golf course last year alone and nearly double that so far in his career. Snedeker still drives the same GMC Denali he bought seven years ago when he joined the PGA TOUR, and in an age when some players pay nearly a half-million bucks just to have Wi-Fi on their private jets, Snedeker still flies mostly commercial -- though he did splurge for a six-passenger Citation II jet to get from Atlanta to New Jersey for this week’s Barclays, the kickoff to the Playoffs as he tries to become the first player to successfully defend a FedExCup title.

While more money on occasion leads to more problems for some athletes, Snedeker remains firmly grounded in his Tennessee roots. His only vices have been a new house for him and wife Mandy and their two young children in a gated neighborhood in Franklin, Tenn., that the couple moved into earlier this year, and an ever-growing tennis shoe collection.

Much of Snedeker's conservative ways can be traced to his upbringing in Nashville. His dad, Larry, was a lawyer and real estate developer there and Snedeker never wanted for anything as a kid. But it was the experience of working in a pawn shop operated by his mom Candy on the not-so-nice side of town as a teenager that would again pay dividends later in life.

“At 12 or 13 years old, seeing people pawn their wedding rings or TV sets to pay the monthly bills or put food on the table was earth-shattering to me,” Snedeker said. “That was a great way as a kid to be exposed to something I would never otherwise be exposed to. It gave me great perspective.”

It also made him appreciate his talents and explains his not only wanting people to like him (the thinking being there’s a chance you’ll see the same people on the way down that you did on the way up) and his frugal nature off the course, but his work ethic on it.

“He wanted to be great,” says Todd Anderson, who began coaching the Vanderbilt grad in 2005. “He wants to do whatever it takes to become a good player, and he’s not intimated by others even though some guys might have better looking swings. He could compete with them.”

Much of that competitiveness stems from Snedeker's relationship with his brother Haymes, who is 4 1/2 years older and played college golf at Ole Miss.

“All I wanted to do was beat him,” Brandt says of his big brother. “He was just big enough and just old enough that I couldn’t. He’d hit it a lot farther than me, so I got really good with my short game. I was his whipping boy, and it kept pushing me and driving me.”

He also idolized Tom Watson, who in Snedeker’s eyes looked like someone who was just meant to play the game, so he started mimicking him -- right down to using the same FX Ram irons Watson played. There was a grit about the Kansas City, Mo., born-and-raised Watson that Snedeker admired, too.

Snedeker’s own resolve, however, was tested at the 2008 Masters during his second year on TOUR. He tied for the lead early in the final round with an eagle on the second hole only to collapse with eight bogeys over his next 16 holes en route to a final-round 77 that reduced him to tears afterward and sent him to his living room sofa for two days.

“Ugh, it was awful,” remembers Snedeker’s wife Mandy, whom he’d dated since college and married that season. “I still think about it and get sick to my stomach. His dream is to win the Masters. To come that close and see it fall away and there’s nothing you can do ... it was the most awful feeling.”

Looking back on it, though, Snedeker says it was imperative to his growing process as a player and a person. Up until that point, he’d never faced any adversity on the golf course as he moved swiftly from U.S. Public Links champion, to the Commodores' first-ever first-team All-American, to two wins in three years on the Tour, to Rookie of the Year on the PGA TOUR in 2007.

“It taught me a lot about the game of golf and what it takes to play well on Sunday,” he said. “I didn’t know how to yet. I wouldn’t change anything about that day. It taught me a valuable lesson and I’m a completely different person because of it.”

It also made him stronger.

Earlier this year, Snedeker played through the pain of a cracked rib to win at Pebble Beach. It hurt so bad at one point that he could hardly breathe when he swung and with five holes to play in the tournament thought about withdrawing.

After trips to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and the Vanderbilt Medical Center, it was discovered that he suffers from a genetic bone disorder that has made his ribs brittle. For the last five months, he has taken a daily injection of Forteo, an osteoporosis medicine that over the course of a year will help build that density back up.

Snedeker missed six weeks because of the injury and when he returned missed the cut in each of his first two starts leading into the Masters, where he again would be in contention. He had a share of the lead through 54 holes but stumbled in with a final-round 75 to finish sixth. Only this time he didn’t disappear into a fog, mostly because his perspective had changed since the birth of his first child, daughter Lily, in 2011.

The evidence backs it up. Snedeker had won just once prior to then. In the last two-plus years, he has five wins, which included last year’s TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola and consequently the FedExCup. On the plane ride home from East Lake, he drank champagne from the large, silver Tiffany-made cup. Mandy couldn’t partake because she was pregnant with their second child, son Austin, who would be born a few weeks later, but she knew there was something different about her husband compared to early in his career.

“The biggest difference is before we lived and died by golf,” Mandy said. “It was all we talked about. Since we had kids, when he comes home we barely even talk about it now. There’s more to him than being a golfer. It’s a job and he has the ability to realize golf isn’t everything.”

As much as life has changed for Snedeker the last few years, though, Mandy says he’s still the same guy who showed up with flowers and opened the car door for her on their first date at the Melting Pot.

Still, Snedeker continues to work as hard as ever on his game, and the beauty of his swing, Anderson says, is in its simplicity and the fact there isn’t a lot of wasted motion.

“He swings back on a really good plane and brings it down on a really good plane,” Anderson said. “It’s efficient. His ballstriking can be somewhat streaky because of his quick pace, but when he’s on, he’s really on.”

It’s rare when Snedeker isn’t on, whether in racking up eight top 10s, including two wins and two runner-up finishes, this season, or when making the rounds with various off-the-course commitments. He appeared in Atlanta on the eve of the Playoffs, for example, as part of a media blitz for the TOUR Championshipby Coca-Cola, which included a whirlwind day of interviews and glad-handing with higher-ups from key sponsors that Snedeker realizes is important for golf.

But it was one afternoon in that pawn shop he worked in as a teenager in that is never too far away for Snedeker.

“A guy came in to pawn something, he was a mechanic I think, and me and my brother were screwing around and were making fun of him because he smelled really bad,” Snedeker said. “Our dad was pretty strict, and he grabbed us and started chewing us out in the back, explaining that the guy smelled because he was probably working his ass off to put food on the table for his family.”

The message was simple but hit hard."You’re just one bad decision away from being that guy," Larry told the two teens. Snedeker has worked hard not to be that guy, but he’s never forgotten him either.