Brandt Snedeker: "Freddie did the right thing. Tiger needs a boost"

Normally, I would only write my stories in Japanese, picking up interesting stories from abroad to introduce to the Japanese golf fans. So this entry is probably only useful for all you English readers (or, bilingual readers) who happened to land on this page.


The reason I am writing this in English is because the other day, I had an opportunity to interview Brandt Snedeker, the No. 8 finisher in the 2011 FedEx Cup ranking and winner of The Heritage this year, at the Bridgestone Open in Chiba Prefecture, just outside of Tokyo. He's in town this week for the Bridgestone Open, a Japan Golf Tour (JGTO) event. This interview was conducted on behalf of Golf Digest Online and the full interview has been posted on their site in Japanese. Here, I am pasting the non-edited, English version.


Needless to say, Snedeker is a "guest" and whether he regards this tournament as a warmup (or a stopover) to the WGC event in China is anyone's guess. But the 30-year-old Vanderbilt product was a very warm-hearted, polite gentleman, to say the very least. After his practice round Wednesday, he was out signing autographs for a good 20 minutes until the very last fan, also taking photos and signing caps in between holes. If he wins this week, he will win a lot of Japanese hearts. He opened the first round with a 4-under 67, in a tie for second place behind Katsumasa Miyamoto at 8-under par. He may be a "guest," but as he said in the interview, he is at heart "a Bridgestone guy" and hopes to gain some popularity on this side of the pond.


So we sat for about 20 minutes, chatting about the 2011 season, the FedEx Cup point system, the Presidents Cup miss, the belly putter debate, etc. It was extremely interesting to take a peek into his brain - he's not outspoken, like some media people love, but very clever and opinionated in his answers.


So, here it is, non-edited, enjoy!


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photo: Get in the Hole!


Q: You just finished your fifth year on TOUR, got your second win, racked up the most cash in a single season in your career. Can you kind of reflect on 2011?


SNEDEKER:
"I think it was a great year. It was a year that kind of started slow. As I got more and more comfortable, I started playing my best golf. I knew I had been playing great golf all last season and offseason, just didn't get the results. This year, I got the results that I felt like I should've been getting the past few years. My rookie year, I came out the gates so fast, I kind of expected that every year. But it didn't happen. This past year, I felt like I was playing the best I've ever had and got the results. Won in Harbour Town, a pair of Top 5 finishes with a chance to win. I felt like every time I teed it up I had a chance to win and that's always a great feeling."


Q: You were right there in the mix to win $10 million at the TOUR Championship. Did you have questions or doubts against the point system. Did you ever feel ike, "Had the point system favored those playing well in the Playoffs..."?


SNEDEKER:
"No, I think its great. This is exactly what we wanted on the PGA TOUR. We wanted some drama in the last event. It added to the story line, the fact that Bill won in a playoff, not only to win the TOUR Championship but to win 10 million dollars and the FedEx Cup. ... To win the FedEx Cup and $10 million is so special, so much pressure. I think it was a great finish. It gave everyone playing in the TOUR Championship a chance to win the FedEx Cup and I think everyone was exited about the way it turned out."


Q: FedEx Cup or Major championship. In the short term, which is more important for you to win?


SNEDEKER:
"I'd say (the FedEx Cup is) right there in line with a major championship, just because there's so much that goes along with that. The security, the exepmtions ... just the names on that trophy, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, and now Bill Haas. Pretty good list of names, and it's pretty special. It's getting pretty special, definitely getting up there with the majors."


Q: How about compared to the "PGA TOUR Money" title. You were in Sea Island last week, so you saw that it was getting pretty intense. For you, which is more important?


SNEDEKER:
"I would say FedEx Cup is more important for me. The money title is great and it's a great honor to have. It means you played great all year, but I would rather have the FedEx Cup trophy and knowing that I played my best golf in the playoffs. Some guys would rather have the money title, but Webb, no matter how much money he makes in the last event, Bill would have made more money than him this year. So I think Bill Haas is the leading money player on the PGA TOUR this year. (laugh)"

Q: There have been debates over the years about the FedEx Cup point system. What is your take on the current system and do you think it needs to continue changing?


SNEDEKER:
"You know, I don't think so. I think this year's system is the best we've had. I really do. It gave guys a chance playing well a chance to win; if you didn't, you're penalized a little bit. The system's set up so that the guys playing in the TOUR Championship are playing their best golf at that point, and I think they did a great job of that this year. Of course, some guys don't like it, some guys love it. It's going to be that way with any new system we introduce. I think the TOUR's done a great job of adjusting the past 5 years where it's right in the middle - just on the edge of liking it or not liking it. I think they've done a great job of finding that middle ground."


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Q: Let's talk about the Presidents Cup. You finished 11th in the point ranking, and obviously, you didn't get picked for the team. As a professional golfer, how much emphasis do you put into making these team events, or to play as a representative of your country?


SNEDEKER:
"It's probably one of my biggest goals playing on TOUR. I had a really good chance to do that in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, and got really close. Unfortunately, I didn't get it done, but that's something I look forward to every year. My main goal at the beginning of the year is to make the Ryder Cup team or the Presidents Cup team, and in order to do that you have to play some great golf. You have to win some tournaments, and I have to do everything I wanted to do as a tour player. That's always my No. 1 goal to start out the year. I got really, really close to doing that this year, and it didn't happen. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, and this is no exception. It didn't happen for a reason, and it's gonna make me work harder. And hopefully, win a bunch of more tournaments and get on the Ryder Cup team next year."


Q: At which point did you start feeling that you had a chance to make the team? After Harbour Town?


SNEDEKER:
"Yeah, kind of around after Harbour Town. I knew I'd be around the edge, and I also knew I needed to play well and have some good finishes. I did it late in the year, last ditch effort in the playoffs, finishing 3rd and 3rd, but I look back at the two years and think I played some pretty good golf. I missed a few chances here and there, but to be 11th on that list in two years means you played pretty darn well. Just didn't get picked, and that's the way it goes sometimes."


Q: How were you notified of the captain's picks?


SNEDEKER:
"Freddie called me Monday morning when they made the picks and we talked for about 15, 20 minutes. He laid out where his thought process was and his thought process was right on. I had no problems with him picking Bill and Tiger. I thought he had to pick those two guys. Freddie and I are great friends, and I just felt bad for him because I knew he was gonna get a lot of heat. He was in a really tough situation and me, Keegan, and Bill made it really hard on him. We were playing really good golf and he did what was right. I appreciated him calling. He didn't need to by any means, I certainly don't know if I would've called if I was in the same situation. He was a gentleman about it for sure."


Q: So you don't feel like you got left out, considering Tiger was 29th in the point ranking?


SNEDEKER:
"No, not at all. He was the best player in the world for, what, 10, 12 years, and even his B-game is pretty hard to beat. More than anything else, Freddie did it for the right reasons. Tiger needs a boost right now, something to believe in and I think it's really gonna help him in the long run. I look forward to having Tiger back at his best."


Q: When you won in Harbour Town this year, you said there were two jackets that you wanted to win. You have one - the plaid - and obviously, the other one is in Augusta. Correct?


SNEDEKER:
"If you told me I could only win one more tournament the rest of my career and retire after that, it'd be the Masters. That's all I want to win. I grew up in the South. I love that golf tournament. I love the golf course. I love being a part of it. It's such a special week. I mark it on my calendar every year. If I'm not playing in the Masters, it's a bad year. And of all the majors I've played in, I think the Masters is the one I feel most comfortable, the major I feel like I have the best chance of winning."


Q: Then there's obviously more to it than "fitting your eyes," right?


SNEDEKER:
"It's a combination of everything. I've played there a bunch, you kind of know where to go on the golf course. I think the greens being so fast, firm, difficult, it kind of leads to my kind of golf. I've become a much better driver of the golf ball the past 4, 5 years. and I think (Augusta National) is one of the most underrated driving golf courses you'll ever play. You really have to drive the ball on that golf course to be successful. That and putting, I feel like I have a pretty good advantage in the field. So if I can just get my iron game right for just one week and make sure I make all those putts, it will be a fun week."


Q: Read somewhere that you got a word of advice from Tom Watson after that final round in 2008.


SNEDEKER:
"I did, I did. I use it every year. I used it this year."


Q: Can you elaborate?


SNEDEKER:
"Yeah, it's just some small things he picked up playing there over the years. On the par 5, 13th. How the wind swirls in there and makes the ball go a little bit to the right than you would think. The ball never really draws on the second shot, so you need to make a little setup adjustment every time, where to put your hands and make sure that the ball does draw. It's something he picked up over 15, 20 years. The last time i played there, I struggled on that hole, leaving the ball to the right and in the water. This year, I hit the green everyday, and if I missed, I missed it left, so I give him full credit for that.(laugh)"


Q: It seems like the younger generation of players coming up is getting younger every year - and not all of them end up being successful. You came up the traditional way - winning the amateur title, 4 years in college, a couple on the Nationwide. Do you have any adivice for these young guys coming up? Do you feel like some of them are trying too hard, too early?


SNEDEKER:
"Well, each case is different. I was not good enough after my junior year in college to come play professional golf. I needed those extra years of amateur golf, college golf, Nationwide Tour to get there. Some guys are more ready than others. I think the greatest thing the Nationwide Tour and college golf does is teach you to be a professional. Especially the Nationwide Tour. Because the golf part is the easy part. It's what we all do - that's our comfort zone. It's everything else that comes with being a professional golfer that you're not used to - the traveling, staying in hotels, time management. As a college kid, you have a little bit of that responsibility, but when you turn professional, there's no one forcing you to do anything - everything is on you. How do you spend your Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday getting ready to play on Thursday. Stuff like that that you don't really think about that adds up. How do you handle media, how do you handle galleries, how do you handle practice rounds. ... Little things like that you don't think too much about that adds up. That's the hardest transition for most amateurs I think coming out of college too young, turn pro too early have a tough time dealing with because it's a very unforgiving profession. If you're not ready for all that, it's not gonna sit there and wait for you to get ready; it's gonna leave you behind. So my biggest advice would be to be ready maturity level wise and make sure you have a great group of people around you to help you through the process. I had my wife, caddie, my agent, and my family. I had a great support system ready to go. If you don't have that behind you, it's gonna be a tough road to hoe, as they say."


Q: The belly putter. You've always been the conventional, standard putter guy. And you've been good at it, statistically. What is your take on this trend?


SNEDEKER:
"Well, I think there's something to it. I've always said that the putter should be the shortest club in your bag. I dont think the belly putter is technically illegal under the rules, but it's kind of a loophole, gray area. I don't blame guys using it ... because it does help. I've seen it help guys and I think it definitely does kind of go away from the way golf is traditionally supposed to be played. But it definitely takes away the nerves from the 3, 4, 5 footers - kind of lock it in there and go. I've even messed around with one a little bit and it does feel pretty good and I see why guys switch to it. Until the TOUR or the USGA does something about it, I think more guys are gonna try it. I think there's something to it. Otherwise, you won't see 40, 50 guys on the PGA TOUR try it. There's some guys that have won big tournaments with it. There's something to it. Even if they don't use them, a lot of guys practice with them, trying to get used to that putter release. I think if you learn how to use it right, you can roll it pretty good."


Q: You're not going to jump on the bandwagon, are you?


SNEDEKER:
"I might. I don't know. I've got some built up at home. I've messed around with em, but I roll pretty good with my putter right now so I'm OK. but if I get to a stretch where I'm missing putts that I'm used to making, then I might look at it, for sure."


Q: You've had your share of wins and top finishes in 5 years on TOUR. But at this point in your career, what do you need to get over that hump to win a WGC or major championship? Is it more mental than anything?


SNEDEKER:
"At this point, I think it's mental. I think it's having the self belief that - and maybe not so much until last year, but I do now - I am ready to take that next step and be a Top 10 player in the world, win multiple tournaments, and contend in major championships. More than anything else, it's having the belief in your golf swing that it's gonna hold up for 72 holes. I think I've made great strides in the past year and feel like my golf game is right where I want it to be. It's just cleaning up the little mistakes you make over 72 holes. That's the difference. I played with Luke Donald in a playoff (in Harbour Town), and we have similar style of golf games. And I can see why he's the No.1 player in the world. He's very consistent, short game is phenomenal, and doesn't make a lot of mistakes, and even when he does, he gets out of it. and that's something I think I really need to focus on, kind of modeling my game with Luke's being as successful as he's made it, that by cleaning up the mistakes and saving those two, three shots, it's going to make a difference. I think that's what I'm going to be focusing on next year."


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Q: You've been with Bridgestone for a long time. What is your image of "Bridgestone" and what attracts you most about the brand?


SNEDEKER:
"I have no doubt in my mind that Bridgestone makes THE best balls in the market. I've tested them all, looked at them and there's a reason I've been with them for 10 years. They put in a ton of money into making the best golf ball. It's so consistent and it's just the best ball in every condition possible. It's an amazing feeling, that comfort feeling knowing that I'm playing the best possible ball I can play. They have the best staff, cutting edge, they're always out on TOUR, coming out, listening to TOUR players and ask what we want. I just feel really fortunate to be a part of the family. It's a close knit group of guys, and it's just great to be able to come over here and play in the Bridgestone Open. Hopefully, I'll be able to show the Japanese fans that I am a Bridgestone guy, and give the fans something to cheer for because I'm not a hometown boy, but I am in a sense. I am an American, but I am a Bridgestone guy, so I am part of you.(laugh)"


Q: And you will be paired with Ryo Ishikawa the first two days. Your impression of him.


SNEDEKER:
"He's a phenomenal kid. Great talent, and he's done so much for golf over here and bringing back the popularity for the men's side. I really think the sky's the limit for him, and he's only gonna get better. I hear his work ethic is phenomenal, and every time I see him, it seems like he's progressed. Hear he's changed his swing here and there, gotten better here and there, and it would be fun to see how he plays. It would be a great couple of days."


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