The Tour Championship isn’t considered one of golf’s majors — or even the figurative fifth Beatle, the Players Championship having laid claim to that designation — but this autumn event has risen above niche status. It’s golf for those who don’t much care for golf. It’s golf on (medicinally prescribed) steroids. It’s golf with huge names and big money and fabulous prizes.
Those who do care for golf might cringe at the description, but the Tour Championship is golf as done by NASCAR. Which is no accident, seeing as how the season-ending Chase was the figure-it-out-on-the-fly model for this whole FedEx Cup deal. (”Deal,” as we know, being the catch-all term favored by those on the stock-car circuit.) Only the PGA might just have out-NASCAR’ed NASCAR.
On Sunday at East Lake, Brandt Snedeker won himself a tournament — something he’d done only three times on tour — and the $1.4 million purse plus the $10 million that comes with claiming the FedEx Cup meant that in one day he’d come close to matching the money won in his six years of PGA membership. “Crazy talk,” Snedeker said. “Like winning the lottery.”
Then: “I have no clue what to with [the money] — except hold on to it, take care of it and help people with it … It’s unbelievable to think I’ll be financially set for a long time. I do not need $11 million. As long as I’m not an idiot, I should be fine.”
Of all the things Snedeker isn’t, an idiot would seem chief among them. He grew up on a Missouri golf course — his grandmother managed the place — and went to school at Vanderbilt. (Go ahead and say it, Bulldog fans: At least one Vandy product had a good weekend in Georgia.) At 31, he considered himself one of the better golfers in the world, not that the world at large knew much about him.
After a bad week at the PGA Championship last month, he actually had his numbers guy — yes, golfers have numbers guys — and the data, Snedeker said, indicated “that if you put my stats up against everybody I was one of the top five players on the PGA tour.” As fate would have it, entering the Tour Championship ranked No. 5 in the FedEx standings made Snedeker the lowest-rated man capable of assuring himself of the FedEx Cup and the $11.4 million simply by winning the tournament.
Not that him winning the tournament was ever a given. He was tied for the lead after three rounds, and all of his previous tour victories had been of the comeback kind. “I’m sure 90 percent of you didn’t pick me to win,” Snedeker told the assembled media, “because I’ve never done it. I proved a lot of people wrong.”
And what did the $11.4 million man learn about himself Sunday on his road to riches? “That I’m a lot better under pressure than I give myself credit for.”
This bit of self-discovery was likewise put to the test. Snedeker never fell out of the lead, but twice he was tied. (Not that he knew it. He claimed he never looks at a scoreboard.) When, after his drive on the par-5 No. 15, he first found himself fantasizing about the $11.4 million, he said, “I almost hit myself in the face” to break the mood. Before his approach on the 18th hole, he did it again. “And I hit an awful shot. Shows what [thinking about money] does for you.”
In the end, the Tour Championship/FedEx Cup proved the oldest saw in golf. Snedeker isn’t a big hitter, but he’s aces around the green. Drive for show, putt for dough. In this case, $11.4 mil.
This was the sixth year of the PGA tour’s version of the postseason, and the organization keeps tweaking the format. (Again, just like NASCAR.) When it was mentioned that Snedeker won one of the FedEx Cup’s four playoff events to Rory McIlroy’s two but had claimed the crystal trophy and the (much) bigger monetary prize, the newly minted multimillionaire said: “Life is all about timing.”
He tried to stay deadpan after that imparting bit of wisdom/wit, but he couldn’t quite manage it. On this September Sunday, Brandt Snedeker had won a golf tournament and changed his life, which isn’t to suggest he’d gotten lucky. “This is what you work your whole life for, all those balls you hit,” he said.
And that was a nice image to end a nice event. In a field of household names, one of the lesser lights had his moment. “I played against the beat players in the world this weekend over 72 holes,” Snedeker said, “and I beat them.”
He has the fortune, if not quite the fame, to prove it.
By Mark Bradley