Idyllwild native Brendan Steele put together an exceptionally fine rookie season on the PGA Tour last year. Two highlights were his wins in April at the Valero Texas Open and again in December with his fellow-rookie partner, Keegan Bradley, at the Franklin Templeton “Shark” Shootout.
His performance last year won him well over $2 million, including both PGA and non-PGA tournaments, and secured his playing card on the PGA Tour for the next two years.
A year ago the native Idyllwilder told the Town Crier that he expected the PGA Tour would be “like the Nationwide Tour on steroids.” We inquired recently about that assessment following his first year on the tour.
“The PGA Tour is definitely the Nationwide Tour on steroids although there are some important differences,” Steele said. “Firstly, the course setups are much more difficult. Many of the tournaments on the Nationwide Tour take 18 to 24 under [par] in order to win an event, whereas many of the PGA Tour courses are set up in a way that 12 to 15 under [par] will win. The difference usually comes from course layout, flag locations and the physical firmness of the golf course.
“Secondly, the media is a huge difference. There are so many reporters following every round that nothing really slips past them,” Steele continued. “Everything you do is really under a microscope.”
Although going into his first year, Steele had hoped for a season like he ultimately had; it was definitely a better year than he expected, and it still seems to be getting better for him all the time.
Last year, both Steele and his caddie, long-time friend Nick Wilkins, were rookies on the tour. When asked how he expected their approach would change now that they’ve both had a year of experience, Steele replied, “We are definitely going to make some adjustments to schedule and preparation.
“We will be taking more weeks off this year and focusing on the courses that we feel like suit our game. Last year we felt like we played too many events early in year and were out of gas by early in the summer,” Steele explained. “The idea this year is to make sure that we can be rested and feel strong all the way though the playoffs.”
Asked about his goals for this coming season, Steele cited being in contention on the back-nines on Sundays.
“I don’t have a lot of tangible goals for 2012 because I understand that the nature of this game is pretty uncertain. My main goal is to get myself into contention as often as possible,” he stated. “The theory being that there are too many things that you cannot control in a golf tournament, so I figure that getting into contention late on Sunday is the goal and you let it sort itself out from there.
“The Ryder Cup is definitely in the back of my mind, but I know that I’m starting at a disadvantage because I only played one major last year and the majors are the only tournaments that give Ryder Cup points during the first year of the selection process,” Steele said about his golf aspirations. “I would also be very happy to make it to the Tour Championship [the final tournament of the FedEx playoffs in September], but these are things that you don’t want to think about too much because good play will take care of itself.”
Steele’s more notable rookie-year official PGA Tour stats: He entered 27 tournaments and made the cut 16 times (59.3 percent). He had eight top-25 finishes, including three top-10s and his win in the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. Steele earned $1,976,310 in official PGA Tour winnings, which placed him 38th on the money list, and he added hundreds of thousands more from non-PGA Tour tournaments, including a seventh place finish in the French Open. He earned 52nd spot on the FedEx Cup points list.
In 2011 Steele was the number one player on the PGA Tour in scoring relative-to-par on approach shots from 75-100 yards. He ranked eighth on the PGA Tour in approach shots from more than 200 yards (44.5 ft.) and he also was eighth in going for par-5 greens in two shots (20.7 feet). He was 10th in par 5 performance (4.58 strokes per hole) and ranked 12th in total eagles (11). He was 15th in total driving, which is a combination statistic comprising driving distance and driving accuracy.
Steele got this new season off to a start last week at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii. He had qualified for that exclusive tournament by winning at San Antonio last year, but the Hawaiian course did not seem to fit his game as well.
Steele struggled to a six-over-par score during the first two days, but then turned it around with two sub-par scores during the final two days for an overall 76-76-72-71 — 295. He won $68,000 and racked up a top-25 finish to start the season.
Steele has this week off, having elected to pass up the Sony Open in Hawaii. He will be back in action in our own backyard next week when he will play in the Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, which will be played Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 19 to 22, on three courses in La Quinta: the PGA West Palmer Course and Nicklaus Course and the La Quinta Country Club course.
Plan now to go down to enjoy top-level professional golf and support our only-ever native Idyllwild PGA Tour player.