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You Gotta Believe
Gary Van Sickle
May 22, 2006
Brett Wetterich Had a Feeling at the Nelson That on Sunday the Dream He Shared with His Brother Would Finally Come True
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May 22, 2006

You Gotta Believe

Brett Wetterich Had a Feeling at the Nelson That on Sunday the Dream He Shared with His Brother Would Finally Come True

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Call it fate, destiny, signs. Whatever. Brett Wetterich is a believer, which is why, after putting out on the 18th green last Saturday at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas, he was startled by the sound of bagpipes. "It gave me the chills," he said. � The next morning Wetterich arrived at the Four Seasons Resort and prepared to tee off in the final threesome with two young players with impressive r�sum�s, Adam Scott and Trevor Immelman. Wetterich was shuttled from the clubhouse to the Las Colinas practice range with Ted Purdy, last year's Nelson winner. Wetterich was spooked after glancing at Purdy's bag. "It had 2005 champion on the side," Wetterich said. "It gave me chills again. It felt as if this was going to be my day, and it was."

Don't doubt fate. How else do you explain how two thoroughbreds lost to a little-known workhorse? Scott, second at the Nissan Open in February, was ranked ninth in the world. Immelman, the runner-up two weeks ago at the Wachovia Championship, was 52nd. The 32-year-old Wetterich, a late bloomer from Cincinnati who now lives in Jupiter, Fla., and has played in only one major--the 1998 U.S. Open, in which he missed the cut--was No. 208. Yet it was Wetterich who performed like a steely veteran while the stars-in-waiting beat themselves with errant tee shots and shaky putting.

Don't drop the other f word, either. (That's f as in fluke.) Yes, Wetterich fits the profile of the 21st century Tour winner: a big hitter with a so-so short game. "You know he's going to hit the ball a mile," says Immelman. "He has shoulders the size of this room." But he also has more game than you'd expect. In addition to averaging 308.8 yards off the tee (fourth longest on Tour), Wetterich ranks sixth in greens hit in regulation, second in birdie average and third in overall ball striking. The question is not, How did he win? It's, What took him so long? The answer: He doesn't hit his approach shots particularly close to the hole, and his putting is weak (102nd on Tour). The fact that he has suddenly started making putts explains his recent surge--a tie for sixth in Houston, a tie for fourth in New Orleans and his first victory, worth $1,116,000, at the Nelson.

Perhaps Wetterich is simply the latest big hitter to get hot, following in the footsteps of what-ever-happened-to bashers like Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes. Wetterich prefers to believe that he was simply fulfilling a promise. His older brother Mark was killed at age 36 on his way home from work at a Chicago steel plant by a drunken driver in an auto accident three years ago. As a reminder Brett has Mark's initials embossed on his golf bag and wears a medallion around his neck with Mark's fingerprint and the date of his death, 7/8/03. It was the memory of Mark that had Brett fighting back tears on Sunday on the 18th green after he had lagged his first putt close and had a tap-in for par and the breakthrough win. "I imagined Mark looking down and smiling," said Brett. "We dreamed about doing this together, and that's why I got so emotional. I was thinking about Mark when I made the last putt. I wish he had been here to see it. I miss him a lot."

The Nelson figured to belong to Scott. How do you go 10 under par with a pair of 65s, the way Scott did last Thursday and Friday, then shoot 140 in easier conditions on the weekend? By the same token, how do you follow an opening 74 with a 10-birdie 60 that ended with a missed 15-footer for a 59, as Arron Oberholser did last Friday? "The question of the cosmos," mused Oberholser, who finished 13th.

Scott drove into the rough a few times too many on Sunday and was ineffective with his putter--most notably on a four-footer for par on the 10th that horseshoed around the hole and out. "I couldn't buy a putt," said Scott, who tied for third with Omar Uresti.

All you need to know about Wetterich-- who on Sunday trailed Immelman by three at the turn, then shot a nifty three-under 32 to beat him by a stroke--is how he played the dangerous 18th hole under pressure. By then ahead by one, Wetterich left his driver in the bag and hit a souped-up five-wood 310 yards down the fairway, leaving himself a 143-yard pitching wedge in. Immelman hit a solid drive, but with too much draw. His shot caromed off the bank and into a water hazard left of the fairway. Immelman took a drop, then tucked an eight-iron shot close and made the putt to save par. Wetterich safely flipped his wedge shot 25 feet right of the hole, lagged his birdie try close and, while holding back the tears, waited for Scott and Immelman to finish.

Later, at the awards ceremony, Wetterich stood next to 94-year-old tournament host Byron Nelson, accepted the winner's trophy and posed for pictures. They were two Hall of Famers hanging out-- Nelson, the legend, and Wetterich, The Cincinnati Enquirer's 1991 golfer of the year and a January inductee into the Oak Hills High hall of fame.

After a few minutes a cart carrying Nelson and his wife, Peggy, drove off across the adjacent 1st fairway. As Wetterich stood posing with the trophy, a lone bagpiper dressed in kilts appeared next to the 18th green and began to play. The pipes sounded mournful, yet somehow celebratory. Believers in the crowd took it as some sort of a sign.