An Augusta National member was on the 1st tee, introducing the fog-delayed 12:24 group: John Senden and Tom Watson and ... "Now driving, Brandt Snedeker."
Toby Wilt, in his green club jacket, didn't struggle with the golfer's I'll-buy-a-vowel name. First and last, it is Dutch, but Snedeker, 27, was born and raised and went to college in Nashville, where Wilt lives too. They've known each other for years.
There was warm applause. Watson, who was 27 when he won his first Masters, always gets a crowd to the 1st tee, but people also are drawn to Snedeker. There's something about him: blue eyes, narrowly spaced; freckled face protected by a bright-white, broad-brimmed visor seemingly lifted from Watson's locker, circa 1985; lanky, boyish frame; easy, bashful smile; longish, curly strawberry-blond hair. He lets people in. He had played in one other Masters, as the U.S. Publinks champion in 2004. He stayed in the Crow's Nest with the other amateurs, soaked up the lore, shot 300 for four rounds. He came to the Masters this year as the reigning PGA Tour rookie of the year, a winner in '07 at the Greensboro stop, engaged to his college girlfriend, brimming with life. All around the 1st tee was a slew of people with a rooting interest. Among them:
• Mandy Toth, formerly of Cleveland, whom Snedeker, jumping the gun, sometimes refers to as "my wife." (They have an October wedding date.)
• Brandt's parents, Larry, a lawyer and real-estate man who had played so much hard-swinging golf he needed back surgery, and Candy, retired from both her Nashville pawn shop and her career as a middle school teacher. (Nothing says "take early retirement" like open-heart surgery, right? A pacemaker and two dozen pills a day keep her going.)
• Brandt's only sibling, his brother, Haymes, who knew Brandt was the real deal when Brandt beat him for the Nashville city men's title on the muni course they grew up playing. Haynes was 23 and Brandt 18.
• J.D. Jones, a retired Nashville narcotics cop, avid duffer and family friend, who would spend a week here and there on the road with Brandt when he was on the Nationwide tour and feeling lonesome.
• Todd Anderson, Snedeker's swing coach, who got Brandt to move his ball position back four or five inches with the driver in a session in Sea Island, Ga., just six days earlier.
And here was Toby Wilt—chairman of the Christie Cookie Company of Nashville, a founder of the Golf Club of Tennessee, donor of the golf scholarship that allowed young Sneds to attend Vanderbilt for four years tuition-free—telling the crowd that Snedeker was now driving. Wilt had been Brandt's host at Augusta National on many occasions, including one when he stayed in Tennessee Cabin, just down the path from Butler Cabin, where the winner's green coat ceremony takes place.
Snedeker, absorbed by every facet of his favorite event and course, had no real thoughts of winning the 72nd Masters. His last time out, at Doral, he had finished 48th and left Miami thinking of his swing as "mangled." His goal for Augusta was to give it his all, nothing more, nothing less. (Same as always.) He hoped to play well enough to get an automatic invitation for 2009 (top 16). He wanted to put on a good show for his many people, his family and his friends and his fans. Regarding that last group, he had no idea how its ranks would swell over the course of four days.