Call it fate,destiny, signs. Whatever. Brett Wetterich is a believer, which is why, afterputting out on the 18th green last Saturday at the EDS Byron NelsonChampionship in Irving, Texas, he was startled by the sound of bagpipes."It gave me the chills," he said. ¬∂ The next morning Wetterich arrivedat the Four Seasons Resort and prepared to tee off in the final threesome withtwo young players with impressive résumés, Adam Scott and Trevor Immelman.Wetterich was shuttled from the clubhouse to the Las Colinas practice rangewith Ted Purdy, last year's Nelson winner. Wetterich was spooked after glancingat 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 itwas."
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 inJupiter, Fla., and has played in only one major--the 1998 U.S. Open, in whichhe missed the cut--was No. 208. Yet it was Wetterich who performed like asteely veteran while the stars-in-waiting beat themselves with errant tee shotsand shaky putting.
Don't drop theother f word, either. (That's f as in fluke.) Yes, Wetterich fits the profileof the 21st century Tour winner: a big hitter with a so-so short game. "Youknow he's going to hit the ball a mile," says Immelman. "He hasshoulders the size of this room." But he also has more game than you'dexpect. In addition to averaging 308.8 yards off the tee (fourth longest onTour), Wetterich ranks sixth in greens hit in regulation, second in birdieaverage and third in overall ball striking. The question is not, How did hewin? It's, What took him so long? The answer: He doesn't hit his approach shotsparticularly close to the hole, and his putting is weak (102nd on Tour). Thefact that he has suddenly started making putts explains his recent surge--a tiefor sixth in Houston, a tie for fourth in New Orleans and his first victory,worth $1,116,000, at the Nelson.
Perhaps Wetterichis simply the latest big hitter to get hot, following in the footsteps ofwhat-ever-happened-to bashers like Bubba Watson and J.B. Holmes. Wetterichprefers to believe that he was simply fulfilling a promise. His older brotherMark was killed at age 36 on his way home from work at a Chicago steel plant bya drunken driver in an auto accident three years ago. As a reminder Brett hasMark's initials embossed on his golf bag and wears a medallion around his neckwith Mark's fingerprint and the date of his death, 7/8/03. It was the memory ofMark that had Brett fighting back tears on Sunday on the 18th green after hehad lagged his first putt close and had a tap-in for par and the breakthroughwin. "I imagined Mark looking down and smiling," said Brett. "Wedreamed about doing this together, and that's why I got so emotional. I wasthinking about Mark when I made the last putt. I wish he had been here to seeit. I miss him a lot."
The Nelsonfigured to belong to Scott. How do you go 10 under par with a pair of 65s, theway Scott did last Thursday and Friday, then shoot 140 in easier conditions onthe weekend? By the same token, how do you follow an opening 74 with a10-birdie 60 that ended with a missed 15-footer for a 59, as Arron Oberholserdid last Friday? "The question of the cosmos," mused Oberholser, whofinished 13th.
Scott drove intothe rough a few times too many on Sunday and was ineffective with hisputter--most notably on a four-footer for par on the 10th that horseshoedaround the hole and out. "I couldn't buy a putt," said Scott, who tiedfor third with Omar Uresti.
All you need toknow 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 thedangerous 18th hole under pressure. By then ahead by one, Wetterich left hisdriver 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, butwith too much draw. His shot caromed off the bank and into a water hazard leftof the fairway. Immelman took a drop, then tucked an eight-iron shot close andmade the putt to save par. Wetterich safely flipped his wedge shot 25 feetright of the hole, lagged his birdie try close and, while holding back thetears, waited for Scott and Immelman to finish.
Later, at theawards ceremony, Wetterich stood next to 94-year-old tournament host ByronNelson, accepted the winner's trophy and posed for pictures. They were two Hallof Famers hanging out--Nelson, the legend, and Wetterich, The CincinnatiEnquirer's 1991 golfer of the year and a January inductee into the Oak HillsHigh hall of fame.
After a fewminutes a cart carrying Nelson and his wife, Peggy, drove off across theadjacent 1st fairway. As Wetterich stood posing with the trophy, a lonebagpiper dressed in kilts appeared next to the 18th green and began to play.The pipes sounded mournful, yet somehow celebratory. Believers in the crowdtook it as some sort of a sign.
For better or worse, the days of back-to-back Tourstops in Dallas--Fort Worth are over. Will big names show up in Big D?
BYRON NELSON and Ben Hogan are golfing legends inTexas, natives of the state whose lives and careers will be linked forever.United, too, are the PGA Tour events tied to them--the EDS Byron NelsonChampionship, during which the 94-year-old Nelson was once again on hand lastweek to greet players as they came off the 18th green at Los Colinas, and thisweek's Bank of America Colonial at Colonial Country Club, where Hogan, who diedin 1997, won five times.
"I don't think there's a pair of events with morehistory," Tour pro Rory Sabbatini, who lives in the Dallas suburb ofSouthlake, says of the Nelson, first played in 1944, and the Colonial, whichbegan two years later. "It's a tradition we all want to continue."
The tournaments, held only 30 miles apart in theDallas--Fort Worth area, have been played on back-to-back weeks for 11consecutive years, but that will change in 2007 when the Tour launches its new,shortened FedEx Cup schedule. The Nelson will be moved up to April 26-29 andthe Colonial back to May 24-27. Splitting the tournaments, most pros say, isnot a big deal. It's their new dates that could be problematic.
In years past the Nelson marked the end of thepost-Masters period--during which some top players took time off--and the startof the run-up to the U.S. Open. The Nelson usually has a strong field, but thisyear the absence of such notables as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, RetiefGoosen, Davis Love III and John Daly was cause for concern. The Colonial lostsome of its luster during Hogan's long decline and eventual death; plus manypros do not care for the claustrophobic 7,054-yard, par-70 Colonial course.Woods, for example, has played the Colonial only once, in 1997.
Next year, though, the Players Championship will takethe Nelson's prime spot on the schedule, while the Nelson will be played threeweeks after the Masters and the week before the increasingly popular WachoviaChampionship, which will be followed by the can't-miss Players. Will the bignames play in all three tournaments? That will be a tough sell even for ByronNelson. "This year should serve as a wake-up call for Nelsonofficials," says a Tour player who wishes to remain anonymous. "A badcourse and a bad date mean big trouble for any tournament."
The Colonial, which does not yet have a title sponsorfor 2007 (EDS has signed on through 2010 at the Nelson), is also moving to aweek when the top draws and Europeans are likely to take off--two weeks afterthe Players and a week before Jack Nicklaus's Memorial, which will be followedby the St. Jude Championship and the U.S. Open.
The Nelson and the Colonial each will stand alone nextyear. The bigger question: How long will both stand, period? --G.V.S.
Wetterich's $1,116,000 first prize almost matches his winnings in his 80 otherTour starts.
TODD BENNETT--US PRESSWIRE (WETTERICH)
Like the week before at the Wachovia, Immelman just missed.
Nelson, 94, no longer makes recruiting trips.