Brendon Todd became the latest in an increasingly long list of former Georgia Bulldogs to win during the 2013-14 season, taking the Byron Nelson Classic for his first PGA Tour victory.
But Todd’s career is unique among the ex-UGA golfers who have won this season. Players like Russell Henley and Harris English were immediate successes on the PGA Tour. Chris Kirk, Todd’s teammate on Georgia’s 2005 NCAA Championship team, and Bubba Watson played well early in their PGA Tour careers after spending a few years on the Nationwide (now Web.com) Tour.
Like Henley and English, Todd enjoyed some early success as a pro. He won as a Nationwide Tour rookie in 2008 and made it to the PGA Tour in ’09 in just his second season as a pro.
Unlike Henley and English, Todd did not make an early splash on the PGA Tour, but was enjoying a respectable rookie season midway through ’09. He enjoyed the best finish of his young career in Memphis in mid-June, shooting 65-68-66 the last three rounds to tie for 12th.
Brendon Todd, who has lived in Atlanta since his college career ended, took home a nice check for $123,200 for his week in Memphis. But it turned out to be the last time he would earn any money from a Tour appearance for almost two entire years.
From late June in 2009 until the first day of May in 2011, Todd went 28 straight events on the PGA and Nationwide Tours without making a cut.
Todd missed his last 12 cuts on the 2009 PGA Tour (plus two on the Nationwide Tour), breaking 70 just once in his last 28 rounds of the year. He was back on the Nationwide Tour in 2010 and did not make a cut the entire season, again with just one round under 70.
Thanks to his 2008 victory in Utah, Todd still had status on the Nationwide Tour for the 2011 season, but missed his first three cuts of the year. He shot 69 the last round of his third start, and followed with a 68 in the South Georgia Classic in Valdosta in the opening round of his next appearance, his best score since Memphis almost two years earlier.
Todd made the cut, shot 67 the final day and tied for 18th. The check wasn’t huge by golf standards ($7,875), but signaled a welcome end to his long journey of almost two years to end a puzzling slump that threatened to halt his career just as it was getting started.
For the next five tournaments, Todd finished no lower than 31st, with a top 10 and two top 20s among his five starts. He shot in the 60s in 10 of his 20 rounds, but just as soon as he re-located his game, he temporarily lost it again.
Todd missed the cut in 11 of his next 12 starts, tying for 61st the only time he made it to the weekend. Again, Todd rebounded from a long stretch of poor play, tying for 10th in a Nationwide Tour event and making the cut in his last three starts of the season.
That sent Todd back to Q-school in a more positive frame of mind, and he earned a second shot at the PGA Tour, winning in the finals of qualifying.
Winning was not an unusual occurrence for Todd. He won as a junior and during his college career in Athens. He won in his first start as a professional on the Tar Heel (now eGolf) Tour, and a few weeks later won in his second start on the Hooters (now NGA) Tour. He won as a rookie on the Nationwide Tour, but it was more than three years between that victory and his triumph in the finals of Q-school.
After his win in LaQuinta, Calif., Todd talked about how he managed to get through his stretch of almost two years without making a cut.
“I did not quit. I didn’t change what I was doing and I never stopped fighting. I was excited about going to the course and thinking about how I can improve.”
Todd’s struggles resulted in large part from loss of confidence in his ability to hit it straight off the tee, which had been one of the foundations of his game. Eventually he overcame that problem with the help of what he described as “a great support team” and a sense of confidence that was shaken but not destroyed by his potentially demoralizing results.
“I have a deep-seated belief that I’m a good player who was meant to play on the PGA Tour and have a long career,” he said after his win at Q-school. “I’ve been successful at every level I’ve played at.”
A sub-standard second half of the 2012 season cost him fully exempt status on the PGA Tour for 2013, and he split last year between the PGA and Web.com Tours, playing well on both.
An early season win in what turned out to the final Web.com Tour event at the UGA course in Athens pretty much assured Todd of a spot on the 2013-14 PGA Tour, and enabled him to play on the PGA Tour when his non-exempt status got him into the field.
Todd made 10 starts on each tour last year, and played well just about every week he teed it up. In 10 Web.com appearances, he was 21st or better eight times, closing out the season with a tie for second in the Tour Championship. He had five top-20s and seven top-30s in seven PGA Tour starts.
His combined earnings for the year exceeded $720,000, and Todd began the new wraparound 2013-14 PGA Tour season with ties for 12th in Las Vegas and 16th in the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island Golf.
Todd opened 2014 with a tie for 20th in the Hawaiian Open and followed with his best PGA finish to that point – a tie for 6th in the Humana Challenge. Todd matched that finish the week before the Masters in the Texas Open, setting himself up for a career-changing victory in Dallas.
The win was worth $1,242,000 and boosted Todd to 15th on the money list and 11th in the FedExCup points standings. He has qualified for the 2014 PGA Championship, the 2015 Masters and is line to get into the U.S. and British Opens this year, as well as some of the World Golf Championship events later this year and in 2015.
“Going to Augusta for the Masters is a dream come true,” he said after his victory in Dallas. “That’s a special place. I’m so excited about that, for sure.”
Todd was a factor in the Byron Nelson from the first round, which he began with three birdies on his first four holes. He shot 4-under 31 on his first nine and finished with a 68.
A second round 64 that included seven birdies on his last 11 holes vaulted Todd into the lead after 36 holes. He retained a share of the leading going to the final round after a 68 on Saturday.
Todd was paired with former British Open champion and 2012 Masters playoff participant Louis Ooshuizen the final day. But it was Todd who played like a veteran and Oosthuizen who performed like a player who had never been in the hunt on Sunday for a PGA Tour victory.
The final round was largely a two-man duel between Todd and former Masters champion Mike Weir, who took the lead with birdies on four of his first five holes. Todd hung with Weir early, thanks largely to his short game.
Todd holed out from a bunker for birdie on the second hole, saved par from the sand on the third, holed a 14-footer for birdie on the fourth and saved par again at the sixth. He missed a pair of birdie opportunities at 7 and 8, but holed birdie putts at 9 and 10 take a 3-shot lead at that point.
Eight straight pars, included a highlight reel left-handed chip from next to a tree on the 13th preserved Todd’s lead, and he locked up his victory with a par-saving 14-foot putt at the 17th.
“I couldn’t believe when we were walking up to the green and I saw my ball up against the tree,” Todd said. Todd turned around his 4-iron, hit it like a putt and rolled it close enough to the hole to have an excellent chance to save par, which he did.
Todd’s brother-in-law plays left-handed, and Todd admitted he is “pretty good” putting from that side, and put the little experience he has with that kind of shot to good use.
It was Todd’s first time in contention on Sunday in a PGA Tour event, but he did not play like someone unaccustomed to that situation.
“Any time you win at every level, it feels the same because you want it so bad you’ve been kind of dreaming about it. So from junior golf where I won big tournaments, to college golf where I won the SEC and Regionals to the Nationwide Tour where I won and then the Web.com Tour last year where I won in Athens.
“I drew on those experiences and none of them were as nerve-wracking as this one. I couldn’t explain how I felt on the back nine today.”