2006: Full Nelson for Wetterich
Brett Wetterich, a tap-in from victory, cried on the 18th green. His eyes were on the edge between mist and river. His goal was to avoid a “full-out bawl.”
The winner of the EDS Byron Nelson Championship was thinking of his late older brother, Mark. He makes sure he remembers him often on the golf course. The visuals are there. Wetterich has Mark’s “MTW” initials on his bag, and he wears a medallion around his neck with his brother’s fingerprint and “7-8-03.” That was the day Mark died at 36, killed on his way home from work in Chicago by a drunk driver, according to Wetterich.
So golf took a backseat to blood for a moment there on the last green at the TPC at Las Colinas.
“I wish he was here to see it,” Wetterich, a 32-year-old journeyman, said after beating Trevor Immelman by one stroke and Adam Scott and Omar Uresti by two for his first PGA Tour victory. “But hopefully he’s smiling down on me. I kind of thought about that. . . . It was kind of special, just thinking about him because I know he would have been watching me, and hopefully he was.”
Wetterich started playing golf with his father at age 2, but his road to the Nelson trophy hasn’t always been a smooth one. His mother walked out on the family when he was little. After leaving an Alabama junior college after one year, he figures he went about
21⁄2 years before finally cashing a check on the Florida mini-tours. When he finally got to the big Tour in 2000, he suffered a wrist injury swinging a weighted club and made only nine starts as a rookie.
“I definitely wasn’t ready for (the PGA Tour),” he said.
But he learned how to succeed on the Nationwide Tour, winning twice in 2003-04. And, after finishing a career-best 132nd in PGA Tour earnings last year and getting through Q-School on the number, there have been signs that he actually might be ready to win. Granted, he had only three top-10 finishes entering 2006, but now he has had three since late April in his fourth Tour season.
Putting finally kicked in for a hard swinger who always has been a powerful and accurate ball-striker, and he came to north Texas having recently tied for sixth at the Shell Houston Open and tied for fourth at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
“I think if it’s your time, it’s your time,” Wetterich said. “I just happened to be out there playing good this past month, and everything fell together for me. . . . Now that I’ve been under some serious pressure, I feel like I can win more out here.”
Everything fell together, all right. That includes omens.
Wetterich says he believes in signs, and he got some positive ones. “A lot of weird things,” happened Saturday night and Sunday morning, he said.
After he putted out in the third round, bagpipers started playing, giving him the chills. The next morning he sat in a cart next to Ted Purdy, the 2005 Nelson champion.
“I just felt like this was going to be my day,” he said, “and it turned out.”
Not that it was an easy weekend. Scott led by four strokes during the third round. And Immelman, the 26-year-old South African fresh off a playoff loss at the Wachovia Championship, had the look of a winner with nine holes to play, leading Uresti by two shots and Scott, Wetterich and Charley Hoffman by three at the turn.
“It was just frustrating,” Wetterich said of his three-bogey front nine. “I wasn’t accomplishing anything.”
But he finally made a birdie putt at 10, from 18 feet, and suddenly he was a stroke back when playing partner Immelman bunkered and bogeyed. Immelman also would bogey Nos. 12 and 15 and fall a stroke behind Wetterich for good.
Immelman’s last chance ended when he overdrew a drive into the new 1-acre pond to the left of the 18th fairway.
“At first glance, you know he hits it a mile,” Immelman said of Wetterich. “He’s got shoulders the size of this room. He bombs it out there, and he played a very solid round.”
Admittedly nervous down the stretch, Wetterich displayed a splendid, complete game all week.
He tied for eighth in driving accuracy and was ninth in distance, a rare combination. And he tied for third in greens in regulation.
All that added up to $1.116 million, just $143,723 less than he had earned in his first 80 Tour starts.
That should make for some peace for a self-described “hot-headed” player.
“I get too mad at times,” Wetterich said. “Once I get that mindset I think the whole course is against me.”
Sunday at the Nelson wasn’t one of those days. Instead, he felt like someone special was with him.