Todd rediscovers his rhythm on Hooters Tour

Brendon Todd follows a shot during the second round of the Hooters Tour event at Timacuan Golf Club.

Brendon Todd follows a shot during the second round of the Hooters Tour event at Timacuan Golf Club.

LAKE MARY, Fla. – Brendon Todd stands outside the pro shop at Timacuan Golf Club and basks in the warm sun. A resurgent round complete, finally, he’s in no mood to leave. Through the bar room, up the stairs and onto the leather couch, he removes his cap and brushes aside bangs drenched with sweat.

“This year is getting a lot better,” Todd says.

Ten minutes earlier, it appeared to be getting worse. In danger of missing the cut once more, Todd needed a good drive on the 18th, a long, twisting par 4 with a bunker down the left. His tee shot, however, ricocheted off a tree and bounced back about 30 yards. It came to rest a foot from tall rough and the hazard line. Make par, shoot 69, and Todd makes the cut, earns a paycheck. Make bogey, and it’s another fruitless tournament, another somber drive back home to Atlanta.

From 200 yards, Todd ripped a 4-iron through the wind, through the tall grass, and his ball landed 30 feet past the flag. He two-putted for par, and made the cut on the number. Yes, maybe this year is getting better.

• • •

Brendon Todd still remembers the feeling. He remembers his past as a college star, and how he helped Georgia win an NCAA Championship, and how he won on the Hooters Tour in his first attempt, and how, in 2008, in his season-opening start on the Nationwide Tour, he held the 54-hole lead and nearly won the darn thing outside Athens, in front of dozens of friends and family. That high finish, and a breakthrough victory later that season in Utah, propelled Todd, then 23, to 20th on the Nationwide money list, enough to secure his card.

So how did he get here, at a Winter Series event on the Hooters Tour, where golf is at its most cerebral? The only people lining the fairway this week at Timacuan are maintenance crews and significant others, if they bothered to show up. Leaves flutter along the grass. Homeowners tend to their yards, obliviously firing up their chainsaws. Some players ride alone in their cart. For four hours, it’s just you and your golf ball.

And that, of course, can be an uncomfortable feeling, especially if you’re in the midst of an equipment change, and you barely recognize the player you’ve become, and you just concluded a season in which you didn’t cash a single paycheck from a major tour. If this year is really getting better, as Todd suggests, then it starts from this point, square one.

“Last year was the biggest struggle of my life,” Todd, 25, said. “I lost my way a little bit. I scrambled to get it all together and really, it all just came apart.”

• • •

Too many teachers, he laments. When his game finally deserted him, Todd juggled too many swing thoughts, and he tinkered too much. All he wanted to do, he says, was play a controlled, 5-yard fade. Not surprisingly, the indecision began affecting his scores. In 2009, his first season on the PGA Tour, he made only five cuts in 21 starts, and he closed the season with 10 consecutive MCs. It was even worse a year later, on the Nationwide Tour: 13 events, no made cuts, a 75.19 scoring average. He plummeted to 980th in the world. During one seven-start stretch last spring, he finished dead last three times, and never better than 129th. Even Jerry Rice, the Hall of Fame wide receiver, posted a better two-round score in a Nationwide event at TPC Stonebrae.

“I’d get through nine holes and I’d be 4 over,” Todd said, “and so my last 27 holes were useless. All those stereotypical quotes like, ‘trust it,’ and ‘relax,’ and ‘stay in the present,’ none of those worked. It didn’t matter what it was. It wasn’t going to work when you don’t believe you can hit it straight, when every round you play you shoot 75 or higher. You can’t trust anything when you’re shooting 80.”

Last summer, during the heart of the Nationwide Tour schedule, Todd took off two months to try to rediscover his game. Nothing worked. He couldn’t keep the ball on the course. Short shots with his sand wedge found the water. “I could make every putt I looked at and still shoot 80,” he said.

Todd shakes his head at the memory. That wasn’t the same guy who experienced such a meteoric rise.

“It was hard,” said Rachel Todd, his wife of almost two years, “because it got to a point where you just didn’t know what to say anymore.”

• • •

Brendon and Rachel travel together, city to city, and alternate cars so as not to run up the mileage on only one. This week they’re in Brendon’s four-door Honda Accord, packed tight with suitcases and shoe boxes. In the backseat rests a long rod, from which hang shirts and slacks. “We don’t really mind,” Rachel said. “We make these trips fun.”

The mood is lighter now, too, after Brendon found a teacher he can trust, someone who relies on fundamentals, on simplicity. A few sessions with Scott Davenport, out of Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., and already Todd can see a shift in his ballstriking. Finally, that controlled, 5-yard fade. He’s also in the process of overhauling his equipment, and that’s evident in his wardrobe – a TaylorMade hat, driver and irons, Nike shirt and slacks, Titleist Scotty Cameron putter and FootJoy shoes and glove. “Yeah,” Rachel said, grimacing, “his look isn’t quite complete yet.”

Slowly, Todd can see his game taking form, too. Playing off past-champion status, he figures to enter six of the first seven Nationwide events of the season, a critical stretch before the first re-shuffle. This year he wants one teacher, only one voice. He wants to trust his caddie, only one caddie. And he wants to play like a kid, like he did in college, like he did so fleetingly on the Nationwide Tour.

“I’m think I’m going in the right direction, and I think I’ve been put on a good path,” Todd says.

And then, a few moments later, he rises and smiles. Off to the putting green, he says. There’s work to be done on this warm afternoon, and he’s in no mood to leave.

Yes, maybe this year is getting better.

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