If no one asks, Toby Wilt won’t offer any clarification.
“The way I’m going to describe it when my friends ask is that Brandt and I are co-champions, and it will sound like it was the two of us, as opposed to sharing it with somebody else,” he said.
The reality is that Wilt and Brandt Snedeker not only paired for the pro-am title just over a week ago at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, they shared it with pro Michael Letzig and his amateur partner. Each duo finished 31-under-par — two shots clear of all others — for the four rounds of competition.
In any event, Wilt and Snedeker, the 68-year-old banker and the 32-year-old pro, were glad to share the spotlight because it only added to their shared history.
Theirs is a partnership that far exceeds a single tournament. It dates back more than a decade, to when Nashville native Snedeker graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy and accepted a scholarship to play at Vanderbilt University, and includes any number of casual rounds at Golf Club of Tennessee, of which Wilt is a founder.
In a way, Snedeker’s play at Pebble Beach, where he won for the fifth time on the PGA Tour and climbed to fourth in the world rankings, was nothing Wilt hadn’t seen. At the same time, it was like nothing he’d witnessed.
“I’ve played with him there a couple times, which was under the gun,” Wilt said. “This was much more like a Saturday afternoon at The Golf Club of Tennessee. … To be with him and watch him play near-perfect golf for four days, and be in the final pairing at a PGA tournament, was kind of a thrill of a lifetime. He was totally under control the entire time. He was very loose and relaxed the entire time and played almost flawless golf.”
Snedeker was the first golfer to receive the Toby S. Wilt Athletic Scholarship, originally given to benefit the football program. In 1999, though, the benefactor met with then-athletic director Todd Turner and raised the notion that his largesse might be of greater benefit to the golf program because of his connections within that game and his frustration with the football program’s lack of success at that time.
“We talked about who it ought to be,” Wilt said. “I valued watching a couple things that Brandt had done at MBA when he was there. We decided that was the right guy. The coach recruited him and then we gave him this scholarship. Brandt and I became friends while he was in school, and the whole relationship just blossomed ever since. I’ve tried to be a bit of a mentor to him on the business side, but he’s a smart guy so he doesn’t need a hell of a lot of help.”
Similarly, Wilt came to Vanderbilt from Evanston, Ill., on a football scholarship in 1962 and left as a golfer. Well, sort of.
He had been a member of his high school team, so in the spring of 1966, following his final football season, he tried out for and made Vanderbilt’s golf team. He was good enough that he was in the lineup that season for the Southeastern Conference championships.
“I was threatening to be last, but I gutted it out the last nine holes and finished third to last in the SEC,” he said.
These days, he carries a 7 handicap.
He played well enough at Pebble Beach that he and Snedeker were in position to claim the pro-am trophy in their third run at it. They made the cut but did not really contend in 2009 and missed the cut in a tiebreaker two years later.
In the final round this year, each three-putted the ninth hole and later missed birdie putts on No. 18, either one of which would have given them the crown outright. As it is, their names still will go on the wall between the practice green and first tee at the famed course, and Wilt has cleared room in his trophy case for the keepsake, which has not yet been shipped to him.
“If they know you have a relationship or have had a long-term relationship they try to accommodate that to a degree,” Wilt said of the pairing process. “They knew that Brandt and I had a relationship.”
The first three days they were paired with professional Luke List, another Vanderbilt graduate who succeeded Snedeker as the Wilt Scholarship recipient. The fourth member of the group was amateur Heidi Ueberroth — daughter of Peter Ueberroth, a high-ranking executive in the NBA’s league office and another Vanderbilt graduate.
“So we have four Vanderbilt graduates, and then my son, Fleming, caddied for me, and he’s a Vanderbilt graduate also,” Wilt said. “So the amateurs decked ourselves out in Vanderbilt clothes and we had a blast.”
The fun continued through the final round when Snedeker maintained the momentum he built when he claimed the FedEx Cup, the PGA Tour’s version of a playoff, last fall and carried into this season, when he finished in the top three in three of his first four starts.
“There’s nobody playing any better in the world than he is right now,” Wilt said. “He’s not inappropriately ranked at fourth — I think he’s very appropriately ranked at fourth. I think his goals are to at some time be the top man in the world, and I think he’s got a darn good shot to do that. …
“Brandt, as a person, has never thought that he’s become any more special than he was when he was a senior in high school. I think that’s a great tribute to him. With all the success, he’s never felt that he’s really special.”
That is why he never has given Wilt a reason to doubt he made the right decision when he moved his scholarship to the golf program.
“I have a great relationship with Brandt, obviously, a good one with Luke over the years, and the young man Adam Hoffman, who was on the scholarship for the last five years, is also a good friend. So I’ve made three great friends out of a contribution, which a lot of times all you get back is kind of a smile.”