There is a comfortability factor for Brendan Steele when it comes to playing the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa.
After shooting a 7-under-par 65 and sharing the first-round lead at the Safeway Open on Thursday, Steele talked about how the golf course and the shots make sense to him, that he knows where to be aggressive and where to be cautious, where you can miss off the tee as well as into the greens. He added that the putting surfaces are likes the ones he grew up on.
It’s a game plan that has worked for Steele, the defending champion, who became the first repeat winner of the Safeway Open, a $6.2-million PGA Tour event. He battled very tough conditions in the final round on Sunday – winds out of the north at 15-25 mph, gusting to 30 mph – to shoot a 69 and win with a 15-under 273 total, edging out Tony Finau by two shots and two other players, Phil Mickelson and Chesson Hadley, by three strokes.
Last year, Steele dealt with heavy rains to win. He shot 65 in the final round, surging from four shots behind, and completed the week at 18-under.
“I think I’m able to take advantage of my driving here a lot of the time,” he said. “There’s a lot of holes that I lay up on, but there’s a lot of holes that I can really hit drivers. I normally drive it pretty long and pretty straight, so the combination works on this course. You can take advantage of the par 5s and be aggressive on some of the par 4s. I think I just understand where to be aggressive and where to play it a little safer.”
Steele, who is from Idyllwild, Calif. (Riverside County), began the final day tied for third place, two shots behind the 54-hole leader, Tyler Duncan. It’s the third win of Steele’s career on the PGA Tour.
“I think being a West Coast guy, the greens are really good for me,” he said. “I usually hole a lot of putts here. That’s huge for any good week on Tour.”
Steele has a very good record at Silverado: back-to-back wins, a tie for 21st place in 2014, and a tie for 17th place in 2015.
Since 2015, Steele is the most under-par of any player at Silverado at 50-under. The event was known as the Frys.com Open in 2014 and 2015.
He is part of a Silverado winner’s circle that consists of great, great players: Johnny Miller, who won Kaiser International Open Invitational titles here in 1974 and 1975; Jack Nicklaus, Kermit Zarley, Ken Still, Billy Casper, George Knudson, Ed Sneed and J.C. Snead (Kaiser); Miller Barber (Kaiser, Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic); Tom Watson, John Fought, Ben Crenshaw (Anheuser-Busch); Emiliano Grillo and Sangmoon Bae (Frys.com Open).
“That is an unbelievable list,” said Steele. “I will definitely cherish that and I’m excited to get back here next year.”
The Safeway Open is the kickoff event of the PGA Tour’s 2017-18 schedule. This is the fifth year of the PGA Tour’s wraparound schedule that bridges two years, with 45 events leading up to the FedExCup Playoffs. The season includes eight events in the fall, all of which award FedExCup points.
With the win, Steele takes the early lead in the FedEdCup race with 500 points.
Considering the windy weather conditions, Steele said, “That was probably about as good a round of golf as I’ve ever played.”
He received $1,116,000 for the win.
When he arrived in the media room after his round late Sunday, I asked Steele about his thought process of playing in the wind and what goes into hitting those types of shots, either into a helping or hurting wind.
“You have to constantly be on guard against what’s happening, and you can’t just figure out your shot a minute before you play it while somebody else is hitting, because it changes by the time that comes up,” he explained. “You have to have a sense as you’re getting into it whether you’ve got the right club or not.
“We made a few really good changes today where I was over the ball and just didn’t feel right, felt like it was playing long or short or whatever. Sometimes that works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. But today it did.”
Steele had Chris Mason, one of his coaches, on the bag during the week. Steele is the first player to successfully defend his title on the PGA Tour since Jhonattan Vegas did so at the RBC Canadian Open (2016, 2017).
“(Mason) helps me a lot with my pre shot routine and my mental game, so he was giving me little reminders as I was getting into shots,” said Steele. “We’re big on just putting positive energy in your routine and getting up for the shot rather being worried about what’s going to happen and what could happen and going into it with kind of a flat energy.”
Mickelson drew the largest galleries of the tournament. He is one of the greatest players in the history of the game – a 42-time PGA Tour champion, a World Golf Hall of Fame member, and the winner of five majors. This is his 27th year on tour.
“I play a lot with Phil,” said Steele. “He just does special things. He’s a fantastic player. We have a lot of fun playing together and it’s good to see him playing so well.”
Saturday’s crowds were the largest of the week, at just under 20,000 for the day.
The par-72, 7,166-yard North Course, re-deigned by Miller, is an excellent layout that offers a great test with its length, narrow fairways, and greens. It’s also a great course for spectators.
“I think this is just a classic, good golf course,” said Hadley. “It’s straight forward. It’s right in front of you, which is nice as a player. You like not to have to worry about a silly hole here or there. The par-3s are great. It is just a really solid golf course.
“What a great place to start off a season out here on tour – in Napa.”