Brett Stegmaier’s determination to make it back to the highest level of professional golf got a nice boost in this past summer’s Connecticut Open. The smallest check in a month-long summer surge might prove to have the biggest impact on his future.
Stegmaier beat the field and the sauna-bath heat July 24-26 at Shuttle Meadow Country Club in Kensington, shooting 15-under capped by a final-round 7-under 64 to win the 89th Connecticut Open by two shots over David Pastore.
Beyond that and the $14,000 check, the victory has a greater significance. Stegmaier said it is his first official victory, outside of some mini-tour events, since the 2006 Southeastern Conference championship when he played for the University of Florida. So, handshakes and smiles abounded at Shuttle Meadow after his triumph.
Five days later, Stegmaier recorded two eagles on the first four of his final nine holes to move to 6-under at the Monday qualifier for the Wyndham Championship, the final regular-season event on the PGA Tour. But a double bogey at his 16th hole (No. 7 as he started at the 10th at Bermuda Run’s East Course) led to a 67, one shot out of a six-for-three playoff for the last of the four spots into the field in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Joy to disappointment – just like that. A pro’s life, in short.
“The tough part of pro golf is getting that one opportunity to play in an [PGA Tour] event in a Monday qualifier,” Stegmaier said.
Golf has been the centerpiece of his life since Stegmaier played scholastically in Connecticut and collegiately at Florida.
Even tougher is having it evaporate from your grasp with one poor shot. The 40-year-old Stegmaier – who played on the PGA Tour from 2015 to 2018 – is not deterred, however. His quest to earn back his PGA Tour card continues on the hard road of Monday qualifiers.
Despite the Wyndham disappointment, Stegmaier has made his way through two Monday qualifiers this summer and made the most of both chances. The first was at the Travelers Championship in late June, where he was the Monday medalist with a 66. He then tied for 56th at TPC River Highlands and earned $46,000. A week later he advanced in a four-man playoff for the final three Monday qualifying spots into the Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, where he broke par all four rounds to tie for 29th and pick up another $58,960.
His path to the Rocket Mortgage, however, wasn’t smooth at all.
“After the Travelers, my flight to Detroit got delayed,” Stegmaier said. “I got to the hotel at 2:30 Monday morning, then had a 6:30 wakeup call to get out to the course.”
His game displayed no fatigue, however, as another 66 put him in the playoff. On the first playoff tee, Hayden Springer was assessed a two-shot penalty for having an extra club in his bag, and it was over before it started – the pro’s cycle of disappointment and joy illustrated again. Stegmaier took advantage of the chance with his best PGA Tour finish in five years.
Those two strong performances on the PGA Tour came after missing cuts in his only two Korn Ferry Tour starts this season. His KFT efforts weren’t helped by a bad back.
“I have some scoliosis, but this was more,” Stegmaier said of pain that forced him to shut down from February to May. “It bothered me a little last year, but it got worse. My whole right side got sore when I played. I really couldn’t swing.”
The idle recovery time led to inevitable doubts about his tour future. “I’m thinking maybe it was time to do something else,” he conceded.
Golf has been the centerpiece of his life since Stegmaier played scholastically in Connecticut and collegiately at Florida. After his All-America run with the Gators was capped by his SEC victory in 2006, he turned pro and played on assorted mini tours before finally gaining status on the Web.com Tour (now KFT) in 2013. He lost in a playoff to Kris Blanks in the 2014 Chitimacha Louisiana Open.
With his Korn Ferry status, Stegmaier earned a PGA Tour card in 2015. In his second start of the season, he tied for second at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open – one shot behind winner Smylie Kaufman. Instead of winning and getting the job security of a two-year exemption, Stegmaier couldn’t sustain his success and fell back onto the Web.com Tour late in 2018.
Five years later, with almost $2.4 million in career earnings on the PGA and Korn Ferry tours, Stegmaier decided to continue in golf despite his balky back. He connected with physical trainer Vicky Wyder, who prescribed a stretching and strengthening regime.
“It has helped, for sure,” Stegmaier said. “I can’t just bang balls on the range all day. I believe your body has a certain number of swings in it, so make them count.”
“I’ve never lost hope I’d have success.” – Brett Stegmaier
The commitment to stay in professional golf was reminiscent of another career crossroads in 2010. After playing for a few years on mini tours, he took a position as an assistant pro at Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Teaching the game to others was all right, but it wasn’t his passion.
Being a tour player was, so he went back to the mini tours. In 2012, he finally made it through the PGA Tour Q-School and got his status on the developmental Web.com Tour.
Twice now Stegmaier has weighed whether to put his professional tour bag in permanent storage – what many would consider the lowest point in a professional’s life. Those junctures, however, were not the lowest points for Stegmaier.
His all-time low came last year when he noticed a lump in his neck and was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “When you’re told that, your mind goes all over and some to the worst case,” he said.
Stegmaier’s situation ended up being the best case, as he underwent successful surgery to remove the small, benign mass.
Living in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, with his girlfriend, Lexy, Stegmaier said his cancer experience put his life into a better perspective. “I was more negative before and moped around too much,” he said. “I wasn’t as mature as I should have been.”
These days he says his attitude has changed, and he loves the opportunity to compete on the golf course. Still, the return road to the PGA Tour looks daunting.
The latest frustration happened over the summer in New Jersey. Despite an eagle-birdie finish to shoot 67 at Fairmount CC in the Monday qualifier for the Korn Ferry Tour’s Magnit Championship at Metedeconk National, he missed the playoff for the final two playing spots by one stroke.
Nevertheless, what has helped sustain Stegmaier throughout his career is the quality of his game as well as his confidence and determination, as illustrated by his gritty finishing kick last week. His Connecticut Open victory and other impressive performances this summer only bolster his hopes that he can make it back to the top.
“I’ve never lost hope I’d have success,” he said.
Stegmaier’s relentless quest to turn disappointment into joy continues.
Photos Courtesy Connecticut State Golf Association
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