First-year tour pros aren’t supposed to win right away — they’re supposed to take their lumps and learn from their mistakes on their way to victory.
But Brendan Steele apparently did not get that memo, earning his first PGA tour victory in his freshman season on tour at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio on Sunday.
“I don’t even know what’s going on right now,” Steele said. “I’m on cloud nine. It’s amazing.”
Steele was solid all week and remained part of a crowded leaderboard going into Sunday, alongside big names such as Adam Scott. But unlike Scott, who tied for 23rd, Steele endured the harsh conditions and wind and delivered a steady final round.
Steele made it to red numbers for the first time on Sunday, with a birdie at the par-5 second hole but gave the stroke back with a bogey at five. He then birdied the par-3 seventh, putting himself at 8-under, and as it turned out, that was all he needed for the win.
He walked the back nine right alongside his prime competition, with fellow Californian and PGA-tour rookie Kevin Chappell matching him shot for shot at 8-under the whole way until the 17th, where a miss-hit second shot from 87 yards by Chappell placed him out of position and forced a bogey on the hole.
“I had 87 yards and figured it was playing 100,” Chappell said. “I’ll be honest, I think I just fell asleep. When I found the ball in flight, it was right of the hole, and I was like ‘Whoa, what just happened?’”
Steele walked up to the 18th tee with a one-shot lead and needed a par to secure the victory. He hit a drive dead center of fairway to start it off and decided to lay up with a nine iron to wedge distance instead of going at the green from 250 yards away.
Then at that moment, nerves might have struck as he proceeded to fly his wedge over the green, putting his par in jeopardy. Chipping for four, he rolled the ball past the hole, brushing the edge of the cup in the process, leaving him seven feet away from par and the win.
Steele stepped up and knocked it into the back of the hole, ending the round with an emphatic double fist pump, celebrating the win.
“I try to keep it pretty much under control,” Steele said. “Just an outrush of emotion there, I couldn’t believe I had actually done it.”
Steele had a bit of a slow start to his PGA Tour career, missing the cut in six of his first 11 starts. His best finish of the year prior to the Valero Open was a tie for 17th at the Farmers Insurance Open. But Steele had no doubt that he had the ability to succeed on tour, even if the results weren’t there early on.
A lot of the confidence Steele shows stems from his wire-to-wire win at last year’s Nationwide Tour Championship, which vaulted him into the top 25 of the standings, allowing him to earn his tour card.
“I definitely feel [the Tour Championship] helped me, just giving the right mind-set and really trying to stay away from the outcome on each shot and for the day,” Steele said.
A pair of former Longhorns, Jhonattan Vegas and Justin Leonard, played in the tournament, but both finished outside the top 25. Austin resident Rich Beem began the final round in contention for the victory, but he dropped from contention quickly to finish tied for 15th.