Ten years have passed since Mike Weir captured The Masters on a fateful Sunday in Georgia. He remains the sole Canadian to win a men’s professional major title, and 2013 marked a changing of the guard in the landscape of the sport for this country.
Weir, as relevant as ever and still a Canadian golf hero, began to fade from the forefront of the professional golf ranks – although his 2013 campaign was much improved over his 2012 and 2011 seasons – and Canadian golf fans saw new stars to cheer for, and hope that there may be new winners on some of the world’s biggest golfing stages sooner rather than later.
Here are the top five stories in Canadian golf in 2013.
Mackenzie Hughes and PGA Tour Canada’s inaugural season
The former Canadian Tour was nearly bankrupt, an afterthought for most journeymen who were toiling on mini-tours. That all changed early in the year when the PGA Tour added the Canadian circuit under it’s umbrella. It was rebranded as PGA Tour Canada, had eight tournaments this season (and added two more for 2014) with purses totally $150,000 each, and produced a fine inaugural Order of Merit winner in former Canadian Amateur champion Mackenzie Hughes. Hughes, who won back-to-back Canadian Amateur titles in 2011 and 2012, started the season with no formal status. But on the heels of three top-3 finishes and a victory in Cape Breton, he won just north of $52,000 for the year and comfortably won the Order of Merit by nearly $10,000. With his finish to 2013, Hughes, just 23, earned a promotion to the Web.com Tour – just one level below the PGA Tour. One year removed from being an amateur and college graduate, Hughes is now one step away from his ultimate goal – playing on the PGA Tour. With more tournaments, more money and one year of experience under their collective belts, there’s lots of deserved excitement for what – and who – PGA Tour Canada will produce next year.
Brooke Henderson is not your regular 16-year-old
While most in the golf world have their eyes on another teenage sensation – Lydia Ko, the 16-year-old wunderkind who won the last two Canadian Women Open’s on the LPGA Tour and just recently turned professional will special permission from the Tour – Canadians are well aware of the talent and promise that Brooke Henderson holds for the future. The native of Smiths Falls, Ont. enjoyed a strong 2013 campaign. She won three amateur titles including the Canadian Women’s Amateur that earned her a spot in the Canadian Women’s Open. She played in the U.S. Women’s Open (a major on the LPGA Tour) and made the cut, tying for 59th. She also played in the other Canadian LPGA Tour event, the Manulife LPGA Classic, and finished tied for 35th. At 15, Henderson has not yet made any University commitments, nor has she commented about turning professional, as she continues to play in junior events (against competitors her own age) and with the LPGA Tour stars. Henderson will once again be a member of Golf Canada’s national team for 2014, and she capped 2013 with a five-shot victory at the Junior Orange Bowl, an international junior event that concluded December 30th in Florida. Not bad for someone who doesn’t yet have her driver’s license.
Corey Conners’ magical run(s)
Corey Conners finished 2013 as one of Canada’s top-ranked male amateur golfers – at no.41 in the world – but a slew of high finishes in college events coupled with strong performances in amateur events through the 2013 season gives reason to believe that next year could be even better. Conner, who attends Kent St. University in Ohio (the same school that Mackenzie Hughes graduated from) made two magical attempts at greatness this summer. First, he nearly made the cut at the RBC Canadian Open, and would have become the sole amateur to do so had a few late bogies not derailed his chances. Then, perhaps more impressively, he plowed through the competition at the U.S. Amateur (after a second place finish at the Canadian Amateur) and made it to the semi-finals. Had he won, he would have become only the third Canadian in the 112-year history to capture a victory.
SportBox Entertainment Group shakes up the Canadian golf scene
Tuesdays during a PGA Tour tournament are usually the busiest day of the week with vendors, coaches and trainers all meandering around inside the ropes chatting with Tour players and media. Tuesday at this year’s RBC Canadian Open was busier than usual. Danny Fritz, who was formerly the co-Managing Director of IMG Canada, announced he was starting a new representation agency immediately called SportBox, and SportBox had acquired the golf ‘assets’ of Landmark Sports Group. On the surface this may not seem like a big shakeup, but it’s far from a mere business transaction. SportBox now represents all of the top male talent in Canadian golf including Mike Weir, David Hearn, Adam Hadwin, Graham DeLaet and Mackenzie Hughes – not to mention a handful of other players in its ever-growing stable. The team at SportBox is also in discussions to bring a Web.com Tour event to Atlantic Canada that would help drive economic growth and interest in golf in the region. There’s much else in the works at SportBox, and considering they have access to all of Canada’s top professional golf talent, it could mean quite the shift in the Canadian golf landscape.
Graham DeLaet’s coming out party
If there is an image that sums up Graham DeLaet’s 2013 season, it’s that of him giving an emphatic double fist pump after chipping in on the 18th hole at the Presidents Cup. DeLaet had arrived. He finished 3-1 in the biennial team competition and had analysts and golf pundits finally realizing what we Canadians had known for a while. DeLaet was good. He didn’t win on Tour in 2013, but he had a career year none-the-less. He earned just shy of $3 million in 2013 on the heels of seven top-10 finishes, and moved to a career-high 36th in the Official World Golf Ranking. Many in the golf world now consider DeLaet a lock to win on the PGA Tour in 2014 and International Team captain Nick Price (a major champion himself) said this about DeLaet after the Presidents Cup had concluded: “He’s a hell of a player. I think Canada has a lot to look forward to the next ten or 12 years watching him play, because he’s definitely major championship material.” Hello world.
Honourable Mention – Hearn just misses
It was as tense a scenario as any this year on the PGA Tour. 20-year-old phenom Jordon Spieth chipped in from a greenside bunker on the final hole of the John Deere Classic to force a playoff with Zach Johnson and Canadian David Hearn. Hearn then had a putt of less than 10 feet for the win on the fourth playoff hole. It lipped out, and the rookie Spieth went on to capture the victory. For Hearn, who flew under the radar this year with DeLaet making most of the Canadian PGA Tour headlines, it showed that he too has a good a chance as any on the PGA Tour to win on any given week.