Golf’s Future Suddenly Looks Brighter

Last month the 2011 RBC Canadian Open (often referred to as “one of Major quality”) was a showcase for Vancouver, the Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club and many of Canada’s future golf stars.

It was a weekend of great shots, good shots and good enough shots for 5 of the 17 Canadians in the field who made the cut, while many seasoned PGA Tour stars packed their golf bags early.

When moving day started on Saturday, there was almost a sixth sense in the gallery that we were about to witness something very special. Would July 2011 mark the passing of the torch from our current heroes (Mike Weir and Stephen Ames) to a new breed of young guns?

3 Canadian players stood out as “golfers to watch” (Adam Hadwin, Matt McQuillan and David Hearns) – hopefuls to take over the reigns from Weir and Ames in the not-too-distant future.

All talented players, they outperformed many recognized tour stars with McQuillan and Hearns finishing T31 and T34 respectively.

But the weekend belonged to Adam Hadwin with a 2 under par, T4 finish – one of only 8 players who closed off the weekend in the red.

With a horde of fans following him, Hadwin showed remarkable maturity and poise for someone with so little experience. A 39 on the front 9 on Sunday would have made many a contender throw in the Frogger, but not Adam. He rallied back with a 33 on the back 9 to tie for 4th in one of the PGA Tour’s most gruelling tests of golf.

Despite all my pessimism fed by reading so many reports of declining participation in golf, Adam Hadwin made me believe that Canada has a very promising future in golf.

After Saturday’s charge from someone who looks barely old enough to drive a car, I suddenly became more aware of all the youngsters who came out to cheer on their favourite players. It almost brought tears to my eyes to watch them compete with each other for bragging rights by soliciting a golf ball from one of their heroes.

This group alone secured golf balls from John Daly, Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey, Michael Thompson and Chad Campbell. I heard the tallest of the gang call out to the Big “D”, “Nice up and down, John!”, which awarded him one of JD’s infamous “balls to the gut” tosses that made the young lad believe he had “connected” with a great among greats. It was “a moment”!

I was also really touched by a sweetheart of a young golfgal in the group who wondered if Chad Campbell’s troubles on Saturday might have had something to do with her. “When he was doing really well yesterday, I think I took his lucky ball”, she said, “And then he started to do really bad.” Suddenly she looked so sad I almost took her into my arms.

The whole day on Sunday I was drawn to our next super stars who didn’t just want to watch the proceedings; they were ready to tee it up with the big guys!

Meet Sophia Strong. Hardly out of diapers, Sophia was experiencing the joys of gripping it and ripping it.

No sooner had the ball left the clubface that she was down the fairway ready for her next shot. No pace of play issues here!

Now, does she not look like the next Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel all rolled into one? Her dad, Bradey told me she loves watching Sunday golf, sitting in front of the television cheering on the players. How sweet is that!

But you know, Sophia was just one of many.  Everywhere I looked, there were parents with kids sporting the colours of their favorite golfer – like Pat Wilson , Don Ference and their two boys, Alex and Blair from Shaughnessy.

All decked out in their Rickie Fowler Puma duckbills, Alex and Blair waited patiently for the Orange Man to pass by their primo position on the 1st tee.

When I asked Alex why he loved golf, he did what all kids do – he told it like it is, “Well, you don’t need to be too fit…But still, it’s really fun.” I felt a tinge of embarrassment coming from the parents as he shared an honest assessment of this sport, but they should be proud – he’s right.

And that’s why golf is a game for life, whether you are young/old, short/tall, thin/fat. Golf transcends age, size, weight and even disabilities. It is truly a sport that is more about mental strength than physical.  Remember what the great Bob Jones said, “Golf is a game that is played on a five-inch course – the distance between your ears.”

Obviously Blair and Alex adored Rickie Fowler based on their attire, but what really surprised me is that the next person they named as a favorite was slow-mo Ben Crane. Crane isn’t exactly the name that rolls off most kids’ tongues, but when I found out that the day before they had been watching his popularized Youtube videos, I understood why he was the next “fave” on their lists, with Bubba Watson, not far behind. Chock one up for social media in golf!

After leaving the Shaughnessy bros, I met up with Brent Lee and his two young amateurs from Tsawwassen, Charlotte and Beckett.

Dad Brent introduced the kids to the game at Pt. Roberts, a gorgeous tree-lined course just south of the BC border (you really must play it if you can), where they learned the short game of chipping and putting first before facing the Full Monty 18 holes. Smart dad! The kids love the game (and Rickie Fowler).  Charlotte made of point of telling me she is also enrolled in the CN Future Links program and proudly sported her Girls Club pink hat.

All day I saw happy faces in the crowds cheering on their idols, but what really delighted me was running into 15 year old Hunter Phalen from Whistler.

Probably the youngest volunteer working inside the ropes, Hunter was delighted by his primo position at the 18th green, “ It’s a lot of fun and more juniors should be doing it,” he said.

Hunter was introduced to golf when he and a friend went to the driving range 4 years ago. Now, a avid competitor with a 5.5 handicap, “coming down rapidly”, Phalen is looking to share the fairways and maybe some limelight with his favorite US Open champion, Rory McIlroy.

After meeting so many wonderful parents and kids all day I kept wondering… Do the players really know the impact they are having on these youngsters or are they just playing “their own game”?

Some obviously do, like Rickie Fowler; while others don’t appear to, like Anthony Kim who stormed off after his Saturday round without acknowledging a single fan. Sure he shot an 81 and sure he was DQ’d, but is that the example we want for our children?

But after a tough day on Saturday, Rickie didn’t disappoint. And after watching him sign autograph after autograph for the “Creamsicle Kids” who lined up 3 deep all along the fence outside the scoring trailer, I started thinking of trading in my Nike gear for Puma.

He was there so long, I actually got a bored and left. But about 40 minutes later when I passed by the putting green, there he was again signing hats, balls, programs…whatever. To say I was impressed would be an understatement.

This year’s Canadian Open had so many memorable moments, but the things I will remember the most are the faces of the next generation of young golfers as they sat under the ropes for hours or peaked through legs and bleachers to get the best view of their heroes while they imagined themselves there in a few years.

Sunday gave me hope and the timing couldn’t be better. In 2016 Canada will send our best to Rio for the first Olympic Golf Games since 1904.   Canada’s George Lyon took home the gold that year and there’s no reason why another Canuck can’t do this same in Brazil.


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