LAS VEGAS – Graham DeLaet traveled the globe during one year of his golf career, visiting more than half the world’s continents in pursuit of trophies and, ultimately, a PGA TOUR card. Another year was spent wondering if he’d ever tee it up again.
Eventful years, yes, but not as productive as this past season, the best of his TOUR career. He qualified for his first TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola and made his first Presidents Cup appearance. He had seven top-10s in 2013, including three top-three finishes.
His 2013-14 season starts this week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, an event known for providing players their first trip to the winner’s circle. Ten of the past 20 champions at TPC Summerlin were first-time winners. DeLaet, 31, would like to be the next.
“I had a few good chances (to win in 2013), … and I wasn’t able to really close the deal,” he said. “But I’m starting to feel a lot more comfortable being in that position, so hopefully a win is around the corner.”
He’ll have to go low to accomplish that feat, though. The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open became a 72-hole tournament held exclusively at TPC Summerlin in 2008. The winners’ average 72-hole score in that time period is 262.4, an average of 65.6 per round; the winner has shot 20 under par in each year but one (Martin Laird was 19 under par in 2009).
Ryan Moore won last year’s tournament with a record 24-under 260 (61-68-65-66) total; his first-round 61 tied the course record.
Brendon de Jonge, who represented the International Team with DeLaet at this year’s Presidents Cup, finished second here last year, one shot behind Moore.
“It’s almost a little bit of added pressure, because you go three or four holes without making a birdie and everyone’s jumping past you, ” de Jonge said.
DeLaet has 13 top-10 finishes, including four top-threes, in 81 career TOUR starts. He’s still seeking his first TOUR victory, though. He has plenty of experience winning elsewhere.
The native of Saskatchewan, Canada, won 10 times at Boise State; the school is best known for its blue football turf, but has two players on the PGA TOUR this year (Troy Merritt is the other).
“He hits it dead straight, on a line,” Merritt said. “It’s a quick 1-2 (tempo), straight back and straight through. He’s a great competitor, you see the passion he has. He just loves to play and loves to compete.”
DeLaet won twice on PGA TOUR Canada in 2009 to win that tour’s Order of Merit. He also played that year on the PGA TOUR, Web.com Tour, European Tour and South Africa-based Sunshine Tour, winning once on the latter. He went cage diving with great white sharks while in South Africa.
“For my development, it was huge … to just kind of step out of my comfort level because as soon as you get out onto this TOUR, it’s a heck of a lot different than anything you’ve ever played,” DeLaet said. This year’s Presidents Cup was another new experience. He went 3-1-1 in his debut, including two chip-ins on No. 18.
“The fact that I was able to pull off shots under pressure, … that’s what it takes to win on this TOUR,” he said.
DeLaet earned his PGA TOUR card at the 2009 q-school; he represented Canada in the previous week’s World Cup in China, and arrived in South Florida for q-school just two days before the event began. He earned $954,011 in a promising rookie season of 2010, but played just two TOUR events the following year because of a herniated disk in his back. He had a microdiscectomy -- a procedure that shaved off part of the disk -- in January 2011.
“There was a period where I didn’t know if I was ever going to play golf again,” he said.
He returned to finish 53rd in the FedExCup in 2012 and finished eighth in the recently completed season. His ball-striking statistics were impressive in 2013: he led the TOUR in total driving, ranking 19th in driving distance (298.6 yards) and 34th in driving accuracy (65.8 percent), and third in greens in regulation (70.51 percent). Former TOUR winner Gabriel Hjertstedt has been DeLaet’s short-game instructor for approximately two years. He ranked 76th in strokes gained-putting in 2013, compared to 156th the previous year.
DeLaet said ranking approximately 40th in strokes gained this season could help him take “the next step” in his career. “I feel like I hit it good enough,” he said. “You’re going to have a few good weeks where you really make some putts, and hopefully that’ll be enough to get a win or two.”