Homegrown talents look to break winless streak at RBC Canadian Open

July 24, 2013

By David McPherson, Special to PGATOUR.COM

OAKVILLE, Ontario -- Fifty-nine years. Approximately 21,535 days. That’s how long it has been since a Canadian last won this national open.

For the 18 Canadians teeing it up this week at the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club, there’s hope — like the Scot Andy Murray did earlier this month when he won Wimbledon — this drought will end.

This optimism is warranted. Take Saskatchewan’s Graham DeLaet. He has five top-10 finishes and 10 top 25s already this season; his best result is a third at the Travelers Championship. The 31-year-old also ranks first on TOUR in greens in regulation and second in total driving.

"Coming into this tournament the previous four times that I’ve played it, I always came in wanting to play good, and I believe this year that I can play well," DeLaet said. "Whether I do or not, that’s going to be found out on Thursday through Sunday, but I really feel like my game is in a good place, my confidence is high."

Golf Canada CEO Scott Simmons, in his state of Golf in Canada address on Tuesday morning, touched upon this wealth of homegrown talent. He’s confident that a Canadian has as good a shot as ever this week to be competitive and be in the hunt come Sunday.

"As a golf fan, I feel so inspired by what these guys are doing," Simmons said. "You can look back at every year and every generation, but Graham [DeLaet] is playing so consistently and look where he is on the money list. David [Hearn] is the same. Brad [Fritsch] admitted last night that his game has been a little bit inconsistent, but he's right on the magic number right now for (the FedExCup Playoffs), 125.

"And then look at the guys that are coming up behind," he added. "Yeah, I feel so bullish about the future for Canadian golf because it’s not as if ‑‑ you had Mike [Weir] and Stephen [Ames] and they were kind of it for a long time after the Nelford‑Zokol‑Halldorson era. Now I think we've got a bushel full of players."

Part of this current crop of Canadian talent can be attributed to the PGA TOUR taking over the Canadian Tour this season. Riley Wheeldon, 22, relates. The British Columbian is a benefactor of this new arrangement. As the current leader on the PGA TOUR Canada’s Order of Merit, he received an exemption into this year’s tournament, thanks in large part to his victory at the Syncrude Boreal Open presented by AECON.

"All the guys came into the year motivated with those added spots and the added incentive," Wheeldon said. "Right from the start of the year it’s been a different feel. I’ve been able to set some clear and concise goals with regards to where I want to finish at the end of the year and what tournaments I want to get into. I’ve been able to play well enough so far to accomplish some of those goals."

This week, Wheeldon is playing in his first PGA TOUR event. His goal is to play all four days.

"I want to be here all week and soak it all in," he said. "I know if I play the golf I’m capable of playing, I can compete."

Wheeldon concurs with Simmons’ assessment that it’s only a matter of time before a Canadian will win again on the PGA TOUR.

"The quality of Canadian golf is getting better daily, let alone yearly," he said. "I think it is stronger than our country realizes right now. We have a lot of guys that are really close; we just need one of them to break through. I played with Graham [DeLaet] nine holes in the practice round and his game is as good as anybody’s I’ve seen. There is no reason why he can’t win on the PGA TOUR; it’s only a matter of time. As for all of us following in his footsteps, it’s also only a matter of time."

Eugene Wong is another young Canadian who hopes his time will come soon. The 22-year-old, who is playing in his fourth Canadian Open, is also a member of PGA TOUR Canada. His goal is to secure one of the top five spots on the Order of Merit so he can get his Web.com Tour card for next season.

"Thanks to the PGA TOUR Canada, you are going to see a lot more Canadians moving up slowly or making the jump to the PGA TOUR," Wong said.

Hearn made the jump to the PGA TOUR a few years back and now is on the cusp of winning. Two weeks ago, the Brantford native had his best finish on the PGA TOUR when he finished second at the John Deere Classic, losing in a three-man playoff to Jordan Spieth. He agrees that you don’t just have to look at the PGA TOUR players to see that when it comes to golf, Canada’s got talent.

"Graham [DeLaet] and I are pretty good examples of the younger generation that are starting to come into our prime," said Hearn, whose best finish at the RBC Canadian Open is a T20 in 2006. "Adam Hadwin playing so well two years ago at Shaughnessy just shows you that you don’t have to look to the guys on the PGA TOUR to think those are the only guys that have a chance. There is also a lot of talent on the Web.com and PGA TOUR Canada … it’s exciting for Canada right now."

Leave the last word to Hadwin. The 25-year-old has two top 10s on the Web.com Tour.

"My game has been really good this year, I just haven’t been able to get it in the hole as quickly as I would like," he said. “I’ve had a couple of top 10s in my last three events, so my game is definitely trending in the right direction.

"It’s always nice to come back to Canada to play, especially with it being the Canadian Open and our national championship," he added. "For a lot of guys, including me, it’s the fifth major out there. It’s nice to get a chance to play on the PGA TOUR again and rub elbows with the best players in the world and see how my game stacks up. I’m excited for the week.”