WATCH: Graham DeLaet is a Masters rookie, so who better to learn from then former champion and fellow Canadian Mike Weir. Kevin Smith reports
Only two Canadians are in the field at this week’s Masters – a past champion trying to find his form after a couple of years lost to injury and recovery, and a rising star who many are picking as one to watch.
Mike Weir and Graham DeLaet couldn’t be on more divergent paths at this point in their respective careers.
Weir, the 2003 Masters winner and the only Canadian male to win one of golf’s four major championships, has struggled with injuries and a troublesome swing. While he once resided in the Top 10 in the world, he’s now 690th in the official world golf rankings.
DeLaet, on the other hand, has finished in the Top 10 five times in his last 10 tournaments and is ranked No. 30.
Despite DeLaet’s rise, it is his first Masters and the golfer, who hails from Weyburn, Sask., was blown away by the invite he received in the mail just before Christmas. Call it the gift that keeps on giving.
“It was a dream come true.”
“I knew I was getting in, but when I received [the invite] it brought tears to my eyes,” said DeLaet. “I wasn’t crying, but my eyes were welling up. It is just something that is a dream and it is something I’ve worked hard for and it is rewarding, even if I knew I was going. I have it framed in my little office. It is pretty special.”
DeLaet made one visit to Georgia to see Augusta National Golf Club and to try to find a level of comfort before playing in the highest-profile golf tournament of the year.
One thing is clear – his results on the course show he’s more than comfortable playing against the best in the world and his peers have taken notice. At last year’s Presidents Cup, International team captain Nick Price said DeLaet had a game that should take him to the top of the sport. Canadian David Hearn, who has played a lot of practice rounds with DeLaet on the PGA Tour over the past few years, says no one is surprised by the golfer’s rise.
“He just seems to have the ability right now to shoot low numbers where he needs it,” says Hearn. “He is playing with that level of confidence of guys who are going to win. He has the total package. He’s putting with total confidence and he has always been a great ball striker, but he has effortless power. On courses where length might be an issue for me, he doesn’t have that issue.”
As for Weir, he’s still trying to find the form that once made him among the best in the world. He’s playing this year on an all-time money list exemption, but as a past champion, Augusta’s gates are always open. As for his game, Weir says his struggles are unusual for a player known for his short game prowess.
“I’ve struggled on the greens, which is unlike me,” he says.
“I’m playing well enough to put myself right there. It is the same as for everybody – you have to put it together. I’m seeing some very good things, but I’m just not putting the ball very well. That’s what I’ve been spending my time on.”
Weir’s take is that DeLaet has the ability to excel at Augusta. He’s long on the skills needed to be competitive there, but short on experience.
“Graham has the type of game to do very well there,” says Weir. “He hits it long. He hits it high. He’s worked very hard on his short game that has gotten a lot better. He could easily contend there the first time.”
But the Masters comes with distractions. The cameras, the media and the looming specter of walking where the greats of the game have all played. Weir recognizes that and advised DeLaet to try to get it out of his system.
“What I told him, and I know he played it a couple of weeks ago, is that he should see the golf course without all the hoopla around there,” Weir says. “When you show up for the week of the event, you realize it is a demanding golf course, but not to get distracted by anything else. That’s the same with any major championship, but that’s particular to [Augusta.]”
When it comes down the course, DeLaet recognizes there’s a lot to learn. His solitary practice round occurred in wet weather that made the course, in the golfer’s words, “play like it was 8,500 yards.”
Surprisingly that might be to DeLaet’s advantage.
“I do think that it suits my game pretty well,” DeLaet said. “It’s a beast of a golf course. So having some length is a huge advantage around that place.”
–Article by Robert Thompson with video from Kevin Smith
© Shaw Media, 2014