Homegrown golfers face long odds at Canadian Open

OAKVILLE, Ont. – Brian Hadley is the Canadian golf version of Tin Cup.  He’s a club pro, working in the pro shop at Thames Valley Golf Club in London, Ont., but Hadley’s far from typical.

After all, not many club pros shoot 59 in a round, as Hadley did last week at a PGA of Ontario event, or managed to play their way into the RBC Canadian Open by winning its qualifier earlier this month.

Now Hadley is in Oakville, Ont. with his wife, a teller at a Sarnia bank, and his 17-month-old son, Callen, living the dream of playing in his first RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club.

“This isn’t a typical week in the shop,” he says flatly after playing a practice round with former PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang. “I’m a Canadian and I’ve always wanted to play in a Canadian Open.”

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Hadley is a long shot who faces tough odds just to play the weekend. After all, at his normal job he folds shirts, takes green fees and helps with rental clubs. But frankly every Canadian is a long shot when it comes to their chances at winning the tournament. There’s hasn’t been a domestic winner since 1954 when Pat Fletcher took the title in Vancouver.

Graham DeLaet, from Weyburn, Sask., is likely this year’s great Canadian hope. He’s made 17 of 20 cuts, contended in several tournaments, and has turned into one of the PGA Tour’s great ball strikers. But like Mike Weir before him, DeLaet recognizes the challenge of being the focus of a nation. It is asking a lot of any golfer to elevate their game, let alone in a week when they are playing in their home country, often with friends and family watching.

“I try to play well every week, but this means a lot for sure,” DeLaet admits. “I have to keep doing what I have been doing. I don’t want to put on any more pressure.”

DeLaet comes to the Canadian Open from playing in the British Open, while Brantford, Ont.’s David Hearn is fresh off a near victory at the John Deere Classic where he lost in a playoff. Rarely have two Canadian players come into the Canadian Open playing as well as DeLaet and Hearn.

“There’s no doubt that I’m playing with more confidence than I have coming into any other Canadian Open,” DeLaet says. “David is doing the same and we both believe it can happen. It is just about controlling the pressure and having fun.”

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David Hearn reacts after missing a putt during a playoff in the John Deere Classic golf tournament, Sunday, July 14, 2013, at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill. Jordan Spieth defeated Hearn and Zach Johnson on the fifth hole of the playoff. Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

In all there are 19 Canadians in the field this week, including PGA Tour regulars Brad Fritsch from Manotick, Ont., and Stephen Ames from Calgary, as well as rising stars like Adam Hadwin, from Abbotsford, BC, and a group of young guns led by the likes of two-time Canadian Amateur winner Mackenzie Hughes.

Hearn says he hasn’t changed what he’s doing for this Canadian Open. And though he spent part of the week sleeping at home in Brantford before moving closer to Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Hearn is trying to treat the tournament like it was just another week on the PGA Tour.

“Every week I prepare as well as I can and on Thursday when you put the peg in the ground, do I think I can win? Sure you do – but not everyone has the ability on any given week to do it,” he says. “Do I think that if I play to the best of my abilities I’ll be around on Sunday. I do. That’s what I’m playing for.”

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Fritsch, who has played in a handful of Canadian Opens in the past, says as a regular on the PGA Tour, the Canadian Open isn’t the focus of his entire season, as it was when he played on golf’s mini-tours and managed his way into the field.

“It is a special week, the one where I’m at home, or at least close to it,” says Fritsch. “But my overall goal is not dependent on this week like it was in past years.”

Fritsh, who is currently 137th on the tour’s money list (the Top 125 regain their playing privileges), knows he’ll need to play well not only at the Canadian Open, but at every tournament until the end of the year if he plans to be on the PGA Tour next year.

As for Hadley, he thinks he can win at Glen Abbey this week. That’s his mindset for every round he plays. The odds are stacked against him, and the likelihood is he’ll be handing out sleeves of balls and organizing a corporate tournament come Monday. But golf is full of dreamers, though few of them with Hadley’s talent. Maybe – just maybe – Hadley can continue riding his hot hand to further success.

“The goal is not to go back to a regular job,” he says.

Dreamers have to dream, and every Canadian in the field this week – from club pros like Hadley to stars like Weir, Hearn and DeLaet – envision themselves at the trophy ceremony on the course’s 18th hole. It has been a Canadian dream for nearly 60 years – and Hearn hopes it becomes a reality.

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“It’ll happen – I believe that,” Hearn says. “Hopefully in 2014 we’re talking about how great it was that a Canadian won in 2013.”