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The Rise of Canadian Golfers, Eh

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Canadian golf is on the rise, but what you probably did not know, is that the country has a rich history in the sport.

History

There is a history of Canadian golfers pushing for the highest standards in the game of golf.

Eccentric instructor Moe Norman is a tragic but famous story in golfing history – the man so gifted he could strike the ball straight and true almost every time – recording numerous rounds of 59 or better, 33 course records and almost twenty hole-in-ones in the 1950s and ‘60s. Credited for developing his ‘single-plane swing’ that led Tiger Woods to declare that Norman was one of two golfers ever to ‘own their swing’ alongside Ben Hogan. Moe never really fit in with the professional game due to his eccentric nature – but the name is known nonetheless, after winning 54 tournaments across Canada.  Sam Snead described him as ‘the greatest striker of the ball’. Look him up.

George Knudson came along and set the record with eight PGA Tour victories in his career, between 1961 and 1972. He won the Canadian PGA Championship five times, as well as a three top 10s in the Masters Tournament in seven appearances, and a T2 finish in the 1969 Masters.

Stephen Ames is a dual citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and Canada. A year after becoming a Canadian resident Ames won the Players Championship in 2006. For those less familiar with the game of golf they may recognise him as the guy on the receiving end of that 9&8 match play loss to Tiger in his prime, but Ames is a Players Championship winner, has featured in the top 25 in the world and surpassed the $10 million career earnings barrier. Ames has also been cleaning up on the Senior Tour recently, winning four times in 2023.

Mike Weir is the sole major champion hailing from Canada – with his Masters win in 2003 – the year before the Phil-Tiger-Phil victorious run at Augusta. Weir’s win was almost followed with a Canadian Open title in 2004, narrowly missing out on victory in a playoff with Vijay Singh. He was a decorated player – spending over two years in the OWGR Top 10 in the early 2000’s and tying Knudson by winning eight PGA Tour events.

Graham DeLaet was a relatively successful story from the Great White North – 3 wins on the Canadian Tour while making $11 million on the PGA Tour throughout the 2010s, notching thirty-three Top 10s and retiring from the game in 2022, following his Olympics appearance representing Canada in 2016.

Present Day 

Since the 2010s, Canadians are featuring more and more, we are beginning to see them close out. The World’s Top 100 now includes Mackenzie Hughes, Corey Conners, Nick Taylor, Adam Hadwin, Adam Svensson and Taylor Pendrith.

Obviously, Nick Taylor is trending with his incredible win in the playoff at his home Open against Tommy Fleetwood, and last weekend in Phoenix against Charley Hoffman. We’re all in on the confirmed Sunday killer, now a four-time winner on the PGA Tour.

Brooke Henderson winning the 2016 Women’s PGA at just 18 years old catapulted her into stardom, then adding the 2022 Evian Championship last season for her second major shows that Canadian golfers of both sexes are here to be taken seriously. In 2019 she surpassed Canadian legends Mike Weir, George Knudson and Sandra Post’s total of eight Tour wins.

Currently ranked 13th in the Rolex Rankings, the 26 year old has won thirteen times on the LPGA Tour, including consecutive winning seasons since 2015, excluding the haphazard season of 2020 that saw 17 cancelled events due to the pandemic.

Three other female golfers sit inside the top 300 in the Women’s Rolex Rankings, Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Selena Costabile and Alena Sharp. With the right input, the Canadian female golfing scene can accelerate just as well as the men’s game has in recent years.

The Report

Canadian golf has been trending the right way for a while. So why has the resurgence begun in this decade? Why have we been seeing the Canadian flag creeping up the leaderboards and the rankings in the game?

While looking into the recent success of Canadians on the golf course, we came across a Ten-Year Plan for Canadian professional golf – called ‘Accelerating the Future of Canadian Golf’ with the initial aims such as ‘increase the number of eligible Canadian PGA and LPGA players to 30 by 2032.’

Taken from the 2022 report, the below scenario was outlined.

“The top golfing country in the world at present is the United States, with 124 total players in the women’s and men’s world top-200 as of July 3, 2021. South Korea (70) and Japan (46) make up a second tier, with most of their world top-200 players being on the women’s side. England (22), Australia (18), and South Africa (17) comprise a third tier, with men’s golf accounting for most of the success in these countries

Canada (6) is classified in a relatively large fourth tier with Thailand (9), Sweden (9), Spain (8), Ireland and Northern Ireland (6), France (6), Germany (6), Denmark (5), China (5), and Mexico (4).”

Analysis 

A summary of statistics shows that Canada (up until this past year) was very inefficient at producing world-class players. A country like South Korea, for example, has a small participation rate but takes a high portion of the world’s best. Canada has plenty of golfers – but very few in the upper realms.

Geography is one factor here; the land mass is enormous, making player meet-ups and training camps difficult compared to smaller European countries.

Weather is a massive factor, with Canadian golf courses affected by extreme winters, some covered in a deep blanket of snow for almost half the year. It is normal that golfers growing up in winter climates have a reduced probability to succeed at the highest level.

And yet, similarly cold countries in Scandinavia manage to negotiate this hurdle. One solution is using this time to focus on mobility, the psychology of the game and the strategy behind golf as well as fine tuning the short game and putting. Another solution is to develop training bases in Florida and Arizona, to encourage training and accommodation options early in their careers.

In order to overtake its relative peers – Sweden & Denmark, and perhaps catch up to England and Australia eventually in terms of high-ranking golfers – significant investment was required in Canadian golf. Not just financial aids, but also cultural improvement. Having a national identity within golf was also encouraged.

In recent years, Asian countries have produced accurate, technically sound golfers like Inbee Park, Ko Jin-young, Sung-Jae Im and Si Woo Kim. Spain showcase the creativity and flair demonstrated by Seve Ballesteros, Manuel Pinero and Jose Maria Olazabal in the golden Ryder Cup years, through to Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm. Denmark can boast Thomas Bjorn, Soren Kjeldsen and the technically sound Hojgaard twins; Sweden possess the underdog narrative, clinging to their stars in Annika Sorenstam, Robert Karlsson, Freddie Jacobsen, Henrik Stenson and now Ryder Cup hero Ludvig Aberg.

And Future… 

The above details how Canada take the next step towards the top of the professional golf world. Golf is becoming a huge part of the country’s sporting culture – not quite reaching the levels of hockey – but becoming a fan favourite in the Great White North. British Columbia presents to some of the most breathtaking views in the world as the snow melts to give way to hot summers and enjoyable parkland resort golf. Courses like Nicklaus North, Whistler, Eagle Ranch, Copper Point, and Greywolf in the Kootenay Mountains – all ranked within the top 100 courses in the country.

Especially on the East Coast – they love their golf and Toronto boasts some of the most prestigious private clubs in the world. Further East, Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia have both attracted thousands of golfers to both courses which are ranked among Golf Digest’s World Top 100 Courses, and the top two spots in the entire country.

Conclusion

Nick Taylor winning his national Open with a 72 foot eagle putt in a playoff in 2023 was the perfect catalyst to get more young Canadians into the game, drawing in the highest viewing figures since Tiger in 2000, peaking at almost 7 million. Taylor received huge amounts of support winning last week in Phoenix.

All in all, Canadian golf is on the rise. The report concludes with:

“The Board, and especially the President, must make a commitment to winning at a global level. We are fortunate to have this alignment at Golf Canada right now”.  

Their aims are clear – to get more people in the industry, to open the gates for more golfers to try for their pro card, and to increase investment to push for more golfers inside the best in the world, on the PGA and the LPGA Tours. Their negotiating winter and the off-season will play a large part in their success – but it is not going away, so they have to turn the negative into a positive, focusing on more physical or even psychological training during these months.

You’ll continue to see the Maple Leaf trending towards the top of the leaderboards on the PGA and LPGA over the next few seasons. Adam Hadwin just finished T4 at the Genesis, with Adam Svensson in T10, with Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes not far behind. The President’s Cup in Montreal later this year will definitely feature a lot of Canadians on their home turf.


Cover Image via PGA Tour

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