By Peter Mumford
Being a Team Canada coach must be one of the more frustrating jobs around. After reviewing results from countless junior golf tournaments and scouting the ranks to find the most promising talents in the country, you select your National Team, only to have the majority of them leave for four years of college in the United States.
They return each spring but are spread across the country and only get together for occasional camps and national championships. To make matters worse, the team players are coached by their college coaches during the school year, get input from their local pro during the summer and, the bane of all coaches in every sport, some are likely coached from home too.
But Golf Canada’s National Teams don’t function like ordinary sports teams. According to Golf Canada, “the intention of the program is to provide the best possible support and services to athletes and assist them in attaining their long and short term goals. Quite simply, our mission is to produce the best amateur golfers in the world.”
In many ways, the role of Team Canada coaches is to be nurturing and supportive and, given the restraints on team time together, to work with and co-ordinate the input each member gets from other sources. It’s kind of like NHL coach Mike Babcock’s role when he gets the Canadian Olympic hockey team. He has the best individual talent available but somehow must meld them into a winning team.
It all starts with talent of course. Golfers with potential are everywhere but only a few will eventually succeed. A lump of coal gets turned into a diamond under pressure and it’s the same for developing golfers. In order to compete and win at the highest levels, they have to be exposed to pressure at every step along the way.
Hockey is driven by speed and strength and size and most elite hockey players reach physical maturity in their early twenties, then spend a year or two developing additional skills and gaining the experience needed to excel at the professional game.
Golfers mature physically by the same age but may take much longer to gain tournament experience, strategic thinking and the psychological ability to succeed as professionals. It’s not uncommon for PGA Tour golfers to bloom in their thirties and continue winning for a decade or more. The Golf Canada National Team system provides the tools to help elite amateurs get to the starting line and giving them meaningful experience along the way is a key ingredient to help them conquer the jitters and demons that will confront them when in contention.
Nobody is actually given anything on the National Team program – they have to earn it. A spot in the RBC Canadian Open is the most coveted crucible for a young Canadian golfer to test his skills and one that will deliver the most pressure. Following are some of the current and former National Team members that will be vying for the Earl Grey Trophy (RBC Canadian Open champion) and the Rivermead Challenge Cup (low Canadian) in a couple of weeks time at Glen Abbey and the Canadian golfers many expect to become the future stars on the PGA Tour.
Matt Hill, Brights Grove, Ontario *
Team Canada 2006-2010
Hill was labeled a “can’t miss” phenom in 2009 after his final year at North Carolina State University when won the NCAA individual title and matched Tiger Woods college record of eight NCAA victories in a season. He also won the Haskins Award as the Most Outstanding College Golfer. Hill turned professional the following year and has mostly played on the Mackenzie Tour (PGA Tour Canada) ever since, with one win in 2012. Matt, 28, secured his entry to this year’s RBC Canadian Open with a victory in the Ontario Regional Qualifying Tournament at Blue Springs Golf Club in May.
Hugo Bernard, Mont-St-Hilaire, Quebec *
Team Canada 2013, 2016-2017
Bernard, 23, is the defending Canadian Amateur champion and has a trophy case full of hardware from Quebec amateur and junior events. Last year he played on Team Canada at the World Amateur Championships and was the winner of the Phil Mickelson award in 2015 for college golf’s outstanding freshman.
Jared du Toit, Calgary, Alberta *
Team Canada 2016-2017
Du Toit grew up in Kimberly, BC and won a slew of junior and amateur events. Entering his final year at Arizona State University this fall, du Toit will captain the Sun Devil’s golf team where he has amassed an impressive list of top NCAA finishes. However, du Toit’s most exciting golf memory to date occurred at last year’s RBC Canadian Open where the amateur standout played in the final group on Sunday and eventually finished in a tie for 9th, which earned him the Gary Cowan Award as low amateur.
Garrett Rank, Elmira, Ontario *
Team Canada 2012-2014
29-year old Rank is enjoying life as an NHL referee and has put all thoughts of playing professional golf aside for now. As the three time winner of the Canadian Mid Amateur Championship, he is well tested over many years of amateur and professional competition and knows the Glen Abbey course well.
Corey Conners, Listowel, Ontario
Team Canada 2010-2011, 2013-2017
If Golf Canada is looking for a poster boy for the National Team program, Corey Conners is the guy. He has been on the Development Team, the Amateur Team and now the Young Pro Squad and along the way racked up a brilliant list of accomplishments, highlighted by his runner-up finish at the 2014 US Amateur Championship and Low Amateur honours at the 2015 Masters tournament. He and his teammates earned runner-up status at the World Amateur Team Championship for Canada in 2014. In 2017, he has played the Web.com Tour and currently sits 37th on the money list. The Top 25 earn PGA Tour cards for next season.
Albin Choi, Toronto, Ontario
Team Canada 2009-2012, 2014-2017
Like Conners, Choi is a long term Team Canada member and one of the originals on the Young Pro Squad. He’s a former Canadian Amateur champion (2010) and Ontario Amateur champion (2012) where he defeated Mackenzie Hughes in a playoff. Since turning professional in 2013, Choi has split his time between the Mackenzie Tour where he has two victories and the Web.com Tour.
Taylor Pendrith, Richmond Hill, Ontario
Team Canada 2014-2017
Pendrith won the prestigious Porter Cup in 2013 and the Monroe Invitational the following season. He also played on the 2014 Canadian World Amateur Team that finished in runner-up position. As a professional, Pendrith earned Top 5 status on the Mackenzie Tour in 2015, which garnered him a card for the Web.com Tour last year. The exceptionally long hitter has a measured ball speed of 190 mph which is incredibly fast, even by PGA tour standards.
Players whose names are marked with an asterisk * have earned a spot in the 2017 RBC Canadian Open. The other players listed will have to wait for an invitation.
In addition to those players mentioned above, the following former Team Canada players will also tee it up at Glen Abbey: David Hearn, Graham DeLaet, Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor and Mackenzie Hughes. Mike Weir and Brad Fritsch round out the list of Canadians in the field with more announcements to come in the next few days.
Peter Mumford is the editor of Fairways Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @FairwaysMag