Golf is going through a renaissance in Canada and it’s being led by a man with a playoff beard.
Graham DeLaet, from Weyburn, Sask., has turned heads with his play in 2013, not only from his home country, but across the PGA Tour.
After a career best second-place finish at The Barclays in late August, then a third-place finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship the following week in Boston, DeLaet has earned a spot on the International Team for the Presidents Cup.
He’s the first Canadian to make a Presidents Cup team since Mike Weir did it in 2009.
This is the third full-year on the Tour for the 31-year-old, being forced to sit out much of 2011 with back injuries.
Score Golf analyst Bob Weeks says the recent success can partly be attributed to DeLaet’s improved short game, one that has been coached by former PGA pro Gabriel Hjertstedt this season.
“Graham has always been a good ball striker from tee to green, he’s been fabulous. It’s been around the greens where he’s had a bit of a struggle and that’s really been shining for him this year,” said Weeks, over the phone to the Observer.
“It’s also just an overall confidence and belief in his game. He’s just much more relaxed out there, much more at ease in terms of playing on the PGA Tour.”
DeLaet has moved up to the 35th spot in the world and has raked in a little over $2.6 million this year. With the BMW Championship and the Tour Championship still left in the FedEx Cup, DeLaet has a chance of winning the playoffs and the $10 million if he can keep up his strong play.
Nick Price, the captain of the International Team for the Presidents Cup, says the Boise State product is no longer a secret on the PGA Tour.
“I’ve asked the players already, the guys who have played with (DeLaet), what they think of his game, and the common thread that comes back all the time is the fact he’s improved so much in the past two years or from even three years ago, when he first got his card,” Price told the Calgary Sun during a charity golf tournament in Alberta.
With DeLaet becoming the poster boy of Canadian golf and others like David Hearn showing promise, a changing of the guard for the sport is taking place.
Weir and Stephen Ames are no longer the favourites when it comes to Canuck golfers.
“I think there’s a natural evolution of golfers,” says Weeks. “Stephan Ames is going to be 50 next year and Mike Weir will be 44 in May. There’s a life-span of being able to compete.”
Even with the new blood, Weeks thinks Canada should be producing more talent.
“We have lots [of players] that get to a certain level and then seem to stall,” he said. “We’ve always had two or three players on the PGA Tour, but never more than that.”
It’s natural for people to draw early comparisons from DeLaet to Weir. He’s still fairly young (for golf) at 31 and considered one of most fundamentally sound golfers in the sport.
DeLaet is ranked third in greens in regulation and first in ball striking on the Tour this season.
However, DeLaet has yet to win a pro tournament. By the time Weir was 33 he had already won six tournaments including The Masters in 2003. The lefty has eight victories in his back pocket today with his career winding down.
DeLaet is on his way, but still has some work to do to get to the level of Weir, Weeks says.
“I know Canadian fans are very excited, but I think we have to take a step back and realize that’s he’s still learning to become a good PGA Tour player. He’ll win. I don’t think there is any doubt that he’ll win.
“Let’s wait until Graham is 43 or 44 and then we will make a comparison at that point.”
The Presidents Cup goes from Oct. 3-6 from the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.