PGA Tour Canada, Staal Foundation Open – Thunder Bay, Ontario

After coming off back to back weeks on the tour, it was bitter-sweet returning to Canada to compete. I know I have the skill set to contend with the players, but I also know that with my talent I have a really good chance to jockey for a top spot and even vie for a win on PGA Tour Canada.

The Staal Foundation Open is a brand new event on the schedule and the host course was Whitewater GC. The par-72 championship layout had a good mix of short, narrow holes along with a few longer ones to test all facets of the game.

I tee’d off in the morning wave on Thursday in near perfect conditions, with barely a breath of wind to contend with. I birdied my opening hole after hitting a solid drive down the middle and a 9-iron to about ten feet. I pushed my drive right on the next hole and it kicked hard several times until it was swallowed up by thick thorn bushes. I re-tee’d and after finding the short grass and hitting an 8-iron from about 170 yards to four feet I was able to salvage my bogey. I then birdied the par-5 right after with a great short-sided, up-and-down from the green-side trap. Even with the lost ball I was under par through the first three holes and feeling very confident. I continued my aggressive play but just didn’t hit the ball close enough to convert any more birdies until I reached the front side. There, I took advantage of a couple long drives on both the par-5’s and two-putted for birdies. I finished the first day with a somewhat disappointing 71 (-1) in prime scoring conditions. I knew playing late the next day was going to be a very different story and I would have to be much sharper.

As I tee’d off on the first hole in the afternoon to begin Friday’s round, the wind was already sweeping through the course. I hit a few marginal shots and they cost me two bogeys. I tried to stay patient and not force anything but I saw on the leader board that several players were under par even in the tough conditions. I couldn’t manage a birdie until the short par-4 14th hole that was playing about 280 yards straight over water. I was last to hit and after the two players ahead of me hit irons safely into the fairway, I looked at my caddie and said, “It’s time to make something happen”. I smashed a 3-wood as good as I could hit it at the right edge of the green and it ended up pin-high and just in the rough. From there I chipped it to three feet and rolled in my first birdie of the day. On the next hole I flagged a 5-iron from 210 yards that pitched just past the hole and rolled out to approximately twenty-five feet. My focus had narrowed now and I made sure I was fully committed before hitting the putt. It rolled perfect off the putter face and dropped dead in the center of the cup. After back-to-back birdies I was now 1-under par for the tournament and right on the cut line.

An errant drive on the next hole cost me a bogey but I bounced right back with a birdie on the 17th after bombing a drive green-side and hitting a nice flop shot to about five feet. Standing on the final hole I knew I was back on the cut line and that one more birdie would go a long way to securing a spot into the weekend and remaining in contention. Once again I smoked a drive down the right-center and was left with only 250 yards into the par-5. Feeling some nerves and my adrenaline pumping I leaned into a 5-iron that finished just off the front-right of the green, leaving me only a ten yard chip shot to the pin. A number of different scenarios raced through my head but as I stepped over the ball, nothing but positive thoughts and focussing on my landing spot remained. I bumped my 60-degree wedge right where I was looking and the ball did exactly what I envisioned; bouncing once, checking, and releasing to the hole as it took the break. It seemed as though everything slowed down for those few seconds, and then the ball disappeared into the hole. Eagle 3!!! The bleachers were packed with spectators as they roared and I give one more solid fist pump to end the afternoon. I went 4-under over my last five holes to make the cut by two shots.

It wouldn’t be hard to guess that I was extremely excited to get round three underway and pick up right where I left off. I wanted to stay aggressive but also extremely focused and discipline just like I was at the end of my second round. And that’s what I did as I birdied holes 2, 3, 7, and 9 to reach 7-under par. I stalled a little on the back with a bogey but managed two more birdies coming in to shoot a 5-under par 67 and jump up the leader board on “moving day”.

The crowds were out in full force on the last day as birdies were there for the taking once again. I began the day eight shots behind the leader but I knew that if I could make a lot of noise early and climb closer to the top that it might give him one more thing to think about. I started well with some solid ball striking and birdies on four of the opening eight holes. After making a good up-and-down to save par on the 9th hole I turned in 3-under par and -11 total for the tournament. My goal for the back nine remained unchanged, to stay aggressive and 100% committed to every shot because I knew I had to keep pushing for more birdies.

Missed fairways and greens on holes ten and eleven resulted in a bogey and a double bogey and dropped me back to where I began the day at -8. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty furious after throwing away all the hard work from the front nine in just two holes. However, I gathered myself on the par-5 12th and rolled in a twenty-footer for birdie. I narrowly missed chances for birdie on the next two holes and then once again hit a solid 5-iron into the par-3 15th. With about fifty people gathered around the green, I rolled in the thirty-footer for birdie and threw down another fist pump. I followed that up with a perfect 3-wood and lob wedge to fifteen feet on the next hole and canned that putt for back-to-back tweeters. I had clawed my way back up the leader board to 3-under par on the day. I hit two more great shots on the 17th hole but just slid by my attempt at three in-a-row.

I now reached the last hole of the tournament and even though I knew winning was most likely out of the question at this point, I still wanted a birdie to jump into one of the remaining top spots. I tee’d it high and fired away, but came out of it a bit and sent the ball into the right tree’s. It was a sick feeling because once again all the hard work and good play up until then was riding on this last hole. Not able to find my ball, I hit my next tee shot down the right smack behind a tree stump, forcing a sideways chip-out. Still running hot from all that happened in the last few minutes I whaled a 4-iron just off the edge of the green. From there I hit a bump and run towards the back-left pin and rolled in the 4 footer. It was a closing double bogey 7 that dropped me back down to -9 for the tournament in into a tie for 7th place.

It took me some time later that night to digest what had transpired during that final round and the entire tournament. I reminded myself how fine of a line exists at this level and how close I am to breaking through once again. Golf is an ongoing quest to improve and test one’s skills on a weekly basis and I look forward to the next time I am able to play my way into contention and have the opportunity to win.

Thanks for reading and I hope my golf stories help you follow my progress and offer a better understanding of a my life on tour as a professional golfer

All the best,