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If Golf Canada Is Producing, Where’s The Beef?

Canadians often ask why more of their fellow citizens don’t make it to the PGA Tour … and last there. In recent years, only Mike Weir and Stephen Ames among male golfers have maintained a career on the PGA Tour. And Weir is the only golfer who grew up in Canada and learned the game there. Ames was born in Trinidad & Tobago, married a Canadian, and then became a citizen.

The situation is strange, considering the fact that a series of Canadians made it to and stayed on the PGA Tour long before there was a national development program such as the one that exists now. Golf Canada runs it, and maybe it will produce some golfers who have staying power.

But so far, nobody has lasted. David Hearn, of Brantford, Ont., and Jon Mills, of Belleville, Ont., have had and lost their PGA Tour cards in recent years. Each is on the Nationwide Tour and either or both could win their PGA Tour cards again by finishing in the top 25 money-winners there. Graham DeLaet, meanwhile, was 129th on the money list heading into last week’s Viking Classic. The 28-year-old, from Weyburn, Sask., has an excellent chance of making it into the top 125 by year-end and retaining his PGA Tour card.

There’s also Matt Hill, from Weir’s hometown of Brights Grove, Ont. He won the NCAA individual title in 2009 and was one of the best amateurs in the world that year. Hill turned pro last spring. NicTaylor, ranked as the game’s top amateur for a spell in 2009, is expected to turn pro any time. Taylor, from Abbotsford, B.C., along with Hill, has tremendous potential. The same thing goes for Andrew Parr, a 27-year-old pro from London, Ont., who recently got through the first stage of European Tour Q-School.

Hill, Taylor and Parr participated in Golf Canada’s development programs. They were on Team Canada. But it’s an open question as to whether they will make it to and remain on the PGA Tour.

All of this raises the question of the value of development programs. Isn’t it possible that golfers have a better chance of hitting the heights and staying there when they come up through what used to be called (ital) the hard way?

Even Weir didn’t really go through super-organized development programs. Weir, 40, played most of his competitive golf on the junior circuit around southern Ontario. Weir worked on his short game until the sun set. His short game more than anything else won him the 2003 Masters.

Weir learned to tough it out, that is. He developed and sharpened whatever inner resources he had. He was not doing drills on the putting green except those he invented for himself out of his own imagination and creativity. Golfers developed themselves and their games for generations until the idea of rigid training and development programs came along.

Where is the evidence that such programs work? Where are the controlled studies? The assumption that programs develop top-notch golfers persist. Meanwhile, golf remains an individual sport in which golfers need to know who they are and how they perform under pressure. It is learning by doing and by playing tournaments, and not by rote and prescription.

Successful Canadians who came before Weir certainly did it that way. Go back generations to PGA Tour winners such as Al Balding and George Knudson. More recently, Canadians Dan Halldorson, Dave Barr, Richard Zokol and Ian Leggatt have won on the PGA Tour.

They, too, learned much more on their own then they did through organized programs. Their talent and spunk led them to take whatever the next step in their development might be. Zokol decided he needed to learn much more about controlling his emotions than his swing – which was solid enough. He always called himself a “journeyman” golfer with no outstanding qualities. However, he was determined and he worked on himself and he won two PGA Tour events.

Barr, meanwhile, learned something important. His swing looked so handsy that he was sometimes called “Hands.” Barr never wanted to look at his swing on video. It worked well, so why bother? He stayed with what he had, he ignored all the technical information that can be so much mumbo-jumbo and he, too, won twice on the PGA Tour and once on Champions Tour.

This isn’t an indictment of swing theory and instruction, but the words of Bruce Lietzke, who won two Canadian Opens along with 11 other PGA Tour events, are pertinent. He once said that many players are “taught right off the Tour.”

Instinct and natural ability matter, that is. Respecting this and finding one’s own way in golf is not a bad way to go. It can lead all the way to the PGA Tour.

It’s a bleak scene at the moment when it comes to Canadians on or getting to and then staying on the PGA Tour. Many seem to have the game when they are amateurs, but most falter. What is at fault for the faltering?

Maybe too much planning and too much “system” golf. Just a thought.


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