Canada has a proud sporting culture, dominated, naturally, by hockey. However, over the last two decades the country of roughly 35 million has made a conscious effort – and investment – to heighten its profile on the worldwide golf stage. Recent results show that the plan is paying dividends.
In January, Canada took home the title at the Copa de las Americas, a team event held at Doral Resort & Spa in Miami. In June, Brooke Mackenzie Henderson made the cut at the U.S. Women’s Open, and in July, Taylor Pendrith became just the third Canadian to win the Porter Cup, a 55-year-old event in Lewiston, N.Y., outside Buffalo.
This week at The Country Club, Canadians are again making their mark. Four advanced to Thursday morning’s Round of 32, two won those matches to play in the Round of 16, and one – Corey Conners of tiny Listowel, Ontario – defeated 2013 USA Walker Cup Team member Patrick Rodgers, 5 and 3, to reach the quarterfinals.
Few are surprised anymore by the success of Canadian golfers, though that was not always the case.
"Before we had a system, players like Mike Weir or Lorie Kane were almost accidental," says Henry Brunton, a highly regarded instructor who was Canada’s national golf coach from 1998 through 2011. "They were talented players and knew the right people to get opportunities."
The system Brunton refers to began in earnest in 1998, when Golf Canada, then known as the Royal Canadian Golf Association, committed to taking a leadership role in elite player development. Brunton studied successful national programs in other countries, notably Sweden and Australia, and incorporated several facets from each.
"We created a hybrid program that works best for us and our country," he said. "Good, young players on both the men’s and women’s sides are identified early and developed."
Brunton’s former assistant, Derek Ingram, is now the national coach. He oversees a program that gives players access to swing instruction, mental coaching and fitness programs, in addition to financial resources that allow them to play a schedule that involves significant travel.
While the most populous provinces like Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta have the most elaborate facilities, each province has a program that feeds into the national system. This means that whether a player grows up in the megalopolis of greater Toronto or in the most rural reaches of the country, they have a chance. It’s a trend that shows few signs of abating.
The players doing well in these national and international events are just the tip of the iceberg, says Brunton.
Scottie Scheffler has played enough match-play golf at USGA championships to know anything can happen. At last month’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Martis Camp Club in Truckee, Calif., the 17-year-old from Dallas survived an 18-hole match, an extra-hole match, and a 3-hole deficit in the final en route to the title.
In his three previous Juniors, he had been in playoffs to qualify for match play and lost in extra holes to good friend Connor Black.
At this week’s U.S. Amateur, Scheffler needed to survive a 17-for-15 playoff Wednesday morning just to get into the 64-player draw.
Ever since, he’s been like Jason in the Halloween movies: You can try to vanquish him, but he just keeps coming back.
He rallied from 2 down with two to play to beat Stewart Jolly in Wednesday’s first round. On Thursday morning, he edged 2012 U.S. Amateur semifinalist Brandon Hagy in 20 holes. He was 1 down on 17, but birdied the hole to square the match before winning with a par on the 20th hole.
Against friend Matthias Schwab, of Austria, on Thursday afternoon, Scheffler fell 3 down early before eventually squaring the match at 13. He then lost holes 14 and 15, the latter when Schwab holed an 18-foot birdie putt, to go 2 down.
"It’s kind of hard to get discouraged if you are only 3 down," said Scheffler of his mindset. "Three holes can be turned around pretty quickly."
Schwab gave one back on 16 with a three-putt bogey, and Scheffler knocked his wedge approach to 5 feet on 17, then recorded a birdie 3 for the third consecutive time.
Scheffler changed his strategy on 18, going with 3-wood over driver in hopes of finding the fairway on the 430-yard par 4. It worked. Schwab found thick rough near the left fairway bunkers and failed to get up and down for par. Scheffler hit the green with his approach and calmly two-putted from 30 feet.
"Experience helps," said Scheffler, who plans to attend the University of Texas in 2014. "I’ve had a lot of things happen to me in match play. I’ve just been smart in what I’ve been doing."
Scheffler, who has older sister Callie on the bag, is three matches away from becoming the first reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion to win the U.S. Amateur. Fellow Texan Jordan Spieth advanced to the quarterfinals in 2011 en route to a berth on the USA Walker Cup Team. Brian Montgomery reached the semifinals in 1986.
"I’m a little tired, but I get to go home and rest," said Scheffler, who faces co-medalist Brady Watt, of Australia, at 11:40 a.m. on Friday in one quarterfinal matchup.
Having A Ball
The magical ride for Adam Ball continued at the U.S. Amateur on Thursday, as he won two matches to reach the quarterfinals.
Eleven days ago, Ball, 19, of Richmond, Va., made the field as a first alternate from his sectional qualifying site. He took one of the five spots held by the USGA for the first five selections to the Walker Cup Team. Since all five of those players were previously exempt, those spots went to the allotment list of alternates.
Ball had shot 11-under 133 in qualifying, but lost a playoff to Bo Andrews, of Raleigh, N.C. Andrews, who shot a 63 on Tuesday at Charles River Country Club, also qualified for match play, but lost in the first round to Gavin Hall.
"I deserved to be here in my mind," said Ball, who beat 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up Chelso Barrett, 6 and 5, in the Round of 16. Barrett lost that final to Jordan Spieth, who had eliminated Ball in the semifinal round.
When asked if that showing two years ago will help him going forward, Ball said, "I’ve learned a lot through all my years of playing golf."
Ball graduated high school a semester early, so he could enroll at Virginia Commonwealth, where he plays on the golf team coached by his father, Matt. His older brother, also named Matt, is on the team and will be a senior this fall.
"I was home-schooled my freshman year of high school and somehow I got enough credits to where I could graduate early," said Ball. The golf team needed me, so I made the decision to go in early.
"It has been fun. Dad being the coach is good at times and a little interesting at times. I really like it there."
Now that he’s a quarterfinalist, Ball won’t have to worry about getting into next year’s Amateur. He’s now fully exempt into the field at Atlanta Athletic Club as well as being locally exempt from U.S. Open qualifying.