Where are they now? Canadian Open sensation Victor Ciesielski

When Victor Ciesielski made a hole in one at the 2006 Canadian Open and stayed in the mix for three days, he became a media darling and the latest Canadian hopeful to break what was then a 42-year drought without a homegrown winner. Even when he slid down the leaderboard on Sunday, great expectations were placed on his 21-year-old shoulders. But his life took a few detours and Ciesielski, now 36, displays a wisdom beyond his years – something unexpected from a man who was once called flamboyant and a free spirit. Still calling Cambridge, Ontario home, Ciesielski recalls those first swings in a golf career that saw him play all over the world as an amateur with Team Canada and as a professional.

“I was already playing baseball and basketball and it was Greg Goad – a great player – who introduced me to the game. I fell in love with it right away and begged my dad for a set of clubs. We went to ‘Play it Again Sports’ and bought persimmon clubs and metal irons. I would hit balls at Dumfries Park and then weaseled my way into a job at Galt Country Club where I started playing club events and the Ian Leggatt Tour (now the Tee it Up Tour).”

Shooting a 66 to Monday qualify for the 2006 Canadian Open, the University of Waterloo student wasn’t surprised by his play that magical week.

“My last 50 rounds were under par so everyone but me was surprised when I opened with that 68. I really enjoyed the week and playing before the crowds but getting to the PGA Tour and staying there is really hard. That’s life,” he says philosophically. “Those moments come and go.”

Two years later, Ciesielski learned just how hard it is when he earned Canadian Tour status. Playing well but struggling to put four good rounds together each week, Ciesielski was also going through swing changes and equipment issues while dealing with the financial pressures of playing a developmental tour where prize money is scant. Frustrated, he walked away from the game.

“When I stopped being a touring pro, I didn’t want to play golf, I didn’t even want to look at a golf club,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I was burned out from golf before but you spend so much time with it – breathing, dreaming, playing it – and you see this with other sports as well: when someone isn’t making it and realizes it, you start thinking, ‘I’ve just spent the last 18 years doing one thing so let’s just put this to the side because it’s not as important as I thought it was.’”

He “bounced around trying to find my way,” and worked in home renovations that saw him paint, install hardwood floors, tiling, and decks for 18 months before taking on various sales and marketing roles, including American Income Life and Metroland, before he was ready for a return to golf. Realizing his heart wasn’t into a sales career despite a successful run, Ciesielski jumped at the chance when an opportunity opened up at his home club in late 2016.

That stretch also saw him regaining amateur status with the thought of qualifying for the U.S. Amateur and other important events as a route to Augusta. Asked how his amateur career went, Ciesielski says with a laugh. “Well, I played one event and turned pro again.”

“I jumped right in and said I was going to take over all the instruction and competitive programs and get it back to what it was when I was growing up here. I set up a strong junior program that was lacking in vision and effort.

“It’s so much fun teaching kids and adults and giving back the knowledge and experience I’ve gained, especially now because the waters of instruction are so muddy with so many people teaching different things. I’m always telling my students how it really is to play professional golf and to watch the pros and learn from them.”

Ciesielski delivers a wealth of golf knowledge to his pupils – one of which – Ben Schnarr – was on the bag for the Mackenzie Tour’s Osprey Valley Open where, earlier in the same week he captured the GOLFTEC Assistants Zone Championship at Flamborough Hills. He’s earned in the neighborhood of 20 professional victories and is heading to Calgary in September for the PGA Assistants’ Championship of Canada but has no plans for a return to full time competitive golf.

“Unless I win the Canadian Open – and things fall into place – I’m not going to go chase it anymore – trying to get to the PGA Tour. I like what I do now; it’s fun to lead by example and it’s rewarding. I also have time to compete when I want to. In hindsight, though, I wish I had started coaching when I was playing competitively full time to take some of the pressure off, but it is what it is.”

Ciesielski says he’s settled down and more focused than his free spirit days and lists ‘a lot of snowboarding’ and traveling with his long-time girlfriend as hobbies. He’s traveled the world including a trip to Italy where he lived briefly during his youth and California where he teed it up with Greg Goad and Wayne Gretzky at Sherwood Country Club.

Victor Ciesielski is happy and in a good place. And as he looks back at his career and thinks about the next generation of professional golfers, he offers sage advice from experience.

“You have to treat playing professional golf as a business. You have a certain shelf life in this game so strike while the iron is hot. I let these kids know that you can’t be a big fish in a small pond if you’re going to make it. You have to get out and try the big tours and come back home and play the local stuff to get a bit of cash and confidence but then get right back out there and try to compete against the best players in the world. It’s easy and comfortable to stay home and play locally but you have to compete against the best to make things happen. When I was 29, I won five tournaments and earned about $30,000 but someone at Tim Hortons makes that same money, which can make you wonder why you are grinding so hard and can’t afford to go away for the winter to compete.

“I made a lot of mistakes. When I had early success, I convinced myself that I was working hard but when you look at the successful players, you have to treat it like a job and work harder than anyone else. You don’t know the window of time you have playing professional golf and what could happen – like injuries – and in hindsight, I would have structured my days differently and prioritized certain parts of practice but that social part of me got in the way at times. Sometimes I took the fun way out instead of getting my work done. I was still shooting 65s, but it could have been 63 and that makes a difference at the end. But that’s life: it picks you up then beats you down then picks you up again. You just have to keep moving forward and find your way.”

John Berkovich
John Berkovich is a freelance writer and photographer who served as media director of the Canadian Tour from 2007 through 2009.

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