It’s a tough game

Several years ago, a young guy I know decided to try his luck on the Canadian Tour.  This fellow had won our Club Championship two or three times, and was considered to be head and shoulders above all the other good players at our course.  Everyone thought he might do quite well on the Canadian Tour, and who knows, maybe well enough to move up to the PGA Tour.

Phil (not his real name) played a full season on the Canadian Tour.  As I remember, he didn’t make the cut in one single event.  That’s not a criticism, by any means.  He gave it his best shot, and I don’t think he or anyone concluded that he’d blown his chance.  The fact is, the players he was up against were just too darn good.

Some of those other players did, of course, move up to the PGA Tour; more moved up to the second-tier Tour, then called Nationwide, now called   If I could find the results of that year’s Canadian Tour money list (I’m guessing it was around 1998), I bet I’d find that 85 out of 100 players on the list never went anywhere with their golf, and moved on with their lives eventually.

Which brings me to today.

I looked over the leaderboard of this past weekend’s Mackenzie Tour event.  (The Mackenzie is the former Canadian Tour, given a new umbrella name a year or two ago for reasons which escape and dumbfound me; but at least the circuit is still plugging along, with 13 events running from coast-to-coast, from May to September.)

The Freedom 55 Financial Championship was the final event of the season, played at Highland Country Club in London, ON.  Unfortunately, in today’s media landscape, this event would probably struggle for publicity even in London, much less anywhere else in the country.  (Media coverage has always been a struggle for the Canadian Tour, even back in the days when Dick Grimm was running it in the early 90s.)  So you, and I, and anyone who might have a tiny shred of interest, have to go searching on the web to see how the tournament played out.

The leaderboard astounded me.  The winner was Paul Barjon, a young man from Bordeaux, France, who shot 63-66-61-68= 258, or 22-under par.  That’s a remarkable score in any tournament, certainly deserving of the $36,000 first prize money.   The second place finisher, Vaita Guillaume, from French Polynesia no less, was only 1 shot behind, after firing a sizzling 10-under 60 in the final round!  All but three of 57 players finished under par… that’s some golf!!

In marveling at those results, keep in mind that the Mackenzie Tour is considered one of three or four circuits that rank at least FOURTH in worldwide “quality”… after the PGA Tour, the European Tour, the Tour, and alongside others including Asia, Australia, Japan, and South Africa.   My point is, look how phenomenally well you have to play way down in the minor leagues to even THINK you might be good enough for the Big Show.  The competition level is so high now in professional golf, it’s truly mind-boggling… even if most people don’t know about it.

There were twelve Canadians playing in that event in London… all of whom, presumably, believe they might one day play on the PGA Tour… or at worst, enjoy the nomad kind of life pursued by older guys like Canadian Jim Rutledge or American Scott Dunlap, who each made decent livings by playing on minor tours around the world, for decades, and are now doing well on the PGA Champions Tour.  But I for one cannot imagine how any pro golfer would be able to get out of bed in the morning, in some small town in Missouri, or Thailand, or eastern South Africa or South Korea, knowing they had to go out and shoot 64 that day, just to be able to pay their hotel bill.

My hat’s off to these guys, but then I’m scratching my head wondering why they do it.

Meanwhile, over on the LPGA Tour, the final round of the season’s last major event took place yesterday, at the Evian Championship in France.  If you happened to watch the broadcast, it shouldn’t have been played at all… the rain was relentless, at least in the early going, with small lakes of water collecting on the greens.  Why they didn’t stop play is anyone’s guess, but I suppose the travel complications caused by a stoppage would’ve been horrendous.

Nonetheless, the winner, In Gee Chun, fired a steady 69 to finish the tournament with an all-time women’s AND men’s major scoring record of 21 under par.  Remarkable.

Canada’s Brooke Henderson bogeyed her last hole but wound up tied for 9th place, a solid finish that kept her in third spot on the season-long money list, third in the season-long Race to the CME Globe, and third in the official World Rankings.  An outstanding record for what was essentially her rookie season on the LPGA, by a young lady who just turned 19 last week.  This is not a racist comment, just an observation: Brooke was one of only three Caucasian players in the top 11 finishers… further evidence that, unlike men’s Tours, women’s golf has become almost totally dominated by extremely talented Asian players.

But back to my point above… over on the second-tier Symetra Tour, for ladies, there are 20 Canadians who have played at least one event this season.   One of them, Laura Demarco, has teed it up 12 times this year, and won a total of $556, putting her in 188th place on the money list.  Another, Megan Osland, has played 15 events and won just over $3,000.   That’s about one-sixth of a poverty-level income.

Our top Canadian, Augusta James, a former Canadian Amateur champ from Bath, ON, has won just over $52,000 in 20 events on Symetra.  That’s good enough for 14th place on the money list, but not good enough for automatic elevation to the LPGA Tour.

I wish them all luck, of course, but I wonder how long it will be before most of them follow the lead of their Canadian colleague, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, who’s finally decided to call it quits after five years of trying.

It’s a tough game.

Jim Deeks
Jim Deeks has been writing for Fairways for over a dozen years. He is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Open and Canadians Skins Game, and currently the Executive Producer of CANADA FILES on PBS.

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