Thanks Vanessa – another green jacket for Canada

Make that a “figurative” green jacket.  They only give the real ones to the guys who endure a certain grueling 72 holes each year, and we’ll find out who that is for 2018 in a few days.

Nonetheless, Canada celebrated a second sort-of Masters victory over Easter weekend, and given the rather scant coverage the story received, I suspect very few people are aware of it.

If you missed the story, here it is… Mississauga’s Vanessa Borovilos, on her third appearance at the annual Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, held at Augusta National Golf Club, won the Girls 10-11 year-old division.  No, it’s not exactly a victory to equal that glorious moment 15 years ago, when Mike Weir became the first Canadian to win the Masters, but there’s no question that it’s the North American pre-teen Girls’ equivalent.

And all the hats of all the golfers in Canada should be off, in tribute to Vanessa’s magnificent achievement.

The annual Drive Chip and Putt was launched in 2015 by the wealthy and altruistic members of Augusta National, and with that imprimatur, the competition has become the Holy Grail of Golf Skills competitions for junior golfers of both genders.  Nationally televised on the Golf Channel, and attended in person by many former Masters Champions (including Jordan Spieth, a certified God to any golfer under 15), the DCP is fun, nerve-wracking, nail-biting, and an incredible test of skill, patience and performance under pressure for 80 kids… each of whom only gets to play at Augusta after succeeding through a series of qualifying competitions held at various spots throughout the US, over several months.

Three Canadian kids managed to get to the finals this year… Vanessa, 15-year-old Luke DelGobbo of Fonthill, ON and 9-year-old Landon Kelly of Bobcaygeon.  Vanessa was the only one to come out on top of her group.

Skilled as she is, though, Vanessa can’t take all the credit.  Four other people should also bask in the same ray of sunlight for her success.

Her coach, Doug Lawrie, has made a career and life’s work out of introducing young Canadians to the game of golf, and nurturing those who show enthusiasm and promise.  As Head of the Golf Academy at Credit Valley, Doug has worked with Vanessa for nearly five years, and while it’s far too early say that this young lady will become a household name in the game one day, the success that this team of Coach and Student has achieved is pretty remarkable in such a short time.   And the coaching team also includes Mahsa Durbano, a professional sport mental therapist, who keeps Vanessa focused on the target… figuratively and literally.

(For the record, Vanessa has competed twice previously at the DCP at Augusta.  She’s also the back-to-back reigning Girls Champion in her age group at the U.S. Kids World Championship, the equivalent of the U.S. Open for juniors.)

Vanessa’s parents, father Dino and Mom Tracey, also deserve huge credit for supporting, prodding, encouraging and praising their daughter along this path.  Any parents of an achieving child run the risk of being criticized for pushing their offspring too hard, especially if it’s against the child’s will.  But Coach Doug assures me that this is not the case here.  He says Mom and Dad are the best parents Vanessa could have… loving and supportive, and happy to accede to her enthusiasm — which is relentless.

Vanessa’s enthusiasm is no more evident than in the photo that may become an icon for the Drive Chip and Putt Championship for years to come.  In presenting an already-beaming Borovilos the trophy for her division on Sunday, golf legend Gary Player, 82, spontaneously picked her up in his arms, saying he assumed she’d be able to do this to him in a few years.  It was a great moment, and the smile on Vanessa’s face could have lit up the entire city of Augusta.

The pride that Doug, Dino, Tracey and Mahsa are feeling today is probably no less full of electricity.

It’s been three years since I met Vanessa, Doug, and Dino.  I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have Vanessa and Doug as guests on a TV show I used to co-host on RogersTV Toronto… days after Vanessa had returned from her first appearance at the DCP in 2015.

The interview we did was probably the funniest, and most excruciating, I’ve ever done in my TV career.   We taped quite early in the morning, and Vanessa was still a bit sleepy after all the excitement and the long drive home from Georgia.  She yawned through most of the discussion, and gave one-word answers to nearly all my questions… e.g….

Jim:  So, what was it like, actually competing at the home of the most famous place in golf, at The Masters…?

Vanessa: (yawn) Neat.

But please understand, I’m not being critical.  She was 8 years old, for heaven’s sake, and she was utterly charming.  Thank goodness Doug was there, though, to fill in the blanks and awkward silences.

I’m sorry that RogersTV doesn’t exist anymore, because I’d take great pleasure and pride in having Vanessa and Doug back on to talk about her… VICTORY!

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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