Oh Canada! Country Is Well Represented At Amateur
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  Matt Hill, who didn't make it into match play, was one of 15 players with Canada ties in the field this week. (John Mummert/USGA)

By Dave Shedloski

Tulsa, Okla. – Hockey in the winter and golf in the summer. The rhythm of the sports season in Canada is as predictable and perfunctory as the change of seasons. But it is also eminently logical, given the common elemental disciplines each game demands.

“There’s a reason hockey players take to golf,” said Brad Revell, a North Carolina State senior who hails from Kingston, Ontario. “A slap shot isn’t much different from a golf swing. They kind of complement each other.”

Despite its northern latitude and accompanying climate, Canada has a rich golf history. The Canadian Open is the third oldest national championship in the world. The only Olympic golf gold medalist in the sport is George Lyon, a Canadian who won the 1904 games at Glen Echo Country Club in St. Louis. Mike Weir’s triumph in the 2003 Masters made him the first left-hander to win the green jacket.

Gary Cowan also won a pair of U.S. Amateur titles, in 1966 and 1971, during the 72-hole stroke-play era. Recently, Richard Scott was a runner-up at the 2001 U.S. Junior Amateur and Nick Taylor was the runner-up at this year’s U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the low amateur at the 2009 U.S. Open.

Still, Canada doesn’t seem to receive the credit its due.

“There are more and more really good players coming out of Canada, young players. All you have to do is look around here,” said 2009 NCAA Division I individual champion Matt Hill of Forest, Ontario as he scanned the sylvan grounds of Southern Hills Country Club, site of this week’s 109th U.S. Amateur Championship.

Indeed, 15 Canadians populated the field for America’s oldest national championship. While it is not known if that’s a record, the number stood out nonetheless. Of those 15, five advanced to match play, while a fifth player, Hill was eliminated in a 27-man playoff Wednesday morning for one of the four remaining spots.

David Sheman, Christopher Ross and Brady Johnson joined Revell in the 64-player match play field. All four, coincidentally, posted identical 147 aggregate totals in the 36-hole qualifier at Southern Hills and Cedar Ridge Country Club in nearby Broken Arrow, Okla.

Sheman, 21, a senior at the University of British Columbia, said he is not surprised by the surge in development of young Canadian players.

“We have a really good national team,” said Sheman, whose swing coach used to be Henry Brenton, who now leads the national team. “The RCGA [Royal Canadian Golf Association] does a great job of identifying the best players in the country, and then there’s the junior national team and other development programs. The golf program is really gaining strength.”

Hill, a senior at North Carolina State, was among those who have been on the Canadian Amateur team. “Obviously, we don’t have the best weather to work with, but our programs are really getting better,” said Hill. “The facilities are better and the instruction is good. We have a lot of talented young athletes who are getting more serious about the game. It gives you a lot of opportunities to compete at a high level.”

Added Revell: “There are a lot of really good athletes in Canada. I think people just underestimate the overall talent up there.”

Revell and Hill also pointed to the impact that Weir, the diminutive left-hander who eventually opted to pursue golf instead of hockey, has had on the popularity of the sport among the populace. His Masters triumph proved to be a watershed moment and inspired a generation of youngsters.

“I know he’s been my idol, and I know he’s done a lot for Canadian golf,” said Revell.

Revell and Hill have received more direct inspiration in recent years. Both were among a half-dozen players who spent three days with Weir at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Calif., as part of a three-day retreat that the PGA Tour player paid for entirely. That occurred in late 2007, just a few months after Weir defeated Tiger Woods in their singles showdown at the Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal Golf Club in Quebec.

“We got the experience of seeing what a Tour player does and how he practices and prepares for what he does,” said Hill. “It was great, and it’s turned into a pretty good friendship where we keep in touch with him. We text back and forth and continue to learn from him.”

“Seeing how he does things taught us a lot about golf and about life in general,” Revell added. “I’ve really tried to take his advice and follow it in the things I do. That’s meant a lot.”

Dave Shedloski is a freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on www.usamateur.org