Ontario Championship continues
Mark Wanzel/photo Eric Hawerchuk chips his way onto the green at the seventh hole while participating in Tuesday's Ontario Championship Pro-Am at National Pines. The event was a precursor to the Ontario Championships, which will take place this week.
The entire world came to town this week.
Well, not really; it just felt like that at National Pines Golf Club on Barrie’s southeast fringe.
That’s because when the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada’s Ontario Championship rolled into Barrie, it brought a 144-player field representing 12 countries. The tour’s membership has crossed Canada twice this summer, with this week being the 11th (of 12) tournaments on the schedule.
Players are vying for a spot in the Mackenzie Tour’s top 60 to earn a spot in next week’s Freedom 55 Championship in London.
It’s been a mad rush and has given many players a perspective on the country that even few Canadians get to experience.
“I really enjoyed my time in Canada,” said Paul Barjon, who grew up in the French overseas territory of New Caledonia. “It’s a great tour, with really good players ... I’m going to try and get back to the Web.com Tour next year but if I have to come back to Canada, I won’t be ungrateful, it’s a great place.”
Growing up, Barjon’s golf took him back to France as a teen — he was born there and moved to New Caledonia as an infant — to play for the French national amateur team. From there, he earned a scholarship to Texas Christian University. He now lives in Fort Worth, when he’s not on the road.
“(Travel) is what I’ve done since I was 16,” said Barjon.
Like Barjon, Australian Oliver Goss has played the U.S.-based Web.com Tour but is now in Canada trying to improve his stock. And like Barjon, being good at golf has turned him in to something of a nomad.
“It’s been a great opportunity,” said the 23-year-old from Perth. “The (standard) of play, the places we’ve been has been great.”
Aside from the grind of travelling a vast country like his own, Goss said his focus has been strictly on playing.
“Last week in Cape Breton was nice,” he said. “Because it was so remote, we had to stay about 45 minutes from the course ... we caught our dinner in the river two (different) nights.”
Like Canadians themselves, some players this week have noted the unfortunate weather from the summer of 2017 but the positive impression of all the destinations they took was also obvious.
“Growing up I used to go to Montana a lot,” said Texan Kramer Hickok, drawing a comparison between the general feel of Canada and that U.S. western state. “All the places have been great. Winnipeg (where he won back in July) was good but I also really liked Cape Breton last week too.”
In the five seasons since the PGA Tour bought the old Canadian Tour and absorbed its now wholly-owned subsidiary, American, Canadian and International players alike have played in Canada in attempt to golf’s competitive ladder.
National Pines is usually a tough, exacting test made more difficult by tricky greens. But Thursday’s first round in particular saw players, especially those that went out in the morning wave tear apart the layout because of soft greens and genteel conditions. The Thomas McBroom design toughened up on Friday but the second-round leaders were in double-digits under par and the winning scored is expected to be much lower.
As of press time, Americans Scott Wolfes, Lee McCoy, Carter Jenkins and Patrick Newcomb, who won last week in Cape Breton, had all pressed into double-digits under-par.
“I have a long way to go, there’s much room for improvement,” said Hickok, who entered this week second on the Mackenzie Tour’s money list and went out early on Friday to post three-under, 67 to sit at three-under for the tournament.
“That’s especially if the (winning score) gets to 20-under like it might.”
Canadian Riley Wheeldon of Comox, B.C., had a six-under 66 and was eight-under overall to sit as the top Canuck heading into weekend play. Another B.C. golfer, Jared du Toit of Kimberley, is six-under after a 71 on Friday.
Local golfers Drew Nesbitt of Shanty Bay missed the cut, while Barrie’s Eric Hawerchuk was battling difficult afternoon conditions to get inside the cutline as of presstime.
Kramer Hickok is grinding away on the Mackenzie Tour but the 23-year-old pro from Dallas doesn’t have to go far to see golfing greatness.
That’s because he lives in Dallas with his former University of Texas teammate, whom you may have heard of: Jordan Spieth.
Hickok and Spieth are good friends and Hickok lives in Spieth’s home in Dallas.
“I got to see his green jacket,” said Hickok, in reference to his landlord’s famous garment for winning in 2015. “He’s also had the U.S. Open trophy there and (more recently) the Claret Jug in the house.”
Hickok is referring to the other two trophies that Spieth has won in collecting three major championships. He says that the experience of living under the same roof with such an accomplished player who also happens to be a good friend has other benefits too.
“I’m not comparing Jordan to Tiger Woods but it was (difficult to relate to Woods) in his prime, but for me I get to see such a great player, literally, right in the house (I live in).
The two frequently tee it up and it’s not always the World No. 2 player who wins.
“I can honestly say that I’ve beaten Jordan Spieth,” said Hickok, with a wry grin. “it does a lot for your confidence.”
Asked what kind a landlord his friend is, a bigger smile graces the young Texan’s face.
“He’s great – he doesn’t charge me rent!”
— Peter Robinson