Why the 2019 Presidents Cup might see a big infusion of CanCon

All season long, Adam Hadwin’s goal was to play well enough to earn himself a chance to become the third Canadian in history to tee it up in the Presidents Cup.

Well, the moment has nearly arrived for the top-ranked male golfer in this country. On Thursday, the 29-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., will play with the underdog International Team in the biennial grudge match against Team USA.

Hadwin, who’s ranked 47th in the world, was the final player to automatically qualify for the 12-man team that features the best international players from outside Europe.

“All these experiences only make Adam better—and this is a big one,” said Hadwin’s coach, Ralph Bauer, while making his way to New Jersey for the tournament. “He’s trending upwards.”

Hadwin is. And here’s the thing: He’s far from the only Canadian golfer on the upswing.

As head coach of Canada’s men’s national amateur golf team, Derek Ingram, puts it: “We’ve kind of got the snowball in motion.”

Canada has. So much so that Ingram, who’s been a staffer with Golf Canada for more than 15 years, is “really fired up” to see Hadwin play this week, but he also admits to being a tad disappointed that fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes—who Ingram coaches—didn’t also qualify for the International Team, after a hot start to his rookie season on Tour.

“For a long time this year, I thought we’d have two guys playing at the Presidents Cup,” Ingram says.

And that’s really saying something.

In the 12 editions of the event, the one ahead included, Canada has had just Hadwin (2017), Graham DeLaet (2013) and Weir (five times between 2000-09) participate via their world ranking or as captain’s picks. Never before has Canada had two representatives at once. (Though this year the country has two participants, since Weir is an assistant coach for the Internationals.)

But to have expected Canada to send multiple players to this year’s event wouldn’t have been outlandish, considering how things have been trending of late.

Consider this week alone: On Sunday, Corey Conners from Listowel, Ont., earned his PGA Tour card with another solid finish among five top 10s he’s already accumulated this season on the PGA Tour’s feeder loop, the Web.com Tour. On Monday, Hughes, the 26-year-old from Dundas, Ont., was nominated for the PGA Tour rookie of the year award. And, of course, on Thursday, Hadwin will look to play a role in helping to upset the defending champion Americans (who are a ridiculous 9-1-1 in Presidents Cup history.)

It’s a big week for Canadian golf, to be sure, but it’s no fluke. Conners was one of the top amateur golfers in the world and played the Masters as an amateur in 2015 before he turned pro later that year.

Hughes won the RSM Classic in November 2016, had two top 10s in his rookie year and nearly qualified for the Tour Championship. He’s now ranked 108th in the world, third-highest among Canadians, behind Hadwin and DeLaet (98). Hadwin, meanwhile, had a breakout season that included an historic round of 59, a win at the Valspar Championship in March, and five top-10s.

Those two wins by Canadians on the PGA Tour had plenty of company, too— a Canadian has won on every major golf tour based in North America this year. This includes the top-ranked golfer in this country, in world No. 11 Brooke Henderson, the 20-year-old who already owns a major among her four victories on the LPGA Tour, one of which came this season.

Canada also scored two other wins on the LPGA’s feeder loop, the Symetra Tour. Quebec’s Anne-Catherine Tanguay won earlier this month at the Garden City Charity Classic, and Brittany Marchand of Orangeville, Ont. won the PHC Classic in August. Tanguay is now sixth on the Symetra’s money list, and looking good to be among the top 10 who earn LPGA Tour cards for next season.

On the men’s side, though, is where Canada’s depth is remarkable, including a whack of prospects. When Conners punched his ticket to the PGA Tour earlier this week, his good friend and former teammate at Kent State made a good point:

It’s true—Canadians are multiplying on Tour. Next year, this country will have the most carded players in history at the top rank on the men’s side, joining the current group that includes DeLaet, Hadwin, Hughes, Nick Taylor and possibly David Hearn, who’ll play in the Web.com Tour championship this weekend in an attempt to earn back his exempt status.

Ben Silverman, the 29-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., secured his PGA Tour card for next season after winning last month and coming up with a T2 finish a couple weeks later.

Adam Svensson, the 23-year-old from Surrey, B.C., had three top 10s and he sits 23rd among the 25 players on the Web.com money list who’ll earn PGA Tour status next year, with the final event coming up this weekend.

Then there are other prospects with potential futures on Tour, like Texas-born dual citizen Austin Connelly, who made waves this season with a T14 finish at the Open Championship, and finished second a couple weeks ago on the European Tour. He’s now ranked 201st in the world. And Jared DuToit, who had a stellar top 10 finish at the Canadian Open a couple years ago and recently turned pro.

Canada’s Austin Connelly.
(Dave Thompson/AP)

In other words, it’s a deep pool of potential, especially on the men’s side. And there are a couple reasons for this surge in Canadian talent.

No doubt Mike Weir and his Masters win in 2003 and 7 other victories on Tour has a lot to do with it. On the heels of Weir’s success, about a decade ago, Golf Canada got an infusion of cash, when big sponsors like RBC came on board.

“We made a commitment— we said we’re gonna do more, we’re gonna spend more, we’re gonna be way better, and we’re gonna dig and steal what other best countries in the world are doing and adapt it and Canadianize it,” Ingram said. “That money has been huge.”

The organization added a young pro squad to its men’s and ladies programs, and they’ve seen players like Henderson and Hughes graduate through there.

And in recent years, Canadians have had a couple veterans to look up to in DeLaet (he has 6 top-10 finishes this season, including a T7 at the PGA Championship) and Hearn. Both have come close to winning on Tour—Hearn has finished second, twice. “That gave the younger guys something a little more tangible to emulate,” said Bauer, who also coaches Hearn, as well as Taylor.

Not just to emulate, either. What Bauer has noticed is that while the Canadians on Tour may be from different parts of the country—Hearn is from Brampton, Ont., while another of his clients, Taylor, is from Winnipeg, for example—the support they offer one another is enormous.

“You see it on Twitter with Graham [DeLaet] trying to prop guys up,” Bauer said. “But what you don’t see is he gives those younger Canadian guys his number, to say, ‘If you need anything, let me know.’

“When Nick Taylor got on Tour, he played all his practice rounds with David Hearn, and David would do a great job of showing him around the different golf courses. And when Mackenzie Hughes got on Tour, he played his practice rounds with Nick. And it just kinda gets passed down.

“I also think the players, they push each other on. You see Mack[enzie Hughes] playing well, you’ll see Nick [Taylor] and Adam [Hadwin] playing well, they’re all motivating one another.”

So it’s a success breeds success formula. And not to toot his own horn, but Bauer also points to the strong coaching in this country. (His clients, including Americans Lucas Glover and Kyle Stanley, have earned more than $15 million this season, to date).

“Canada’s got, I would consider, the strongest coaches in the world,” Bauer said. “B.C., Ontario’s got 10 really good coaches, where we didn’t have that years ago.

“You would think over time that coaching would produce strong players—it doesn’t work overnight, though,” Bauer added. “But you’re starting to see the fruits for sure.”

Indeed. And with more carded Canadians on the PGA Tour next season, there are more possibilities than ever.

“The more guys we have out there, the more chances we have to win,” Ingram said. “This year, we got two. Next year could be even better, and the year after that could be even better.

“I’ve said this for five or six years, that Canada’s gonna be the new Australia in men’s golf, and maybe the new Sweden in women’s.

And so Hadwin may be the lone Canadian in the field at this year’s Presidents Cup, but it could be a different picture for Canada as soon as two years from now, at the next edition.

“It would not surprise me to see two, even three Canadian players there,” Ingram said. “I feel this is the start on the men’s side to having some depth and talent on the PGA Tour. It’s an exciting time.”