Jared du Toit in unchartered territory at Canadian Open

Golfer Jared du Toit joins Ian Leggatt to talk about his surprising start at the Canadian Open.

OAKVILLE, ONT. – If you sat Jared du Toit down a week ago and told him that through two rounds of his first tournament on the PGA Tour—his national open, no less—he’d be a stroke back of leader Dustin Johnson, the amateur golfer would have thought you were more than a little out of your mind.

“I would have called you a liar, probably,” du Toit says, grinning.

But that’s exactly where the 21-year-old from tiny Kimberley, B.C., finds himself after carding a one-under 71 at Glen Abbey on Friday, leaving him at six-under and tied for third in the second pro tournament of his career.

On a scorching hot and windy afternoon that made for tough conditions, du Toit opened with a birdie on No. 10 and carded back-to-back birdies on 17 and 18 to finish at two under through nine. At that point, Canada’s top-ranked amateur was tied for the lead at -7 with Johnson, the 2016 U.S. Open champion.

That’s when his mom, Alison Walker, saw her phone blowing up with text messages. Most said: “Oh my god!”

Her phone went pretty silent, though, after du Toit carded an 8 on the par 5 No. 2, bringing him to one over on the day.

He admitted he was feeling pretty rough after that, but his caddie, Sean Burke—a local guy he just met this week—“theoretically kind slapped me in the head,” du Toit said, and he responded with some ridiculous putting on his final four holes.

On the par 4 No. 6, du Toit drained a 64-footer. “I was just trying to get it close,” he says. “Then I kinda figured maybe I can make a few more coming in and get my name back up there [on the leaderboard].

That he did. Du Toit finished his round birdie, birdie, birdie, par, including a long one on 18 to keep him just a shot off the lead. Four puts to close out his round, and four fist-pumps.

Yes, this is without a doubt the most fun he’s ever had playing golf. “I’m loving every minute of it,” he says. But he’s also trying not to think about it too much.

That might be hard: When he began his round Thursday, his gallery was about 15 strong, made up mostly of friends and family. On Friday, at times it swelled up over 100, and there was a camera following him for much of the day. He’s signing autographs for the first time in his career.

Last night, his dad, Mike, suggested they have a “mini-celebration, nothing too big.” Mike says that didn’t go over well. “He said, ‘Dad, no way!’” Mike says, laughing.

Du Toit was pretty adamant that there’s still a lot of work to be done: Anybody can have a good couple rounds.

That may be true, but you can tell his parents are enjoying themselves here. When his son drained a par putt on No 1, Mike said: “Loving it!” and pumped his fist. His mom’s been doling out high-fives.

Walker calls both she and Mike “pathetic” when it comes to playing golf themselves. Du Toit started playing (plastic clubs don’t count) when he was about eight years old, and she says he’d spend 15 hours some days on the course hitting balls in Kimberley. It’s the residents there, Mike adds, who taught his son to play.

Mike points out the “small hick-town of 6,000” is probably “glued to the tube” and will be through the weekend.

Following his opening round, du Toit’s Team Canada coach Derek Ingram told the top Canadian here to turn off all social media. No Twitter, no Facebook. That remains the plan.

Du Toit is finding that hard, but he’s sticking to it. Instead, he’s spending a lot of his free time listening to music and visiting Tim Horton’s. He changed things up and went with tea on Friday morning, and he’ll probably repeat that Saturday since it went so well.

Music wise, if he’s “too high”, he’ll listen to something “to slow the pace down a little bit.”

Minutes after his second straight under-par round, is he too high? “I don’t know,” du Toit says, grinning. “I guess we’ll find out.”

What he does know is he’s feeling the nerves. “I didn’t have a lot of expectations coming in. To kind of vault up the leaderboard kind of caught me a bit off guard,” he says. “But everything from now on is just cream on top.”

Du Toit had played in one pro tournament before this, and he missed the cut.

Walker had a plan for Sunday afternoon: She was going to drive her son to Pittsburgh for an amateur qualifier. She figured if he played at all on Sunday, it would be in an early group because he’d be far back of the leaders. Plans may have changed.

Asked if she expected her son’s first tournament on the PGA Tour to go so well, and Walker responds even before the question’s done: “Oh gosh no,” she says, shaking her head.

Says a grinning du Toit: “That’s a fair statement.”

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