Talent lurks beneath pros

IAN HUTCHINSON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

The thing about being "big league" or "world class" or any other flowery adjectives that people attach to themselves is that, if you find it necessary to do that, you generally aren't who you say you are at all. What qualifies such high praise is a mystery.

Is it merely having enough coin to shell out for big league events and being able to conduct business over shrimp and wine in a private box or corporate tent?

Those are the people who wave the maple leaf around Mike Weir or Lorie Kane, but need a media guide to find out how they got to the PGA or LPGA Tour, respectively, when the true "big league" fans aren't afraid to get their hands dirty by checking out the minor leagues before players get to the bigs.

If golf fans in this country go hardcore, they will discover some bright lights from Canada off in the distance right now, even if the road ahead could get bumpy, which is usually the case for young players.

You don't have to answer out loud, but ask yourself if you were aware of Nick Taylor, of Abbotsford, B.C., before he qualified for the U.S. Open and missed the cut at Torrey Pines, not a surprising outcome for a 20-year-old.

During a round at Mississauga's Credit Valley Golf and Country Club two weeks ago, Taylor chatted about the "wow factor" of playing his first major.

"I think the first few days, you're like: 'Wow, there's Tiger. There's Phil,' because it's the best golfers in the world and you're inside the ropes, hitting balls beside them, so that's going to be pretty unbelievable," said Taylor, adding that it's something he needs to get over quickly.

It's not as if Taylor came out of nowhere to qualify. He won last year's Canadian Amateur and was runnerup at this year's NCAA tournament while playing for the University of Washington. Canadians will get a closer look at next month's RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey.

Taylor doesn't stand alone among developing Canadians. On the women's side, 17-year-old Sue Kim of Langley, B.C., took on the pros, won her second consecutive CN Canadian Women's Tour event recently and will play in the CN Canadian Women's Open in August.

Barrie's Stephanie Sherlock finished fifth at the NCAA playing for the University of Denver after taking the Canadian women's amateur title last year.

None of these players plan to turn pro any time soon, so the objective to have the men's and women's national teams place in the top three at the world amateur within three years, as outlined in the Royal Canadian Golf Association's strategic plan, doesn't seem as far-fetched as it did at one time.

There has been concern with the lack of Canadians on the LPGA Tour recently, but Oakville's Jessica Shepley is enjoying a solid season on the Duramed Futures Tour.

Shepley stood 11th on last week's money list, putting her within striking range of an automatic ticket to the LPGA Tour or direct entry to the final stage of qualifying school.

"The RCGA has a good developmental program and that's why we're seeing our juniors and the Canadians in college golf playing a lot better," said Hamilton's Alena Sharp, now playing on the LPGA Tour. Sharp qualified last week for the U.S. Women's Open later this month, as did Katrina Leckovic of Burnaby, B.C.

"They're going to start turning pro, so we're going to see a lot more Canadian professionals coming up and they're going to be the future of Canadian professional golf."

As she was winning a couple of Ontario junior titles and the Ontario amateur title in the late '90s, Sharp got a lot of attention in Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe, but says she didn't really feel the national attention until she tied for 10th at last year's Canadian Women's Open in Edmonton.

"I think the fans in the areas where athletes are from pay attention," said Kane, who came up through the Canadian Ladies Golf Association and du Maurier Series.

"That's the responsibility of the local media to follow the kids in the different cities and the different provinces across the country. The future is bright, but it's only as bright as the media wants to portray it. I know that there is more talent in this country than what is being played on our tour right now."

The same holds true on the men's side, where the Nationwide Tour will arrive in Collingwood next week for the Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic, a tournament that is about more than hockey players on the golf course. Canadian names such as Bryan DeCorso and David Hearn are standing out on the Nationwide Tour.

Fans don't need to count on the media in Collingwood, or at the Canadian Open or Canadian Women's Open at Ottawa Hunt. It's only an investment of time to walk nine or 18 holes with a developing player before turning to Weir, Stephen Ames, Kane or Sharp.

That investment may return some big league memories 10 years from now.


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