Next wave of Canuck golfers

Adam Hadwin (right) and his caddie Brett Saunders shake hands after finishing the final round of...

Adam Hadwin (right) and his caddie Brett Saunders shake hands after finishing the final round of the Canadian Open in Vancouver on July, 24, 2011. (QMI Agency/Richard Lam)

TIM MCKAY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:08 PM ET

The running theme this season on the PGA Tour -- aside from the ongoing Tiger Woods saga -- has been the struggle between the U.S. and Europe on a neatly mowed battlefield.

The Americans, after giving up ground to Europe and the rest of the world over the past year, finally pushed back Sunday, with one of their emerging young stars -- Keegan Bradley -- steadying the ship with a major victory at the PGA Championship.

But standing on the sidelines of this TV-generated conflict between good (the U.S.) and evil (the Europeans) is a country seemingly unequipped to enter the fray: Canada. OK, enough of this theme, because what really is playing out on the PGA Tour comes down to nothing more than player development in different regions. It's not as sexy as the media sometimes portrays it to be, but it is worth talking about.

The Europeans, obviously, have U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy as their poster boy, while the Americans surely aren't in the dire straits some have suggested they are with a stable of twentysomethings capable of winning week in and week out.

For Canada, however, it's not as cut and dried.

Fleeting are the days when Mike Weir was a threat to win a couple tournaments a year and Stephen Ames was right there too. Now, there's a great divide between players on the outs and up-and-comers trying to establish themselves as Weir and Ames did before them.

To a man, though, those involved in Canadian men's professional golf say the situation is not bleak, that the next wave is coming.

Perhaps the closest thing Canada has to a poster-boy for its future is Adam Hadwin -- a 23-year-old native of Abbotsford, B.C., who, despite not being a member of the PGA Tour (he's playing the Canadian Tour Seaforth Country Classic this week) is the top-ranked Canuck in the official world golf ranking.

Damning or encouraging? It depends on your outlook on the state of the Canadian game. But for Hadwin, he thinks it looks bright.

"I think it's good," said Hadwin, who finished as top Canadian at both the U.S. and Canadian Open championships this season. "It's better than the rankings or anything would show.

"I believe we have a lot of good young talent playing right now. Guys like (Matt) McQuillan and (David) Hearn and (Chris) Baryla and (Graham) DeLaet and myself, Nick Taylor, Matt Hill, Roger Sloan, Dustin Risdon. We've got a lot of guys that are 25 and under that are playing some good golf, whether it's on the PGA Tour, on the Canadian Tour, the Hooters Tour. They're playing some good golf on competitive tours and I really think that if it continues this way, you'll see a few more than six guys on the (PGA) Tour in the next few years."

While it's true that there are a bunch of guys with PGA Tour potential, it also is true that our representation, a record-high six players this season, is having a tough time sticking at golf's top level.

Hearn is the top Canadian on the money list, currently sitting at 128th with $513,068 in earnings, but is just outside the top-125 threshold to maintaining full playing privileges next season. Stephen Ames (133) and Matt McQuillan (137) are also on the cusp, while Chris Baryla (219), Mike Weir (238) and Graham DeLaet (253) are well back.

There also is a number of other promising players on the Canadian Tour.

"Most of the top Canadian professionals not competing on the Nationwide or PGA Tour are playing on the Canadian Tour," said Canadian Tour commissioner and CEO Rick Janes. "Canadians represent roughly 30% of Canadian Tour members.

"The fact that Canadians like Dustin Risdon, Adam Hadwin, Roger Sloan and Nick Taylor are thriving and contending every week on the Canadian Tour is a good indication of their progress."

It's a situation veteran Jim Rutledge, himself having a successful campaign on the Champions Tour this season, knows well.

Rutledge toiled on the Canadian, European, Asian and Nationwide Tours for almost 30 years before finally getting his shot on the PGA Tour in 2007, at the age of 47.

"I think it's just golf. Sometimes it runs in cycles," Rutledge said, echoing the sentiment of Ernie Els speaking about the resurgence of European golf in June at the U.S. Open. "We've had a run of a bunch of players and then now it just seems to be, not slack by any means, but just a lacking.

"You want to see as many out there because we're Canadian, but it just seems like it's a sport where we have a tough time getting a lot of guys out there."

And when they do get out on the PGA Tour, sometimes it's just for, as Rutledge can attest to the old cliche, a cup of coffee.

"There's not a lot of guys that go out their first year and keep their card for good. It's just so difficult to go out there your first year and make $800,000," Rutledge said.

"It's a whole new world, whole new golf courses. You've got to get used to everything and if you don't get off to a real good start you can get behind the 8-ball real quick."

CANADA'S NEXT TOP GOLFER?

ADAM HADWIN

Hometown: Abbotsford, B.C.

Age: 23

Plays On: Canadian Tour

World Rank: 212

Money Rank: 8th ($33,159.58) PGA Tour Experience: 4 Events (Top Finish T4 At 2011 Canadian Open)

DAVID HEARN

Hometown: Brantford, Ont.

Age: 32

Plays On: PGA Tour

World Rank: 273

Money Rank: 128th ($513,068) PGA Tour Experience: 24 Events (Top Finish T6, 2011 Shell Houston Open)

GRAHAM DELAET

Hometown: Weyburn, Sask.

Age: 29

Plays On: PGA Tour (Injured)

World Rank: 375

Money Rank: 253 ($10,472)

PGA Tour Experience: 33 Events (Top Finish T3, 2010 Shell Houston Open)

MATT MCQUILLAN

Hometown: Kingston, Ont.

Age: 30

Plays On: PGA Tour

World Rank: 385

Money Rank: 137 ($423,620)

PGA Tour Experience: 16 Events (Best Finish, T3 2011 John Deere Classic)

JON MILLS

Hometown: Oshawa, Ont. Age: 33

Plays On: Nationwide Tour

World Rank: 444

Money Rank: 47 ($75,093)

PGA Tour Experience: 35 Events (Best Finish, T13 2008 Puerto Rico Open)

DUSTIN RISDON

Hometown: Strathmore, Alta. Age: 30

Plays On: Canadian Tour

World Rank: 502

Money Rank: 5 ($41,870.83)

PGA Tour Experience: 3 Events (Best Finish, 73rd 2011 Canadian Open)

ROGER SLOAN

Hometown: Merritt, B.C.

Age: 24

Plays On: Canadian Tour

World Rank: 516

Money Rank: 4th ($42,100.89) PGA Tour Experience: 1 Event (Missed Cut)


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