Can-con pressure falls on DeLaet, Hearn

Graham DeLaet is one of Canada's primary suspects to become this country's first native-born...

Graham DeLaet is one of Canada's primary suspects to become this country's first native-born Canadian Open champion. (REUTERS)

KEN FIDLIN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:59 PM ET

ANCASTER, ONT. - Barring some stunning, unforeseen reversal of fortune for Mike Weir, the yoke of responsibility for "breaking the curse," as Graham DeLaet describes it, now rests on some younger shoulders.

This week, it looks as if the primary suspects to become this country's first native-born Canadian Open golf champion in nearly a century are Saskatchewan native DeLaet and David Hearn of Brantford, Ont.

But ... no pressure, guys.

I mean, why should expectations get out of control for a feat that has escaped multiple generations of golfers since Karl Keffer won the Open in 1914?

Officially, Pat Fletcher is listed as the last Canadian winner of this title in 1954, but Fletcher was born in England and moved to Canada as a youngster, at a time when, as a British subject, he automatically got citizenship simply by moving here.

Weir came agonizingly -- some would say traumatically -- close in 2004, losing the final-round lead down the stretch to Vijay Singh.

So, Thursday, DeLaet and Hearn, with a nod toward Adam Hadwin, will be the most likely winning candidates among the 23 Canadians who will tee it up in the first round at Hamilton Golf and Country Club.

Both are having decent seasons and should be able to easily retain their PGA Tour cards. Hearn has won $731,615, good for 97th on the money list, while DeLaet has banked $674,230, which puts him at No. 106.

DeLaet, who missed most of 2011 after back surgery, was playing this season on a medical exemption and needed to make just over $668,000 (the amount that the 125th-ranked player earned last season) to earn playing privileges for the rest of the season. He accomplished that a couple of weeks ago. Whatever he earns going forward will likely put him well inside the top 125 for 2012, thus earning him fully exempt status in 2013.

"In golf you're never really 100% satisfied," said DeLaet. "You can always do better, you feel. But I think if you'd have asked me in January after not playing for a full year, if I'd take the position I'm in right now, I probably would have said yes. I still have some work to do, but at the same time a decent finish a couple weeks ago put me in a position where it took a little pressure off."

It's one thing to compete and grind, in some anonymity, on the Tour but for Canadians, the Canadian Open comes with its own built-in, white-hot spotlight. And for anyone who slips into contention, the pressure increases dramatically.

"I've never won, David's never won, a lot of us haven't," said DeLaet. "But I think with myself and David and Adam, I can't really speak for everyone, but I think we all believe in ourselves that it can happen this week and I think a lot has to come together at the right time.

"We've got to make some putts, maybe get a few lucky bounces here and there, but that's the plan. That's what we're all shooting for this week, to get the win and kind of break the curse or whatever it might be.

"But more than anything we just enjoy this golf tournament so much, and it's just a pleasure being back on home soil and playing golf."

Hearn is coming off a couple of strong showings in his last three tournaments. Three weeks ago, he finished in a tie for 12th at the Greenbrier Classic, shooting four rounds in the 60s. Last week, at the True South Classic, he finished tied for 21st at 12-under-par.

"To be competitive in any particular PGA event is not an easy thing to do, so for anyone to try to gear up and then be competitive at a week like this, that's why it hasn't happened in 58 years," said Hearn. "Mike, for the last decade up until the last few years, he's been playing world"'class golf; and a player of his ability level came very close, what, in 2004?

"So it's definitely something that is not an easy task at any PGA event, let alone for a Canadian to do it here in Canada. That being said, everyone -- all the Canadians here -- really do feel like we want to make the country proud, we want to play well. We want to do very well for everyone, and you know, I certainly hope that that 58 years without a Canadian holding the trophy ends soon. But I can't predict what's going to happen."

In sheer numbers, the 23 Canadians in the field is the third-most in modern history, or since the Canadian Open joined the PGA Tour. The most-ever number of Canadians was in 1996, when 28 were in the starting field. In 1998, there were 25.

Who could? Who might? Don't hold your breath.


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