THUNDER BAY – GOLF – With the extended cold weather in Thunder Bay many people are heading south. For people who golf, even weekends watching the PGA TOUR on television is a welcome break from the icy grip that winter cold has held on our region.
It might be a while before golfers can head out to their favourite links and start enjoying their game, so here is a little teaser from PGA TOUR Canada and the Tbaytel Staal Foundation Open.
Keep in mind the Staal Foundation Open at Whitewater is in July, and really that is not that far off.
2014 Staal Foundation Open presented by Tbaytel champion Wes Homan, played his way into The Honda Classic on the PGA TOUR this week, shooting a 6-under 65 in the Monday Qualifying and emerging in a marathon, 10-hole playoff for the final spot. Wes took the time to talk about the Monday Qualifying, why he chose to play PGA TOUR Canada, and his experience from his win in Thunder Bay last year.
Q: Let’s start with the Monday Qualifier. The Honda Classic is one of the toughest events to Monday Qualify for, with so many players living in the area and it being the start of the Florida Swing. Did you know you’d need around 65 to get in?
A: Yeah, definitely. From past results, I had never done this one before, but my buddy (fellow PGA TOUR Canada player Bo Hoag) qualified a few years ago and I asked him what he shot, so you know what you have to do. I knew I needed one more birdie on the 18th hole. Unfortunately I hit it in the rough, but I was able to make birdie after I laid up in the fairway there. I had like 88 yards or something, and hit it to like, seven feet and made the putt.
Q: Seven feet? That sounds about the same length as the putt you had to win the Staal Foundation Open last year.
A: It was. It was left-to-right, too. It was really similar. I definitely recalled on that moment knowing that I’ve done it before and had to do it right there.
Q: Even after you shot 65, you had to come back the next day for a 5-for-2 playoff that ended up going on for 10 holes. How do you keep going in that situation?
A: I warmed up like I was going to play 18, and I was happy I put some energy bars and pocket protein in my bag because I didn’t know I was going to be out there for three hours. It was very exhausting, but a great experience because every shot mattered. We played the two holes, 10 and 18, over and over again. Unfortunately we were getting mudballs from our tee shots, so it was hard for anyone to hit it close, and that’s why I feel like we kept going – it was hard to make birdies. It was a good experience and I’m glad I walked out of there with a spot this week.
Q: Last year was a pretty big breakthrough for you, getting a win in Thunder Bay and finishing 9th on the PGA TOUR Canada Order of Merit. Did that feel like a pretty big step for your career?
A: Definitely. It got me some Web.com Tour status, and if I can get in next week in Colombia, maybe if I play well there, it would be huge. I think PGA TOUR Canada was definitely the catalyst for getting me there and advancing my career. That’s why I’ve been playing up there, and I think it’s why a lot of other people are playing up there.
Q: That final round at the Staal Foundation Open last year was one of the best duels we’ve seen in a while. What was that like, knowing it was pretty much down to you and Greg Eason in the final group?
A: At the beginning, I just wanted to go out and play my game, and I feel like I did a really good job of that. And then late on Sunday, through the work I’ve done mentally, I decided my game plan was to play my game and then on 15 or 16, make myself aware of what was going on. At that point, it was a little bit of match play, and I was happy and lucky it went my way.
Greg, I think he maybe deserved the MVP last year, making that top five without a win. He’s a heck of a player and he’s already tearing it up on the Web.com Tour this year. He’s a neat kid and a great golfer.
Q: What memories do you have of the Thunder Bay community and the support they had for the event?
A: It was awesome, and definitely something I can draw on later in my career with crowds and everything. They were so into that tournament, and with the Staal brothers, I think all of us felt very welcome. Even my caddie, Mark, was just a great guy. I think Canadians love two things – hockey and golf. So that town and event, it speaks for itself.
Q: This is your second time Monday Qualifying this season, after you got in to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open last October. How much confidence does that give you knowing you can play when it counts?
A: It’s great. I’ve been doing these Monday Qualifiers for years, but now when I show up and I know I’ve done it before, I know I can do it again. It makes some of the inconvenience and uncertainty of the travel worth it. There are some big prizes when you get in, so it’s definitely worth my time.
Q: You played pretty well at the Shriners and made the cut, finishing T56. Often when PGA TOUR Canada players get in to a PGA TOUR event, they’ll realize their games really aren’t that different from the best players in the world. What did you learn from that week?
A: I feel like the golf I’ve been playing has been at a high level, and my game translates pretty well when I get on this stage. It’s really like all of our tournaments – if you make some putts, you’re going to do pretty well.
Q: One bonus for this week is you’re already familiar with the course, since PGA National was the host of this year’s Web.com Tour Q-School Finals. How helpful is that for you this week?
A: The rough’s just a little bit higher than the Web Finals. It’s really helpful to know the course. There wasn’t enough time really yesterday to play. I’m going out on the front a little blind for this week, but I’ve played it six times in the last two months. It helps a lot.
Q: What are your expectations for this week at the Honda?
A: My expectations are the same every time I tee it up. I want to give myself 18 chances when I’m out there, and usually if I can keep it in the short grass, good things come together. Unless I play really well, it’s all gravy and good experience, and an opportunity to try and further my career as I wake up and try to do every day.