Whatever Graham DeLaet does at this week’s season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta, he’s already had a breakthrough year. Well, maybe that should be “almost” a breakthrough year. The 31-year-old from Weyburn, Sask. who lives in Boise, Idaho, where he graduated from Boise State University in physical education, has yet to win on the PGA Tour.
DeLaet has posted seven top-10 finishes in 25 tournaments this year. He’s tied for second and finished third in two of the three FedEx Cup playoff tournaments held so far. He’s seventh in FedEx points starting the Tour Championship. He could win the FedEx Cup and the $10-million bonus that goes with it if he wins the Tour Championship, as long as a couple of conditions apply.
They’re not improbable conditions. Tiger Woods is number one in FedEx points and Henrik Stenson is number two. Assume DeLaet wins the Tour Championship – a hefty assumption, of course, and one proposed only for purposes of explication. He’ll win the FedEx Cup if Woods finishes in a three-way tie for second or worse, and if Stenson ties for second or worse.
The Tour Championship field comprises only 30 players – the top 30 in FedEx Cup points. This means that DeLaet must beat the smallest field all year on the PGA Tour. That too isn’t as onerous, say, as coming up best in, oh, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, or the Honda Classic, or the Northern Trust Open where the fields are much larger even if they don’t necessarily include all the elite of the elite.
Meanwhile, DeLaet has demonstrated that he’s one of the most accomplished ball-strikers in the game. He’s first in total driving, which is a combination of driving distance and accuracy. He’s third in greens in regulation, and 12th in scoring average. He hits it far and he hits it with control and he can go low. He’s 33rd in the world ranking and 19th on the money list with $2,703,700 (USD).
DeLaet has also improved his putting and short game under the guidance of former PGA Tour winner Gabriel Hjerstedt . It’s easy to tell that he’s more comfortable around and on the greens. He expects to make putts.
DeLaet has also come to the attention of the game’s cognoscenti, who rarely paid him any attention in previous years. His fellow tour players knew he could get the ball around a course with power and precision, but hey, he hadn’t won or had that many high finishes. He wasn’t on television much, which seems to be the measure in many golf observers’ minds of how a player is faring.
DeLaet’s been on television plenty of times. Nick Price, the captain of the International team that will go up against the U.S. at the Presidents Cup in a couple of weeks, was well aware of DeLaet. It was all but certain that he was going to make DeLaet a captain’s pick up to a month ago. But DeLaet then played his way on to the team with his finishes in the first two FedEx tournaments.
Then there’s what his ascension has done for him away from the PGA Tour. Ben Cowan-Dewar, the young man from Toronto who imagined Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia and then got it built to raves, is also becoming something of an impresario. He’s managed to get DeLaet and 2010 U.S. Open champions Graeme McDowell to Cabot for an exhibition match on Sept. 23rd, the day after the Tour Championship ends.
At the Honda Classic in February, where DeLaet tied for ninth, he spoke about his play at the Northern Trust Open two weeks before. Here’s what he said about his play at the Los Angeles tournament. He didn’t putt as well as he would have liked, but still, he put in a more than decent performance.
“But I still finished 21st and I made enough money where I feel like I have a comfort level, and now I can kind of really try to play some golf and try to put myself in position and not worry about the money list or anything like that,” the personable golfer said.
That was more than seven months ago. DeLaet has been playing “some golf” all year. He’s put himself in a position where he need “not worry about the money list or anything like that.”
My friend and colleague Bob Weeks of ScoreGolf Magazine, was asked on a radio show recently whether he thought DeLaet could win the Tour Championship. Bob replied that, well, DeLaet was in the tournament, and so therefore he could win. But he pointed out that DeLaet could win for all sorts of reasons. He could win because of his ability and progress in the game, above all.
DeLaet tees it up Thursday with Phil Mickelson, a winner of 42 PGA Tour events including five majors. Will DeLaet make the Tour Championship his first PGA Tour win? As I’ve written many times, predictions are pointless. But he’s in with a chance, a very good chance. He’s in with a very good chance to make this a truly breakthrough year.
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Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein