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David Hearn watches his shot off the second tee (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
David Hearn watches his shot off the second tee (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Rubenstein: Preparing to win Add to ...

Like many Canadians coast to coast, I could barely breathe while watching the conclusion to the John Deere Classic on Sunday. In the end, the phenomenal 19-year-old Jordan Spieth prevailed in the five-hole, sudden-death playoff against Zach Johnson and Brantford, Ont.’s David Hearn.

Spieth holed a greenside bunker shot on the last hole of regulation play that eventually got him into the playoff, and then punched a 7-iron under the trees from the right rough on the 18th hole–the fifth of the playoff–that ran just through the green. He parred the hole and that was that after Johnson had hit his approach into the water and Hearn missed a 7-foot par putt. Spieth was full value for his win. He’s the most exciting young golfer in the game. And really, is he only 19 years old? Amazing.

Hearn was going for his first PGA Tour win, not to mention a spot in this week’s Open Championship at the Muirfield Golf Club in Gullane, Scotland. His father Geoff expressed what many Canadians must have been feeling after the tournament ended.

“No fun to be sooooo close and miss the brass ring,” he wrote in an e-mail.

I texted Hearn after the finish to express my feelings about what had transpired. Class act that he is, he texted back quickly and said he was proud of how he had hung in the tournament and put himself into position to win. He’d missed a five-footer along the way in the playoff that would have given him the win, but, although disappointed, he was undaunted and is looking forward to competing in next week’s RBC Canadian Open at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont.

Meanwhile, I was going back and forth during the playoff with Hearn’s swing coach Ralph Bauer. He said he had a good story to tell me about Hearn’s caddy Brent Everson. Everson has been working with Hearn for some time and it says a lot about his belief in Hearn that he’s on his bag. Everson caddied for PGA Tour winner Michael Bradley and also caddied for Justin Leonard. He could caddie for a player other than Hearn if he wanted to, but he is confident that Hearn has the game to win.

Bauer told me that Everson got in Hearn’s face on the Tuesday of the John Deere. He asked Hearn, according to Bauer, “Do you ever make plans on how you’re going to win?” Everson was pushing Hearn to think of what he needed to do to win rather than finish, say, in the top 20 in a tournament.

Hearn asked Everson what he meant. He told him on Wednesday that he’d never thought of it in the way Everson was suggesting, and that he appreciated the pep talk. He appreciated being asked to think about what he needed to do at the John Deere to win, and this was before the tournament had even started.

As Bauer told me this story, I was reminded of when I’d played with Hearn and the great Canadian amateur Marlene Streit a few years ago in Jupiter, Fla. We were making our way down one fairway when Marlene, the winner of, well, everything in amateur golf, stopped and said this to Hearn. I’m paraphrasing.

“David, you’re a very talented young man. You have to believe in yourself more. You need to walk with your head held high. You’re tall, and I see you sometimes walking with your head down. Walk as if you think of yourself as a winner.”

Hearn slept this week on what Everson told him about preparing to win. Everson called Bauer Friday night after Hearn had opened 66-66 to say he’d had his direct talk with him. It was as if he was injecting energy with Hearn. I’ve known Hearn for about 15 years, and I’ve never thought he lacks the will to win or self-belief. Everson, I think, was only trying to pump him up. Hearn shot 64 in the third round of the John Deere, and was two shots out of the lead and in the final twosome on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Sean Foley was watching what was transpiring at the John Deere. He texted Bauer Sunday morning from Muirfield, where he’s working with Tiger Woods, Hunter Mahan, U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, and who knows how many other players at the Open. The substance of his text was that he was rooting for Bauer, and, by extension, of course, Hearn, from Scotland.

“I didn’t text David or talk to him [during the tournament],” Bauer said. “Sure, I wish he would have won. That would have been a cool story. But still, coaches get a lot of credit. Caddies are overlooked.”

Bauer wanted to be sure I knew about the pep talk Everson gave to Hearn. I texted Everson Monday morning to set up a chat, but we’ve not talked yet. He’ll be on Hearn’s bag at the Canadian Open.

As for Bauer, he was getting texts from PGA Tour caddies and players who have won on the PGA Tour. They were all saying they were sorry Hearn didn’t win.

“I don’t think of it like that,” Bauer said. “It’s funny. When the playoff ended, I was so happy for David.”

Well, there’s still another level of happiness. Bauer and Everson will have that feeling if and when Hearn wins. It’s looking less like “if” and more like “when” after the John Deere Classic. From what I’ve seen in Hearn and know of him, he’ll be more disappointed than he will let on. But he’ll assimilate the loss and disappointment, he’ll learn from the experience, and he’ll continue to progress.

With Everson at his side, that’s a good bet.

RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein

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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 lornerubenstein@me.com. You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein

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