Canadian Yohann Benson is returning to the PGA Tour this week, but this time not as a player.
The veteran from Montreal is caddying for his friend Russell Knox and they’ll make their season debut together Thursday at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Benson, 31, has played much of his career on the PGA Tour Canada (formerly Canadian Tour) and U.S. mini-tours such as the Florida-based NGA Tour. His biggest claim to fame was qualifying for the 2008 U.S. Open, which was played at Torrey Pines and won by Tiger Woods (his last major title). Nicknamed Yogi, Benson received a ton of attention in his home province because he was the first Quebecker to tee it up in the U.S. national championship since 1964.
But with his winnings alone unable to keep pace with the high expenses of playing tour golf, a common problem at the minor-league level, he put away his sticks and started a new life as a caddy last summer.
He carried the bag for fellow Canadian Adam Hadwin at the RBC Canadian Open last August and is joining Knox, whom he befriended on the NGA Tour in 2010, for at least the immediate future this season.
Knox is a 27-year-old Scot who has conditional status on the PGA Tour after finishing in 143rd spot on the money list last year in his rookie season. His status means he’s unsure how many PGA Tour starts he’ll get in, but a strong performance this week could keep him on the top tour. A full-time gig on the Web.com Tour, where Knox has won once, awaits as a fallback.
Benson has not given up his dream of reaching the PGA Tour as a player himself. He expects to return to the PGA Tour Canada this summer for its eight-event schedule with the hopes of using it as a springboard.
Meantime, he says he’s learning a tremendous amount just by being inside the PGA Tour ropes. “I learn a lot by caddying, probably even more then by practising,” he said in an e-mail Wednesday from Honolulu. And not just about the game – but the financial realities of sustaining a player career, as well. “Being out on the PGA Tour made me realize that I will never make it as a player without a considerable financial help, which I've never had. It is a shame but without money you don’t have as fair of a chance.”
Caddying gives him a breather from his own playing career. If Knox happens to catch fire and banks a lot of money in his PGA Tour starts, Benson would share in the wealth -- and perhaps even hatch that little nest egg that will allow him to get back on tour.
Canadians in paradise: Writer Rob Bolton at pgatour.com likes the chances of two Canadians this week at the Sony Open. Bolton puts David Hearn and Graham DeLaet in the top 10 of his weekly “power rankings.” .
Making Hearn his No. 7 pick, Bolton likes the Brantford, Ont., native’s tee-to-green proficiency and notes his tie for 10th place last year.
DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., is No. 9 in the power rankings, praised by Bolton for his prowess on the par-fives. DeLaet shot 63 last year in the opening round to hold the 18-hole lead.
The other Canadians in the Sony Open field are veterans Stephen Ames and Mike Weir and newly promoted Brad Fritsch. My colleague Lorne Rubenstein has more on the Canadian contingent and its 2013 prospects.