MANOTICK, ONT. - Too bad they already made a movie called Late Bloomers that pretty much flopped and fizzled a few years back.
Friday night at the end of a country road south of Ottawa there was a celebration held that came complete with the perfect lead character, surrounding cast and even a declaration from the mayor that could have been set to music and accompanied by a marching band and fireworks.
Welcome to Brad Fritsch Day in the nation’s capital.
At 34, Fritsch finally got his hands on the card that will allow him to play golf on the PGA Tour.
There are late bloomers in every world – Grandma Moses finding art in her 70s, Colonel Sanders claiming a secret recipe for fried chicken in his 60s, Ronald Reagan discovering political office in his 50s, Raymond Chandler publishing his first short story in his 40s …
In sports, it’s rather more complicated, as athletes usually peak in their 20s and peter out quickly in their 30s.
Perhaps the only sports comparable to Brad Fritsch would be Tim Thomas, who landed the starting goaltender position for the Boston Bruins at 32 and went on to win a Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2011 NHL playoffs, when he was 37.
Fritsch would have to go on to win the Masters – something only one Canadian, Mike Weir, has ever managed – or one of the other majors to outshine Thomas. But he doesn’t have to; just surviving as a 34-year-old journeyman on the tough PGA Tour would be enough.
Less than two weeks ago in Texas, Fritsch fired a final-round 69 in the Web.com Tour Championship. It left him in a tie for ninth place in the year-end tournament and earned him $26,000 (all currency U.S.). At $212,168 in total earnings for the year, he finished in 18th place overall – with the top-25 money earners from the Web.com Tour automatically receiving passage to the PGA.
When the cards were presented in a ceremony at the end of the tournament, Fritsch was the only player to give the presenter a huge bear hug.
When you struggle for a dozen years to reach your dream, sometimes you just can’t help yourself. Besides, he sort of resembles a bear with his stocky build and single-minded determination.
Only once in all those years of struggling, he says, did he ever question what he was trying to do – and that, he says, “was about a 10-second conversation.”
Born in Edmonton and raised in Manotick, now a suburb of Ottawa, Fritsch returned to his Rideau View Country Club – where he was club champion as a teenager – and where some 400 well-wishers, friends, relatives (from his parents to his wife Megan and three-year-old daughter Hannah), former coaches and periodic financial backers came out to cheer his achievement.
“One of the greatest sports stories in Ottawa history,” declared host Liam Maguire, a lifelong friend of the local hero.
“Overwhelming,” said Fritsch, who seemed struck with so much attention after so many years of oblivion.
Now they were lining up to sponsor him – the Ottawa Senators first on board, Titleist quick to follow – whereas two weeks earlier he and his Canadian golfing best friend, Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., had been bunking together in a $39-a-night motel while they played the Web.com Tour’s final event of the year.
“It was a decent hotel,” protested Fritsch. “Nothing fantastic, but it was decent. We try to cut down.”
Hadwin, sadly, will have to continue to “cut down,” as he failed in his bid to get the same PGA card despite shooting a final-round 65 in the same Texas tournament. He had moved from 48th place to the final 25th place at one point, only to end up a single stroke short when James Hahn, who had already easily qualified for the top 25, birdied the 18th and snatched second place away from Hadwin. “I was cheering against a fellow golfer at that time,” Fritsch says, “and that’s something you hardly ever do.”
Hadwin, only 25, can still himself become a late bloomer, a tag his friend Fritsch happily embraces.
“It’s just the truth,” he says. “For years it’s been a slow, steady progression. If that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. Luckily it’s acceptable [in golf]. If this were another sport, football, basketball, this wouldn’t be possible. You reach your peak in your 20s.”
It’s not only “acceptable,” it’s admirable, a charming “late bloomer” story that, in an instance, changed an obscure golfer barely recognized in his home town to one surrounded by media the moment he enters the clubhouse completely outfitted in brand-new, and free, Ottawa Senators gear.
“Incredible,” he says. “Le Droit is covering me now – and I don’t even speak French.”