Pacific Palisades, Calif. – On Graham DeLaet’s pgatour.com player page, he lists all of his personal favourites.
Favourite food: Teriyaki chicken. Favourite book: The Da Vinci Code. Favourite movie: The Shawshank Redemption. Dream foursome: Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky and actor Bill Murray.
DeLaet is clearly a Caddyshack guy and a hockey guy. (His favourite professional sports team: the Calgary Flames.)
So any discussion of golf needs to wait until there’s a discussion about hockey, and the Flames, and where winger Rick Nash might end up now that the Columbus Blue Jackets have made him available. DeLaet, one of Canada’s rising golf stars, follows all the TSN hockey analysts on Twitter.com because “you can’t get a lot of hockey news down here” and traces his rookie roots to: playing the game as a kid growing up in Weyburn, Sask., and following the Flames because he lived five years in Moose Jaw when Theo Fleury was a star with the WHL’s Warriors in the mid-1980s.
Fleury joined the Flames as a rookie midway through the 1988-89 season and Calgary won its one-and-only Stanley Cup championship. Presto, DeLaet became a fan for life.
When Calgary is in town Saturday to play the Los Angeles Kings, DeLaet will be in attendance. He is friends with Kings centre Jarrett Stoll, who has arranged tickets for DeLaet, leaving him with a dilemma to sort out.
“I’m sitting in their section,” DeLaet said in an interview, “but I have an old vintage Lanny McDonald shirt. I don’t know if I should wear that, because I’m sitting with all Kings fans, or if I should be nice to Jarrett and just go in street clothes.”
By Saturday night, DeLaet will be three-quarters of the way through his work week, which brings him to town to play Riviera in the Northern Trust Open. Fresh from a tie for 69th at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am last week, the 30-year-old Canadian is playing the PGA Tour this season on a major medical exemption, a result of back surgery that caused him to miss the majority of 2011.
“My back’s definitely holding up well – or as good as I could expect and hope for,” DeLaet said this week prior to the opening round Thursday, where played in a threesome with Chad Collins and Kris Blanks. “I’m feeling good. My game, all in all, is close. I’m not playing quite as well as I know I’m capable of, or where like to, but at the same time, I’m kinda hanging in there and making the majority of the cuts. I know it’s only a matter of time before I put four rounds together.”
DeLaet has 26 starts left this year to win enough to keep the card for 2013 ($657,694 was the amount earned last year by the 125th-ranked player, the card cutoff). Thus far, DeLaet has played four events, made three cuts, banking $58,705. His top finish was a tie for 29th in Hawaii, where he led after the opening round. Last week, he started with a brilliant 66 on a day when the golf gods were smiling.
“I mean, we played on the most perfect day at Pebble that day,” DeLaet said. “It was sunny, probably about [20 C] hardly a breath of wind. It was almost majestic out there. It’s even hard to explain how good it was. Then to shoot six under [par]on that day was one of the highlights of, not my golf career, but playing golf. It was just a special day.”
Even at 30, DeLaet can still make the distinction between his life as a professional golfer, and all its attendant pressures, and the pure joy of playing the game he loved as he was climbing all the rungs of the career ladder.
“I couldn’t think of a better way of making a living. Maybe playing in the NHL would be pretty nice, but that’s more of a pipe dream for me,” DeLaet said. “But days like that at Pebble, or when we played Torrey [Pines]a few weeks back, it was the same sort of thing, just a perfect day, with the views of the ocean. I mean, obviously, you want to play well, but it doesn’t even matter what you shoot on days like that because you just realize how lucky you are to be doing what you’re doing, and playing at such a special place.”
As for Riviera and its wonderful history – think of actor Humphrey Bogart, hanging around the clubhouse in the early days – DeLaet said: “It’s such a good golf course, a good test off the tee and with your approach shots. The greens are a little tricky, the bunkers are deep, it’s a really good old-style golf course. I’ve been around it twice now. I don’t know it as well as a lot of guys do, but I know more than I did in my rookie season, when I was playing every course for the first time. At least now, I’ve got a little bit of an idea of where to go and what to do and how to play it.”
As for playing on an injury exemption, DeLaet says he isn’t feeling any extra pressure to keep his card just yet.
“It’s basically a full season; it’s basically what everybody has to do; you’ve got to make the top 125 to start the year. If I only had four events to make a certain amount of money, then I think there’d be a little bit of added pressure, but because I have the full season, I’m just going to treat it like a full season and not as if I’m on any kind of medical exemption. I’m just going to play like I normally would, if I was a top-125 player before.”
And that will give him time to rest his body as needed. Last year, he played in only two PGA Tour events and maybe tried to come back too soon, the way athletes can.
It was a point Tiger Woods made at Pebble Beach last week – there’s a difference between training and rehab. Rehab just gets you to the point where you’re able to get around the golf course. Training helps you up the quality of your play.
“This is my fourth week in a row and I’m excited to play, I’m ready to go,” DeLaet said, “but at the same time, I’m definitely looking forward to having a week off next week.”