A day after Adam Hadwin became the latest Canadian golf hero on the PGA Tour and earned an invitation to play in the Masters, his father, Gerry, reminisced about the way his boy used to swing a club as a three-year-old. It was a thing of beauty.
Young Adam had a natural draw with his first club, a sawed-off Lynx 3-wood. Dad was a golf pro, so one could imagine a straightforward journey from promising tyke to the bearded pro who had Canadians – including the Prime Minister – cheering on Sunday as he pumped his fist in victory on the 18th green at the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla. But it took some time and patience for that boy to fall in love with the game and become the 29-year-old golfer who is having a whirlwind 2017 so far on the PGA Tour.
Hadwin grew up in Abbotsford, B.C., constantly playing outside with his brother, Kyle, and the neighbourhood kids – road hockey, baseball, kick the can, anything. Sure, he would amuse himself by swinging a golf club in a corner of the range while his dad gave lessons, but he didn't care much for golf. Baseball was his first love.
He was small but talented and ultracompetitive. He played his way up to Bantam AA baseball with solid hitting and fielding while his dad coached. One day, he just lost his passion for it.
"One night, he came to me after the game when he was 13, took off his uniform and said, 'I'm done with baseball. I want to play golf,'" his father said in a phone interview this week from B.C. "So he started going to the range every night after supper – like, five or six days a week. The rest is history."
Hadwin was a social kid, but he wanted to try an individual sport, one where he alone would dictate whether he won or lost.
"I loved baseball, but I couldn't handle it personally if I fielded all my ground balls perfectly and hit really well and we still lost," he said Monday by phone from Florida. "I had a tough time accepting that as a kid. But in golf, if I lost, that was on me. Taking the full responsibility for all the good and all the bad is what I loved about golf."
Hadwin and his father had a very brief run as student and golf coach, but the teen was too strong-willed for it to work at the time. He would respond to all his dad's advice with "Yeah, but …"
"We were at one another's throats because we have similar personalities, and I couldn't take any advice from my dad – you know teenagers," Hadwin said with a laugh. "It didn't last for us, but being a pro in the golf business, he knew a lot of great people who could help me."
Hadwin was headstrong and was still learning to manage his emotions on the course, but he had great results as a junior at Ledgeview Golf Club, one of the clubs where his dad has taught over the years and is now the director of golf.
Hadwin was part of the team that Golf Canada assembled to compete in a tournament against other teenagers at the University of Tennessee.
His strong play there earned him a scholarship offer from the University of Louisville.
He left home at 17 to join the best freshman class that year in U.S. college golf. The kid from B.C. loved life in Louisville, from college basketball and football games to the Kentucky Derby.
He turned pro after graduation in 2009, but took an interesting route at first. He went back to his home province and joined the relatively new Vancouver Golf Tour, a way for B.C. golfers to develop their tournament skills in a pro setting without the added costs of travelling. He had success there and built his confidence.
From there, he tried and missed at qualifying school for the PGA Tour several times but kept chugging through the heartbreaks. His low-Canadian result at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open turned some heads. He tallied enough wins on the Canadian tour and the Web.com Tour to stay motivated, finally earning that coveted PGA Tour card for the 2014-15 season with a top result on the Web.com Tour Finals money list.
He missed the cut in his first event of 2017, spent a few days working his game with his swing coach – and has been sensational since. He made headlines across the golf world in January by shooting a jaw-dropping 13-under-par 59 in the third round of the CareerBuilder Challenge Golf Tournament at La Quinta Country Club in California, becoming just the eighth golfer – and first Canadian – to shoot a round below 60 on the PGA Tour.
"He took a lot of confidence from that because – I mean, more people have walked on the moon than have shot 59 on the PGA Tour," said Ralph Bauer, his swing coach. "He's been a good ball striker his whole life, but right now he's putting all the pieces together at the same time."
He came to the Valspar Championship with memories of his previous attempt there – when he got so angry after a bad shot that he threw his 7-iron into a tree and eventually missed the cut. This year, he's seeing the best days of his life – golfing well, happy and in love.
He and fiancée, Jessica Dawn, embraced in celebration on the 18th green Sunday, two weeks before they get married. The wedding will go off as planned, but their honeymoon to French Polynesia will be rescheduled so he can play at Augusta.
He didn't want to visit Augusta National Golf Club before he had earned an invitation to play in the Masters, and he has qualified, along with Mike Weir and Mackenzie Hughes, the first time three Canadians have qualified for the year's first major since 1968. Hadwin sits fourth in the FedEx Cup standings and seventh on the tour money list, with more than $2.2-million (U.S.) in earnings.
"I don't know if I'm going to get there and look out over the first tee and cry or bend down and kiss the ground. I have no idea what will come over me," Hadwin said. "But I know it will be an incredible challenge to treat it just like any other event. I want to have an incredible week and contend for a Masters title."