Canadians will be able to follow one of their own golfers during the upcoming Open Championship, or British Open as it's usually known in the U.S. and Canada. As my colleague Jeff Brooke writes, Graham DeLaet has qualified by moving into 67th place in the world rankings. He's played very strong golf recently, and now he'll play his first major championship. The Open goes at the Muirfield Golf Club in Gullane, Scotland from July 18-22.
DeLaet, 31, has played competitive golf on links courses twice, each time in the Dunhill Links. Here's his blog for the PGA of Canada about the first time he played the tournament, at the Old Course, Carnoustie, and Kingsbarns. He tied for 53rd. Clearly, he enjoyed the experience and learned a lot about how to play links golf.
Given that he'll be playing his first major at Muirfield, what would be reasonable to expect from DeLaet? A tour player said a couple of years ago that DeLaet, the winner of the 2005 and 2006 Saskatchewan Amateur championships—hey, I still think amateur golf is important, and the folks in Saskatchewan follow DeLaet as closely as Scots follow the new Wimbledon champion Andy Murray—was the best unknown player in the game.
He's not unknown now. DeLaet has won $1,560,505 this year and is 27th on the PGA Tour money list. He's had five top-10 finishes. Nobody would be surprised if he won any time. The Open will be his next tournament, as he's not playing this week's John Deere Classic in Silvis, Ill. DeLaet will be the only Canadian at Muirfield, unless one of David Hearn, Mike Weir, Brad Fritsch, or Stephen Ames wins the John Deere.
DeLaet, meanwhile, is like all tour players: ever in transit. He was flying today from the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., where he tied for 30th, through Toronto en route to Saskatoon. He's hosting the Graham DeLaet Charity Golf Tournament on July 11th at the Willows Golf and Country Club in Saskatoon. DeLaet is from Weyburn, Sask., and the tournament supports junior golf in his home province. It's an initiative of Golf Saskatchewan and DeLaet himself.
Next up will be a trip overseas to Muirfield. Having played some links golf in tournaments, DeLaet will at least be familiar with what the courses demand. Above all, they demand thoughtful golf. The weather has been warm and dry in Scotland and is expected to continue that way. This means that Muirfield will be firm and it will play fast. The dry conditions will make it resemble Royal Liverpool, or Hoylake, where Tiger Woods won the 2006 Open. Here's something he wrote for lpga.com about that week. He offered his views on the occasion of the 2012 Ricoh Women's British Open going to Hoylake. Woods hit only one driver during the 2006 Open there.
"In 2006 at Royal Liverpool there was a heat wave and the fairways were really baked out. I had looked at the forecast before my trip and decided that I didn't need to hit driver. The course was nearly 7,300 yards, but it was playing a lot shorter. The ball was running forever. I think I hit only one driver all week (No. 16, first round). I made a decision that it was more important to be playing from the fairway than it was to be long. I had a game plan and I stuck with it.
When I got to Hoylake I had to decide whether to lay up to the fairway bunkers or try to fly them. They had redone the bunkers and you couldn't advance the ball. There were some that you had to hit it out sideways. By staying with my plan, I think I hit over 80 percent of the fairways utilizing a 3-wood and a 2-iron. I had three eagles that week and nothing bigger than my seven bogeys."
That was Woods's 11th major win. He was obviously an experienced links golfer by then. Experience is a big asset on a links, that's for sure. But the golfer who can restrain himself—especially a long-hitting, high-ball player such as DeLaet — and use his head as much or more than his power — can still do well. His first Open will likely be all about course management.
Can DeLaet make the Open and his first major his maiden PGA Tour victory? Well, never say never. Ben Curtis won the 2003 Open at the Royal St. George's Golf Club in Sandwich, England, in his first appearance in a major. He was the first golfer to win his major debut since Francis Ouimet took the 1913 U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Keegan Bradley, meanwhile, won the 2011 PGA Championship in his major debut.
Whatever transpires at Muirfield next week, DeLaet has become a golfer of distinction. He's also a very decent fellow. I was at a party last year in Stuart, Fla. that Elliott Kerr, president of the Landmark Sport Group in Mississauga, Ont. hosted at his winter home during the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens. Landmark manages DeLaet's business affairs. DeLaet mingled with everybody. He could not have been friendlier.
For Canadian golf-watchers, the Open Championship, the game's best major in my opinion, just got that much more interesting. I know I'll hear this question a lot in the days leading up to the Open: How do you think DeLaet will do?
I don't know, but I believe he will be ready to deal with Muirfield when he tees it up on July 18th. He's excited about making it into the field, and you can be sure he'll give Muirfield all the respect it deserves, while not being afraid to take it on with all the game he has---and he has a lot of game.