An American with Southwestern Ontario ties found golf's holy grail on Wednesday: a 59.
Jesse Smith shot the coveted score at a mini-tour event in Orlando, peeling off 11 birdies at the par-70 Dubsdread Golf Club.
The 59 gave him the lead by four shots at the Fore the Players Tour event and the course record.
Oddly, none of his birdies came on Dubsdread's two par-five holes. His longest streak of birdies was four, beginning at the 12th hole.
His score might suggest a pushover course but he was one of just six men in the field of 26 to break par. He was an astonishing 30 shots better than the last-place finisher.
Smith was born and raised in New Hampshire, the son of a hockey-playing father who skated in the Ontario Hockey League before migrating to New England to play at the college and pro levels.
In an e-mail late Wednesday night, Smith said half his family is from the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ont., and he's lived there off and on over the past decade as he competed on the Great Lakes Tour (an Ontario mini-tour) and the PGA Tour of Canada, among other tours.
He spent 2005, 2006 and 2012 on the Canadian circuit and plans to tee it up north of the border again this year.
Smith will return to Dubsdread Thursday morning for the second and final round of the tournament, playing in the final group with his nearest competitor Andy Pope, who is third on the fledgling tour's career money list, and Tim Hegarty.
If he hangs on for victory, Smith can expect a winner's cheque in the low four figures, if past tournament payouts are any indication. It's small money in pro golf. Regardless, a 59 is priceless.
HIGH PROFILE FOURSOME: The First Tee of Greater Vancouver has found a foursome of high-profile B.C. golfers to champion its cause, according to pgatourcanada.com.
Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, Eugene Wong of North Vancouver, Sue Kim of Langley and veteran Dawn Coe-Jones of Campbell River have agreed to be “ambassadors” for the program, which gives kids age 7 to 18 a chance to learn golf and its core values.
The U.S.-based First Tee’s Vancouver chapter is run by the YMCA.
Hadwin is a rising star on the Web.com Tour and Wong is entering his second season on the PGA Tour of Canada. Kim plays on the Symetra Tour and Coe-Jones is a Canadian Golf Hall of Famer who was a three-time winner on the LPGA Tour.
ON THE TEE: Alena Sharp of Hamilton will make her season debut on the LPGA Tour this week at the Kia Classic in Carlsbad, Calif.
Sharp of Hamilton skipped the tour’s season-opening events in Australia and Asian. Then, without full-time status this year, she wasn’t able to get into the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix last week.
She told the Brantford Expositor she was disappointed to miss the Founders Cup, especially considering the tournament takes place close to her adopted home in Chandler, Ariz., and her parents were visiting.
“I have been working hard and was itching to play,” she told Brian Smiley of Brantford. “ (It’s) tough sitting around while everyone else is playing.”
She hasn’t played on the LPGA Tour since last September, when she tied for 37th place at the Navistar LPGA Classic. It was her second-best finish of a disappointing year in which she finished at No. 103 on the money list.
However, since then she’s competed at lower levels, recording a victory on the Cactus Tour and a runner-up finish on the second-tier Symetra Tour this winter.
“All aspects of my game are exactly where I want them to be,” she told Smiley.
Sharp will be among six Canadians in the Kia field. The others are Sara Maude Juneau, Lorie Kane, Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, Rebecca Lee-Bentham and Stephanie Sherlock.
LONG BOMBER: Maude-Aimee LeBlanc of Sherbrooke, Que., leads the LPGA Tour in driving distance with an average swat off the tee of 294.5 yards.
The tour sophomore is also third in greens in regulation (80.6 per cent).
But it’s early in the season and her results are based on just one start, the Founders Cup, where she missed the cut.
BRAND NEW: The Canadian Tour’s evolution into the PGA Tour Canada took another step Wednesday with the unveiling of its new website.
The next step for pgatourcanada.com will be to have a link to it from the PGA Tour’s website.
The PGA Tour took over the Canadian Tour last year and renamed it PGA Tour Canada. Eight tournaments are on the schedule so far, with the first being the Times Colonist Island Savings Open in June.
First up, though, the developmental circuit will hold its spring qualifying school, which is scheduled to begin April 9 in Beaumont, Calif.
BACK IN THE GAME: Seema Sadekar returns to the Symetra Tour this week as she revives her playing career.
The Toronto pro broke onto the developmental circuit in 2008 but last played regularly in 2011, leaving to focus on her business interests, which includes fashion.
But she says she wants to play a “few” times this year. This week, she’s in the field of the Florida’s Natural Charity Classic in Winter Haven, Fla.
The other Canadians in the Classic, which begins Friday, are Izzy Beisiegel, Angela Buzminski, Kirby Dreher, Lisa Meldrum, Danielle Mills, Samantha Richdale, Ashley Sholer and Nicole Vandermade.
WINNING AT AUGUSTA: Riley Wheeldon’s pro golf career hasn’t yet reached the global level but he can proudly say he has already won at Augusta. Well, North Augusta anyway.
The 22-year-old from Comox, B.C., topped the field Sunday at the Kandy Waters Memorial Classic in North Augusta, S.C.
North Augusta is just across the state line and Savannah River from Augusta, Ga., site of the Masters.
“Winning in Augusta obviously feels special,” Wheeldon told ngatour.com Sunday afternoon. “Obviously it’s not the one I really want but it feels great and I’m really happy.”
The victory is Wheeldon’s first on the NGA Pro Golf Tour. His $30,500 (U.S.) paycheque represents about half what he’s earned on a golf course since turning pro in November of 2010.
At a difficult Mount Vintage Plantation Golf Club on Sunday, Wheeldon shot two-under-par 70 to reach four under for the 72-hole tournament.
That was one shot better than a pair of Americans, Brian Richey and Patton Kizzre.
Wheeldon, who has had two other top-10 finishes on the NGA Tour this year, cited patience as the biggest factor in his win. “I had a tendency in the past to let mistakes really get me off my game,” he said after his round, wearing a green shirt to mark St. Patrick’s Day. “I’ve been working on staying patient, hanging on. Luckily this week on a tough course in tough conditions, it worked out.”
Wheeldon, a former member of Canada’s national amateur team and a B.C. Junior Boys champion, has played most of his pro golf on the PGA Tour Canada and the 25-year-old NGA Tour, a mini-tour that was once known as the Hooters Tour and bills itself as North America’s third-best circuit (behind the PGA and Web.com tours).
While the latter may be debatable, it has been undeniably an important development circuit whose most recent graduates include PGA Tour winners Keegan Bradley, Bubba Watson and Gary Woodland. Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, is a former winner of the Kandy Waters.
Wheeldon would like the follow the same trail to the higher levels of golf.
The North Augusta victory helps with him with that bid. It puts him in first place in the NGA’s race to get an exemption into the Web.com’s BMW Charity Classic. He’s also now in second spot in the race to win the NGA’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s Reno-Tahoe Open.
GOING DEEP Jim Rutledge of Victoria posted the low round of the day Sunday at the Champions Tour’s Toshiba Classic in Newport Beach, Calif. – a scorching nine-under 62 that catapulted him into a tie for eighth place.
Rutledge climbed 43 spots on the leader board in the third and final round at Newport Beach Country Club to record the fourth top-10 finish of his Champions Tour career.
Starting the day 14 shots behind second-round leader David Frost, Rutledge was never going to win Sunday. But his binge of nine birdies gave him the lowest score of his Champions Tour career and highest finish of the year.
The 62 also tied the tournament record, held by Tom Watson and Hale Irwin. (Sixty-three-year-old Watson, incidentally, shot 66 Sunday and placed fifth.) Rutledge had two streaks of three consecutive birdies during the round Sunday. He also went 4-for-5 and 5-for-6 at two points.
Rutledge also shot 62 at the PGA of Canada’s 2010 Canadian PGA Seniors’ Championship, which he won.
FINISHING STRONG Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., put on a final-round flourish of his own, shooting four-under 67 at the Tampa Bay Championship on Sunday to soar 24 spots on the leader board to a share of 17th place.
It was DeLaet’s best score in a final round this year on the PGA Tour and gave him his fourth consecutive top-25 result.
HOLA LATINOAMERICA Derek Gillespie of Oshawa, Ont., was the low Canadian at the Abierto Mexicano de Golf, the opening event of the PGA Tour Latinoamerica season.
Gillespie finished the tournament at Club de Golf Mexico at three-over 291 on Sunday.
That gave him a share of 27th place, 10 shots behind winner Ted Purdy.
Langley, B.C., native Adam Cornelson, one of four Canadians with status on the developmental circuit, tied for 50th at seven over.
SOUTH AFRICAN STEAMROLL They might as well rename the European Tour the South African Tour.
South Africans have dominated the circuit this season. Thomas Aiken became the sixth South African winner of the 2013 European Tour when he captured the Avantha Masters in India on Sunday.
The other Springboks hoisting trophies this year were Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Richard Sterne, Darren Fichardt and Dawie Van Der Walt.
There’s been just 12 events on the European Tour this season, and two of those were co-sanctioned World Golf Championships.
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