Canada’s New Face in Golf

Late on a Friday morning at the RBC Canadian Open in July, the front nine at Shaughnessy took on an Augusta air. Shouts and cheers rang out from the gallery following Rickie Fowler, the Tour’s 2010 Rookie of the Year, known for his powerful swing, charisma, and terrific hair. Generously listed at 5’9” and 150 pounds, the young pro delighted the crowd with his surprising length, crisp shot-making, and clever, if not entirely reliable, short game.

A few holes away, maybe a dozen people were following Adam Hadwin. The two share golf games and rock-star auras, as the world would soon realize. In fact, by the time Sunday rolled around, it was Hadwin, not Fowler, who was playing in the final group, and it was he who had a gallery in the thousands.

In the end, Hadwin didn’t win the Canadian Open. He didn’t become the first Canadian in 57 years to take the national title. But he finished in a tie for fourth (worth $228,800), vaulting him up the list of those vying to succeed Mike Weir as the new face of Canadian golf. There’s a slow road to the PGA Tour, but there’s also a fast lane, and Hadwin’s on it. To stay there, he has to become one of those rare, out-of-nowhere players who parlays two or three good tournaments into a full-time card.

“Nowhere,” of course, is a relative term. Hadwin’s in the midst of his second solid year on the Canadian Tour after a respectable college career at the University of Louisville. He was a teenager before he took up golf in a serious way. His father, Gerry Hadwin, is a pro who teaches out of Morgan Creek, near White Rock. Adam played a little golf when he was young but preferred baseball, where he starred as a pitcher and a middle infielder until he soured on the “political aspect” of team sports. “I got tired of going out and working hard,” he says, “and not getting picked for certain teams.”

By then, he was living in Abbotsford, a consequence of his mother, Brenda’s, career with Sears Canada. “I was born in Moose Jaw,” he says. “We moved to Grande Prairie, to Nanaimo, to Abbotsford, to Victoria, and back to Abbotsford.” The Fraser Valley city and its Ledgeview Golf Club may have produced more top golfers per capita than any other place in the country.

Hadwin wasn’t always the heir apparent. His contemporary, Nick Taylor, while a junior at the University of Washington, was ranked the world’s top amateur for 20 weeks. It was Taylor, as well as Ontario’s Matt Hill, not Hadwin, who seemed destined, with luck, to raise Canada to golf prominence. “Nick won eight tournaments in college,” Hadwin recalls. “I only won once.”

Hadwin is now indisputably the farthest along, in part because he’s the longest and straightest off the tee. Indeed, his ball-striking stats put him in the top echelon of the pro game. If he has an Achilles heel, it’s around the green. At the Open, he played alongside Hill for the first two rounds, routinely outdriving his compatriot by 20 yards. Unlike many smaller men who hit long, Hadwin neither turns his shoulders dramatically, like Rickie Fowler, nor unhinges his wrists at the last instant, like Sergio Garcia—traits that can be hard to manage under pressure. Both Hadwin and his coach/caddy, Brett Saunders, believe his power stems from the simple efficiency of his swing. “If Adam could putt,” says his dad, “he’d have been on tour when he was 17.”

A week after his fourth-place finish, Hadwin played the Greenbrier Classic, to which he’d received entry by finishing in the top 10 at Shaughnessy. Getting to West Virginia was an adventure. His courtesy car was broken into and a laptop, as well as his girlfriend’s passport, were stolen. En route to Roanoke, the plane encountered mechanical difficulties, leading to three flight delays. He finally got to Greenbrier only to learn that some of his luggage—including his clubs—had landed in Washington, D.C. He was able to get out on the course for only a brief practice session but still finished the tournament in a tie for 32nd.That was good for another $32,486, which lifted his earnings for the year to $302,440.

But for a missed putt on Shaughnessy’s last hole, he’d have climbed into the Top 150 on the money list, which, if maintained at season’s end, would have granted him partial Tour status for 2012. Hadwin’s reps are pleading with tournament directors to get him a few fall series starts in the hope that he can reach that goal. If not, it will be back to the slow lane, and the grind of qualifying school.