It is all but official.
Ottawa is Golftown, Canada.
The National Capital Region has earned the distinction by riding the (golf) shirt tails of one Brad Fritsch of Manotick, who on the weekend became the first golfer from this area to qualify for the Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour. For at least a year — longer if he can play well and hang onto his Tour card — Fritsch will be rubbing elbows with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Fritsch did the trick by finishing in 18th place in 2012 earnings on the Web.com Tour.
Joining the PGA Tour from the golfing minors is a bit like leaving the bus leagues for the NHL, or leaping to the majors from Double-A baseball. Farewell, fleabag specials, Fritsch is in the Show. How neat that he can still be a wide-eyed PGA rookie at 34, an age that would render him an old man in hockey or football. By all accounts, Fritsch is the kind of down-to-earth guy you’d be comfortable having beers with, talking hockey at the bar, if there was any hockey to talk about.
So, the question: Why has it taken so darn long for someone from this golf-crazy community to crack the PGA?
Kevin Haime, the Kanata golf pro who hosts the Tee It Up show on Team 1200 every Saturday morning, says we’d have a lot more competitive players if parents were as willing to give little Johnny decent golf clubs, in the way they don’t blink at a $300 composite hockey stick or $600 skates.
At his golf school or driving range, Haime will hear parents ask: “’Can’t he get another year out of these (clubs)’? And, ‘can I cut mine down, and have him or her use them?’”
Actually, parental indifference is just one of five reasons Haime cites for Canada — not just Ottawa — producing so few PGA candidates (23 all-time).
One, cracking the PGA is gut-wrenchingly hard. “As hard or harder than making the NHL.”
Two, there haven’t been enough developmental programs in place, dating back to the days of the RCGA.
Three, private courses are not child-user-friendly. “There are still courses that restrict kids and don’t give them enough of a break in membership dues,” Haime says.
Four, PGA Canada could do more to help young golfers.
Five, back to the parents — many are more of a hindrance than a help when it comes to guiding kids into the sport, says El Haimo.
“They don’t understand the game very well, they’re not engaged in it,” Haime says, “and if their kids end up loving golf, they really don’t know how to support them.”
By comparison, signing up for hockey couldn’t be easier. The local association will take a cheque and provide all the information required; the player gets sorted on a team and instantly has a coach and a game/practice schedule. Turns out, golfers need coaches, too.
Haime has a junior golf program that sponsors 80 kids onto private golf courses to give them the kind of experience he had growing up on the Hunt Club course. Most parents don’t have a clue how to register youth players in a tournament.
“It’s hard for kids to learn how to compete, how to get into the culture of golf,” Haime says.
Slowly, this is changing.
In my neighbourhood, near Westboro, I know scores of kids, including the junior member of the household, who play as junior golfers at the Royal Ottawa. A few years ago, the Royal launched an aggressive recruiting program to provide opportunities for younger players — many play competitive hockey in winter, and golf all summer. Programs like this, and others, are bound to net future Fritsches.
“That’s happening more and more,” Haime says. “And it’s those kids ... I’ll tell you if you give me, or Paul Sherratt (Rideau View, Fritsch’s club) or Paul Carrothers at Royal, or anyone, all the AA and AAA hockey players, and you got rid of summer hockey and gave us a season with these athletes, and they were coached properly, we’d have more kids out there, no question.”
Haime has often golfed with Senators players, who lament that “golf is the hardest game.” To the contrary, Haime tells them, “if you’d spent the same amount of time with a golf pro over in Sweden, or wherever, practising every Saturday morning for two hours, you’d be a scratch (golfer) by now, or probably a pro because you’re a great athlete.
“People think you can just pick up a club and go whack it around, teach yourself.”
For local children, the story of Manotick’s Brad Fritsch is out there for incentive. If he can do it ... and his inspirational tale is getting extra media mileage because of the NHL lockout. Wisely, the Senators have quickly jumped on board as a Fritsch sponsor.
“It’s great for him that hockey is off,” Haime says. “This has become a lot more of a story than if the Senators were on a two-game slide or Spezza got hurt.”
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