Canadian Tour Releases Study on "Pro Gap"

So the Canadian Tour has released a study documenting the so-called “pro gap,” that comes after Canada’s top golfers turn professional. The objective seems to be determining why the country doesn’t have more golfers competing at the top levels of the game. Currently there are only four Canadians (three home grown) competing on the PGA Tour. There are quite a number at the Nationwide Tour — including David Hearn and Jon Mills who finished second and third at the Nationwide Tour stop on the weekend in San Francisco.

To see the paper, go here.

After reading it, it seems like most of the evidence in support is either anecdotal or taken from Henry Brunton’s paper on the difficulties of Canadian golfers turning pro (which is credited). The goal of the paper is to address concerns heading into the 2016 Olympics, where golf will be involved for the first time in more than 100 years.

Thats because the international golf community tends to view the PGA TOUR as a barometer of a nations success on the golf course. Since George Knudson won eight PGA TOUR events between 1961 and 1972, only a smattering of Canadians have made a dent in the consciousness of the golf world: Richard Zokol (one tour win), Dave Barr (two) and Dan Halldorson (one official and one unofficial win) in the 80s and 90s, and Mike Weir (eight) and Stephen Ames (four) since.
In relative terms, at least, Canada barely registers. Why does a country as golfmad as Canada see so little of itself on the games greatest stages? The answer may lie in the gap between when a young Canadian player turns0 professional and when he first reaches the PGA TOUR. The gap”five years, typically”is an impossible period to bridge for many players.

There’s surely some truth to this — after all, Graham DeLaet, who has had a successful rookie season on the PGA Tour, was almost broke two years ago while chasing his dream. DeLaet told me that some local businessmen in Idaho, where he went to school, were supposed to offer financial support, but failed to come through. Wonder what they are thinking now?

Canadian Tour commissioner Rick Janes asks how many Canadian could have excelled with greater financial support:

We ask ourselves all the time where the next Mike Weir or George Knudson is coming from, when in fact the question may well be how many players have fallen through the cracks for lack of funding, says Canadian Tour commissioner Rick Janes. Players will run out of money long before they run out of talent.

I wonder about that too. Unfortunately I think the paper fails to provide much in the way of concrete support for the notion that more money would produce more top male golfers. I mean it seems logical — but the paper only supports it through comments from those golfers on tour.

Mills suggests having financial backing frees golfers up to find their way on tour:

I didn’t play well my first year, but I had good funding, good backers, to where I didn’t have to worry about money early on; I could just go out and play, Mill says. Sponsorships, be they equipment deals or financing help with private supporters, can make all the difference. For a guy who maybe hasn’t had that kind of a college career or anything like that, it’s going to be extra tough, Mills adds.

Another way to look at it is that Canada’s tougher system — with less financial opportunity than some golfers get in the U.S. — creates a thicker-skinned breed of golfer. Weir, after all, had to have his future wife caddie for him and famously went nearly broke in Australia while playing. But he eventually emerged on top. The question is which Canadian golfer failed to progress due to lack of funds? I wonder if part of the problem is mini-tours like the Canadian Tour. These tours offer so little pay-off to all but those that win, that most golfers lose significant sums just trying to move forward.

So what is the conclusion? Dave Barr says corporate Canada needs to step up:

Corporate Canada has to get involved more with the Canadian Tour, and it doesnt necessarily have to be in a big way, says Barr, also a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. It seems like everyone sits back and waits for someone else to do something, but then they wonder where all the Canadians are.

Royal Bank has already stepped up to some extent in trying to deal with the issue by offering some degree of financial support. But Barr seems to think corporate Canada just needs to help, that supporting golf is some sort of charity. In order to garner support, corporate Canada has to see some value in supporting young golfers? Where is the pay off for them? Hate to be pragmatic about it, but that’s how companies see it. It no longer matters if the CEO plays golf — it matters whether there is value. And the top young Canadian pros — from Richard Scott to Andrew Parr — all have had solid financial support. So did Chris Baryla, who used some of that money to chase entries into the Nationwide Tour.

The paper concludes that perhaps we should have a “Team Canada” of young golfers, and that fans need to support the Canadian Tour more. Wow. Is that the best we can do?

The paper also suggests — not so subtly — that it is time for Mike Weir and Stephen Ames to offer financial support to Canadian golfers. I’m not sure this was the way to go about it…

Angel Cabrera recently gave a generous donation to help young Argentines who are starting their professional golf careers, while the Swedish Golf Federation has petitioned its touring pros for similar support.

The obvious implication is what are Weir and Ames doing?

And in a case of hell freezing over, I find myself agreeing with Sean Foley:

Ultimately, there is no instant remedy, warns Sean Foley, a leading Canadian coach whose stable of PGA TOUR players includes Stephen Ames, Justin Rose, Sean OHair, Hunter Mahan, and the LPGA Tours Lorie Kane. In some cases, it simply boils down to Ben Hogans famous advice about digging it out of the dirt. It is important that players make the necessary sacrifices, says Foley. You have to bear down and do it”there is no other way.

I suppose in the end the paper is successful if it gets people talking about this issue. But I find it short on concrete conclusions and long on conjecture. It’ll be interesting to see if anything comes out of it, considering it appears at the same time the Canadian Tour seems to be struggling to stay alive.

Update: CanTour commissioner Rick Janes called me this afternoon to say he had never been as excited about the possibilities and opportunities for the Canadian Tour as he is now. I told him I’d send him some questions — and I’m interested in his response to the tour losing a number of events, as reported here.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • We currently have four Canadians on the PGA Tour – that sounds about right. I can remember the pre-Weir days where we were lucky to have one! I would certainly like to have more top Canadian golfers, and we seem under-represented vs. countries like Australia, South Africa and Sweden. But what is the cost to get our guys to the top?

    The Canadian Tour has a great bunch of guys and it is somewhat disappointing that they don’t get more support and respect in the Canadian sporting community.

    If a top Canadian amateur plays US college golf, which almost all of them do, then what is so different about the development of a Canadian vs. an American in the post-graduation phase? Presumably they had access to similar resources while in college.

    The report, at least the introduction, fails to mention Ian Leggatt – didn’t he win a PGATour event, the Tucson Open?

  • ” I think the paper fails to provide much in the way of concrete support for the notion that more money would produce more top male golfers. I mean it seems logical ” RT…I am really never amazed at how absolutely shallow your writing is. There is ample research and evidence that success at the elite level of any sport requires resources (coaching, world class competition, facilities, etc). If you would just get off the big ass of yours you could find the research, but that would require work. Your other comment “Another way to look at it is that Canada’s tougher system — with less financial opportunity than some golfers get in the U.S. — creates a thicker-skinned breed of golfer.” is just dumb. Without financial support, you don’t get thicker skinned golfers, you get golfers that leave the game. Want an example? Canada lead the world at the winter olympics. Why? Funding, this group of athletes was the best funded and that leads to success. You really should get your head out of the bunker and do some real research before you engage your laptop.

  • “Rick”

    The point is that in a well researched paper, I shouldn’t have to “get off the big ass,” to see some support for the perspective being put forward. Your Olympic analysis seems to make sense — can you show me an example where it has for golf? And if this is the case, perhaps the paper should have made it clear.

    If there is ample support why didn’t you bring any to this discussion instead of simply insulting me. Why? Because the information isn’t that easy to locate.

    And frankly, I do wonder whether there is any relation between participation levels in a sport and players being at the game’s highest levels. If one could show me that because Sweden has 10 tour pros that participation in the sport has expanded dramatically, then I’d suggest that’s what we need to grow the game.

    Once again, I’d like to have someone point out to me the golfer in Canada who was not successful because they didn’t have the appropriate funding.

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