That’s the sort of thing that happens in the weird and wonderful world of Eugene Wong, perhaps Canada’s next golf star.
On Friday I drove out to Rattlesnake Point, the less than memorable Clublink facility near Milton, to get a sense of the next generation of Canadian golfers as Golf Canada showcased their national teams. They’ve done it for a number of years now; I remember playing with Andrew Parr at Mississaugua and Todd Halpen at Beacon Hall. Both were eye-opening with their abilities, though neither has made a huge impact in the pros.
There’s a lot of interest in Canadian amateur golf these days, especially on the men’s side. Two weeks ago, Bright’s Grove’s Matt Hill decided to forgo his senior year and turn professional, making his debut at the Memorial. He missed the cut but everyone feels the future is bright. And there’s Nick Taylor from Abbotsford, who made the cut at last year’s U.S. Open, and will likely turn pro after the U.S. Amateur. Throw into the mix the likes of Cam Burke, who has won two Canadian Amateurs, and Mitch Sutton, who followed Hill to NC State, and you’ve got a potent group of youngsters.
It wasn’t long ago that we were asking big questions about the future of Canadian golf. Suddenly the future seems very bright indeed and leading that pack is Eugene Wong, now 19 and ranked #17 in the world among amateurs. He also just beat Taylor at the NCAA tournament and won the Jack Nicklaus award.
Wong is an incredibly polite, sharp teenager. Sometimes, when playing with him it is hard to imagine just how young he is. But the path to this moment has been set out for years — he started hitting golf balls when he was 3 and began getting notes from US schools when he hit his teen years.
“My Dad said I should check the mail, and I remember thinking, ‘Holy Cow,'” Wong explained between shots on Friday. Yep, ‘Holy Cow.’ He’s that kind of kid. He’s the kind of wide-eyed kid who has learned a lot from University of Oregon coach Casey Martin (yep, that one). He’s also got a ton of game — and though it is far from perfect (he hits the ball too high for some schools of thought) — he’s pretty damned impressive considering he’s got two years of school left.
“We have to keep the message to these kids to do all the right stuff,” says Henry Brunton, who calls Wong “the real deal.” “These guys are clearly good enough if they control the controllables and have a little bit of luck.”
In our game Wong shot 65 — or at least that’s what he guessed. Nobody really kept score. But he made a boatload of birdies and an eagle on a 544-yard par-5 when a television crew came by to see what he was made of. It was an impressive display.
Will Wong make it? Hard to say. The world of Canadian golf is littered with the Brent Franklins, James Lepps, and Rob McMillans of the world — players with seemingly boundless potential who didn’t quite make it in the end.
But Wong seems to have all the right elements — a wonderful short game, the ability to hit the ball long and straight. We’ll see first hand what he’s made of — Wong was given an exemption into the Canadian Open on Friday.