Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tour's homegrown stars showing they have game

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The tradition of Canadian in Canadian Tour appears to be strong heading into this week's Players Cup at Pine Ridge.

The Winnipeg event has long upheld its end of the bargain in that regard, from the days of Dan Halldorson and Dave Barr, through Rob McMillan and Jon Mills to three Canucks in a row from 2007-2009: Mike Mezei, Wes Heffernan and Graham DeLaet.

When things get underway this morning for the 72-hole, $150,000 tournament, there are more than just a few Canadian options to be holding the trophy come Sunday afternoon.

On the tour's 2012 money list, the top three spots are occupied by Matt Hill of Sarnia, Ont., Cory Renfrew of Victoria, B.C. and Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont. The trio has combined for victories in the last three tournaments, and if a fourth Canadian in a row is coming this week, it will equal a tour record.

Six of the top 10 on the money list are Canadian, with Abbotsford, B.C.'s Nick Taylor at No. 7, Derek Gillespie of Oshawa, Ont., at No. 9 and Merritt, B.C.'s Roger Sloan at No. 10.

And the impactful presence of those sporting the maple leaf is something of a youth movement, too. Gillespie, at 33, is the oldest of the top-10 players and the only one over the age of 30.

"It's great to see," said Hill, just 23 and a winner in a four-hole playoff last week in Saskatoon. He was the 2009 NCAA champion after winning eight tournaments in a row. "I guess it's been three (winners) this year, pretty cool, and it kind of shows Canadian golf is taking a step in the right direction.

"The national team programs, I think that's been great for me. I think Nick would say that and some of the others, too.

"I think Canadian golf has a bright future, as we've seen so far this year. And with Graham DeLaet playing well, and David Hearn (on the PGA Tour)."

Renfrew, who's a rookie pro at 26, beat Hill in a four-hole playoff two weeks ago in Fort McMurray, Alta.

"It's cool to be named in there with Matt Hill, Nick and all the other young guys," said Renfrew, who finished tied for second in his first event as a CanTour pro in Victoria in June. "There are great players from the U.S. and other countries but I think everyone's kind of proud to be Canadian and play on this tour, trying to make a name for themselves here rather than just blend in down south."

Renfrew competed in the Canadian Amateur in Winnipeg last summer, leading for much of the week before finishing tied for third. He turned professional later than many.

"Maybe I would have rather started younger, learning things by turning pro, but I'm sure I've learned lots playing amateur and competing and trying to win... amateur events, trying to win those as opposed to just trying to make cuts at the Canadian Tour level," he said.

Taylor, who was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world and the Ben Hogan award winner as the top NCAA player in 2010, is just 24 and his chart this season shows a couple of top-10's.

"It's all about getting more comfortable, maybe travelling more," Taylor said about pro golf. "There's a little bit of an adjustment period, playing for money. It doesn't matter what anybody says, there's a difference."

Taylor said he's enthused to be among the home-soil players on their game.

"There are a lot of young players playing well and that's cool to see," he said. "Hope we can keep going."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2012 D4

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