Friday October 31, 2014

DeLaet learns invaluable lesson at inaugural Masters

Photo 4533 — Courtesy of SportBox Group

Masters past champion golfs practice round with De
The only two Canadian golfers at the Masters tournament, Mike Weir and Graham DeLaet, take a practice round at the Augusta Golf Course on April 8. DeLaet had the opportunity to learn the course with Weir, who won the Masters tournament in 2003 and is the only Canadian male to win one of golf's four major championships. DeLaet is a top-30 ranked golfer, who started his golf career at the Weyburn Golf Course. DeLaet is the first-ever Saskatchewan golfer to be invited to the prestigious event.

Graham DeLaet missed the cut at his first Masters. He blamed a lot of his struggles on his putter, but it was also a learning experience for the former Weyburn golfer.

DeLaet had an eight-over 80 on the first round, and despite an even-par 72 on the second round still missed the cut. The cut after two rounds was four-over-par.

The difficulty of the Augusta Golf Course proved a challenge for DeLaet, who was the first-ever Saskatchewan golfer to receive a Masters invitation.

“There’s so many little intricacies, it takes time to learn, and get familiar with some of the bounces you’re going to get,” said DeLaet. “I think it does take a few years to get the hang of this golf course and it would have been nice to play a couple more rounds. Unfortunately, I didn’t get that chance.”

DeLaet noted that his putting was one of the struggles to why he was eight-over-par on the first round. “The greens were just so much faster and trickier than I had anticipated.”

He also noted that it was a different feeling once the tournament starts, than during the practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. One of those practice rounds was with Mike Weir, who won his own green jacket during the 2003 tournament.

Prior to the Masters, Weir and DeLaet were on very divergent paths in their respective careers. Weir, the 2003 Masters winner and the only Canadian male to win one of golf’s four major championships, was struggling with injuries and a troublesome swing. Weir made the cut, but had difficulties in the third round, finishing tied for 44th.

Delaet, on the other hand, had finished in the Top 10 five times in his last 10 tournaments and is ranked 30th in the Official World Golf Rankings.

It was a dream-come true for DeLaet when he received the Masters invite in the mail. “I knew I was getting in, but when I received (the invite) it brought tears to my eyes,” said DeLaet. “The Masters invitation is something that was a dream and it was something I’ve worked hard for, and it was rewarding.”

That invitation is now framed as a keepsake. It was also rewarding for DeLaet to have his parents, his wife Ruby’s parents, and many friends down in Augusta for the week.

During round one of the Masters, DeLaet hit eight bogeys, and was on-par 10 times, with no birdies to soften his final score. Starting on the front nine, he shot back-to-back bogeys on holes one and two, and then hit four back-to-back bogeys on holes four, five, six and seven.

He was mostly on par for the back nine of the first round, shooting a bogey on hole 10 and hole 14. The final score for DeLaet was 80, eight-over-par.

During the second round, DeLaet hit five birdies and five bogies, with eight on-par shots to end with an even 72. Starting on the front nine again, DeLaet shot a birdie on hole two, a bogey on hole three, a birdie on hole five, a bogey on hole seven and a birdie on hole eight.

Then during the back nine, DeLaet shot a bogey on hole 10, a birdie on hole 13, a bogey on hole 15, a birdie on hole 16 and a birdie on hole 17.

DeLaet was done on his second round, long before Bubba Watson strung together five straight birdies on the back nine to leave most of the field behind. Watson earned his second green jacket at the Masters.

Looking back on the second round, DeLaet talked about his bogey on the par-five 15th hole. “Looking back, that 15th hole, I hit such a great shot in there and the wind switched on me and I ended up coming up 30 yards short,” said DeLaet.

“That could have been the difference — I birdied the next — but all in all, I had a great time this week.”

According to his stats for the Masters, DeLaet had hit 69.4 per cent of the greens in his two rounds, with the tournament average at 58.3 per cent. He had a 71.4 per cent average for fairways hit, compared to the tournament average of 68 per cent.

When it comes to the PGA Tour 2014 statistics, DeLaet is ranked first in ball striking, and fourth in Top 10 finishes. He is also is currently fourth overall in hitting greens in regulation, hitting a total of 463 greens in 648 holes, with a 71.45 per cent.

Even though DeLaet didn’t make the cut at the Masters, many professionals and sports analysis are predicting that Graham will win his first-ever PGA Tour event this year.

At last year’s Presidents Cup, International team captain Nick Price said DeLaet had a game that should take him to the top of the sport. Canadian David Hearn, who has played a lot of practice rounds with DeLaet on the PGA Tour over the past few years, says no one is surprised by the rise of Graham.

“He just seems to have the ability right now to shoot low numbers where he needs it,” said Hearn, who is ranked 110th in the Official World Golf Rankings, and is ranked as the second-best Canadian golfer.

“Graham is playing with that level of confidence of guys who are going to win. He has the total package,” said Hearn. “He’s putting with total confidence and he has always been a great ball striker, but he has effortless power. On courses where length might be an issue for me, Graham doesn’t have that issue.”

Even Mike Weir has a positive attitude when he talks about DeLaet’s. “He hits it long. He hits it high. He’s worked very hard on his short game, which has gotten a lot better.”

Graham’s short game will continue to improve, as he was ranked 76th in strokes gained putting in 2013, compared to 156th the previous year, due to training with former PGA Tour winner Gabriel Hjertstedt.

That strokes gained improvement could be the next step in his career. “I feel like I hit it good enough,” said DeLaet. “You’re going to have a few good weeks where you really make some putts, and hopefully that will be enough to get a win or two.”

DeLaet’s supporters from back home stayed and watched the Masters until the final round on Sunday. Graham said he even had a letter in his locker from Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall. “That was nice, and I’ve had a lot of support on Twitter and I know there’s a lot of people cheering for me. I feel I let them down a little bit, but I tried on every shot. I tried my best.”


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