GULLANE, Scotland - Graham DeLaet strolled around the back nine at Muirfield Golf Course on Tuesday afternoon, hitting great shots and laughing along with playing partner Johnson Wagner. Even decked out in his flashy Roughrider-green, Sligo outfit, the pride of Weyburn, Sask., looked as if he belonged here. He was confident and more than capable of playing in a major as he did his recon work for Thursday's opening round.
He boomed drives and ripped low irons off onto the rock-hard fairways of Muirfield, watching them run and run. He seemed at ease, as though he was playing a Saturday morning nassau. He smiled often and stopped to sign autographs. Quite clearly, the leading Canadian golfer was enjoying himself this day.
The Open Championship marks DeLaet's first major, a big step up for the 31-year-old. But it's certainly no surprise. This year, he's been playing some exceptional golf and a look at the PGA Tour statistics gives clear evidence.
DeLaet is No. 1 in Greens in Regulation; first in Actual Scoring Average; first in Ball Striking; fifth in Total Birdies; second in Par-5 Performance and 12th in Driving Distance. The list goes on, showing his stirling play so far in 2013. The numbers are almost mind-boggling. Some players can be good across one or two categories, but he's near the top in so many, it's easy to lose count.
"It's felt pretty consistent all year," said DeLaet, who is also 28th on the money list with just over $1.5 million. "I've been hitting the ball well. I've been driving it better the past month or so, which I was kind of struggling with earlier in the year, which is kind of my strength.
"And I've been holing a lot more putts this year which is kind of the difference between finishing top 25 and having those 50th- and 45th-place finishes."
Still, even with his great play this year, the Open Championship is a major, a different beast where the best bring their best. DeLaet senses the rarified air at Muirfield but isn't shying away.
"Obviously there's a different feel around the week," he stated. "The infrastructure around the golf courses is pretty unreal but at the same time I think if I would have qualified for this back when I was playing PGA Tour Canada, it might have been a little overwhelming for me. But we see this week-in and week-out (on the PGA Tour) just not quite at this level."
DeLaet has limited experience playing links golf. He teed it up in the Dunhill Cup twice (it's the European Tour's answer to the Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and played in the British Amateur a while back. Despite that, he feels comfortable with the bumps and humps and wind he'll face this week.
"I'm not a wily veteran by any means," he said, "but I feel I have an understanding of how to play, especially from a mental standpoint.
"Out here it's really controlling your emotions just as much as your golf ball. You're going get some bad breaks, you're going to make some bogeys when you hit good shots, but that's links golf."
DeLaet said his plan is just to commit to each shot as they unfold, however, as he chatted by the home hole after finishing his practice, he didn't miss the chance for one longer-term vision.
"The goal is to be here on 18, late on Sunday."
That would be a major achievement for DeLaet.