Graham DeLaet starts his first tournament of 2014 this week in San Diego, teeing it up at the Farmers Insurance Open. While he'll be dialed in to that tournament on a course he loves, you can forgive him if his eyes glance down the calendar just a bit, towards April.
While every stop is important for the Canadian golfer, he is more than just a little excited about his first opportunity to play the Masters.
"When I look at the schedule, that's the one thing that stands out," he said just prior to heading out to San Diego. "I feel like I know the course so well already, the breaks on the green and where to hit it. It's my highlight sporting event of the year to watch."
DeLaet earned his spot in the field through his stellar 2013 season making it to the Tour Championship as well as finishing inside the top 50 on the Official World Golf Ranking. He even Tweeted out a picture of the official invitation, which now sits framed on a shelf in his living room.
DeLaet is planning to head up to Augusta early to get a look at the course and he'll have a pretty good tour guide with him. While playing the Shark Shootout in December with Mike Weir, the two Canadians made a plan for a side trip, likely on the Monday of one of the Florida stops.
"It won't be hard to make time for that," he said. "I've been told by a lot of people that my game suits the course, so I'm excited to get up there and see it."
There are a few stops prior to Augusta of course and DeLaet is hoping he can continue to play as he did for much of 2013, a year that saw him break out and become a bona fide world-class player. It was also a year that left him out of gas at the end, running on fumes as he hit the Christmas break.
"It was a good off season," he stated. "I was really burned at the end of last year but now my battery has been recharged and I'm ready to get going."
The recharging included he and his wife Ruby moving to Phoenix, Ariz., although he'll maintain a residence in Boise where he's lived since his school days. He also took in the Winter Classic hockey game in Ann Arbor, Mi., which he described as crazy (he was one of the few fans in attendance at the Leafs-Red Wings game wearing a Calgary Flames sweater).
And, as he got closer to returning to play, there was also a lot of practice, trying to find the feel of his almost-pure swing that statistically has him as one of the game's best ball-strikers.
The off-season was also busy from a sponsorship standpoint as most of his deals expired. He signed a new clothing contract with Puma that will see him don some bright hues, including a regular red and white outfit every Sunday. He followed that by inking a deal with Canadian communications company Shaw, whose logo will appear on his hat and bag. And, despite some very lucrative offers - one reportedly with seven figures before the decimal point - he stayed with Titleist clubs and ball.
"He was one of the hottest commodities out there. Everyone wanted him," said one equipment company executive.
That, of course, is because they - like just about every Canadian golf fan, sees the great potential in DeLaet. He sees it too and is hoping this will be the year he notches his first victory along with a few other goals.
"I'm excited," stated the Weyburn, Sask., produce who turns 32 on Wednesday. "I want to try and put myself in that position to get the first win. The Presidents Cup again, staying inside the top 50 in the world and even moving up. Those are all outcome goals. I know that they come with how I play. I've been working hard, putting in the proper practice and using the Monday, Tuesday Wednesday to take care of what I need to take care of so I'm ready on Thursday."
His tremendous play, perhaps highlighted by his Presidents Cup appearance, has meant other changes as well. First off, his schedule will be different in 2014. In fact, it already is. He skipped the SONY Open in Hawaii, and event in which he's performed well in the past and loves to attend. And there will be other tournaments that have been on his itinerary that will be squeezed out to make room for all four majors as well as the lucrative no-cut World Golf Championship events. There is a stretch starting with the British Open where he'll play eight out of nine weeks, an exhausting but unavoidable itinerary.
With the great play has also come a crushing demand on his time. More autograph requests. More sponsor requests. And more media requests.
"It comes with the territory," DeLaet said. "As I rise up the rankings, I get more attention. You try to limit it as much as you can but at the same time you know it's part of the job and you know that it's important to talk to certain people."
This week marks the start of what could be a very big year for DeLaet. He's pumped and ready for it. So is most of Canada.