By Robert Thompson
It is where talent goes to be fostered, to improve and to make the move to the next level. PGA Tour Canada is entering its sophomore season having emerged from the former Canadian Tour. Becoming part of the PGA Tour network allowed players involved to have a clear path to the next stage of their professional golf careers, in this instance a direct route for some to the Web.com Tour. Already a number of graduates from the tour's inaugural season are out on the Web.com, including two-time Canadian Amateur winner Mackenzie Hughes from Dundas, Ont., and former amateur standout Albin Choi from Toronto.
This year's PGA Tour Canada schedule has already started with a bang with the first two tournaments, in Vancouver and Victoria, drawing more than 140 players trying to Monday qualify for a handful of spots into the events.
"Half of the players who made the cut in Vancouver were first-time players on PGA Tour Canada," said Jeff Monday, president of PGA Tour Canada. "That means we're attracting talented new players, and that's key to our mandate."
Is the game's next star going to emerge from the tour and follow in the footsteps of Matt Kuchar, Steve Stricker and Mike Weir, golfers who made their start in Canada's golfing minor leagues? Here are 10 players, five international players and five Canucks, who could make the leap to the next level in 2015. They are battling for the coveted five spots on the money list that will move them to the Web.com, while others will gain access to the revamped PGA Tour qualifying school.
Chris Williams: The former top amateur in the world, and the winner of the Ben Hogan Award while playing at the University of Washington, Williams has a lot in common with Canadian Nick Taylor, who also held both of those honors during his college career while playing for the same school. Williams, who was the top amateur for about a year, won six times in his college career and started his time on PGA Tour Canada by tying for fourth after shooting 66 in his final round.
Ryan McCormick: The 2014 Big East Individual Champion, and Big East player of the year while playing for St. John's University, McCormick is making his debut on PGA Tour Canada. McCormick is already being compared to other golfers who played in the Big East, including Keegan Bradley, and won three of his final seven events as a collegiate player. McCormick's hot hand has continued, and he finished in the Top 10 at his first tournament on PGA Tour Canada.
Alexis Anghert: A French citizen who played his university golf at Laval outside of Montreal, Anghert tied for second at the PGA Tour Canada qualifying school earlier this year. Anghert played on the Gateway and NGA Tours after leaving school. His first tournament of the year wasn't a huge success, but Anghert has the possibility of being this year's Max Gilbert, the Quebec golfer who came from nowhere to win PGA Tour Canada's Tour Championship in 2013.
Mario Clemens: The 2013 Mexican Amateur champion, who played PGA Tour LatinoAmerica, opened his rookie year on PGA Tour Canada by firing a 66. He couldn't keep up the momentum, but he comes to Canada having had some success in South America, including a tie for fourth at the Abierto de Chile. Clemens had a successful college career at the University of California - Los Angeles before switching to Southern Methodist University in Dallas for his final year as an amateur.
Jack Newman: Iowa's Newman turned heads when he fired a 61 during the third round of the opening tournament of the PGA Tour Canada schedule. It shouldn't have come as any surprise given that Newman, who went to Michigan State, is a former U.S. Public Links champion and played in the Masters in 2009.
Brad Clapp: A former club pro, Clapp continues to get better and better. The Chilliwack, BC, golfer came in second in the initial Vancouver PGA Tour Canada tournament and surprised a lot of people who maybe weren't aware of his abilities. That said, Clapp was the 2012 BC PGA Player of the Year, won the BC PGA Assistants title, and says he wasn't going to move forward until his game was ready. It appears that time is now.
Eugene Wong: Former winner of the Nicklaus Award as an amateur, Wong exploded onto the tour two years ago, winning twice. However, he couldn't elevate his game in the same way as a PGA Tour Canada regular last year. That said, the Vancouver native with the nifty short game (he won the Tour Championship in 2013 by holing a wedge shot) already has a second-place finish this year, so it looks like he's poised to fulfill his potential.
Matt Hill: Formerly one of the top amateurs in the world from Brights Grove, Ont., the home of Mike Weir, Hill made the leap to the Web.com Tour in 2013. He made nine cuts in 17 tournaments on the Web.com, but couldn't hold on to his playing privileges. A notoriously streaky player, Hill once won eight straight tournaments in college. Perhaps he'll get on another run that will take him back to the Web.com Tour in 2015.
Mike Gligic: Eschewing college and heading straight to the pro ranks turned out to work for Gligic, from Burlington, Ont. Gligic had a bit of an unsettled year in 2013, which followed his breakthrough season that saw him win in Alberta and rise to the top of the money list. However, working with London, Ont. instructor Gareth Raflewski, Gligic looks refocused. Expect a solid year from him in 2014.
Cory Renfrew: Renfrew's accomplishments are numerous, including winning the BC Mid-Am, finishing runner-up in the Canadian Mid-Am, and third in the Canadian Amateur. He earned his PGA Tour Canada card in 2012, and had a breakthrough year, finishing second at the Victoria Times Colonist Island Savings Open and winning the Syncrude Boreal Open, while finishing third on the Order of Merit. Renfrew had three Top 10 finishes in 2014.