Canadians love a good story, they admire a gritty blue-collar attitude, and they respect a bona fide mane of hockey hair.
Can it be any wonder, then, that a nation of golf fans fell in love with Adam Hadwin this week?
Hadwin didn’t win the RBC Canadian Open, held at Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, but he won the crowd. The 23-year-old from Abbotsford was in contention all weekend en route to finishing in a fourth-place tie, two strokes behind American Sean O’Hair, who won in a playoff over Kris Blanks.
It was a milestone finish for Hadwin, with many tangible benefits. His share of the $5.2 million purse was $228,800 – more than five times his previous career-high payday. He won the Rivermead Cup, emblematic of the top Canadian golfer in the Canadian Open field, for the second straight year (he tied for 37th in 2010). Hadwin also earned an exemption into the next PGA Tour event, the Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia.
But it felt like something even more special was happening – the launch of a charismatic new Canadian golf star.
Everywhere at Shaughnessy on Sunday, folks were bruising their palms in support of Hadwin. He got a huge ovation every time he made his walk up to the green. He got a huge ovation when he knocked his tee shot to within two feet on the par-three 12th hole. He even got an ovation after emerging from a port-o-potty on the 13th.
Then there was the applause coming up the 18th – an extended standing ovation from the fans in the bleachers that Hadwin said “sends chills down your spine.”
“It’s a pretty neat feeling,” he said afterward. “It was really nice playing in front of a country today.”
Hadwin, a second-year Canadian Tour pro playing just his third career PGA Tour event thanks to a sponsor’s exemption, found himself on the brink of history heading into Sunday’s final round, sitting one stroke back of leader Bo Van Pelt at four under par. No Canadian had won the national open championship since 1954, when Pat Fletcher did it.
The front nine was a ragged stretch for Hadwin, though. He bogeyed the first and sixth holes, then four-putted on the eighth green for a gut-wrenching double-bogey.
When his tee shot on 11 sliced way to the right, landing in the rough just off the adjacent 13th fairway, it looked like Hadwin’s dreams of winning were toast. But he chipped onto the 13th fairway, hit a ridiculous approach shot between the trees that landed back on the 11th green, then two-putted to limit the damage to a bogey.
That recovery seemed to ignite Hadwin’s game. His tee shot on 12 stopped just shy of the hole, and he tapped in for his first birdie of the day. He followed that up with birdies on the next two holes, capping the stretch by draining a 30-foot putt on the 14th that drew an explosive roar from the gallery.
The trio of birdies got Hadwin back to within a stroke of the leaders at -2 for the tournament, but he would get no closer, parring the last four holes.
Afterward, Hadwin was quick to note his day could have been even more memorable if he hadn’t stickhandled around the hole on the eighth green. But he said he was “extremely proud” of the way he rallied.
“I kept telling myself that whole time that I wasn’t as bad as I was showing,” he said. “There were only a few times out there where I felt nervous, and to be honest, there weren’t many of them.
“When I did feel nervous, I just talked myself into hitting a good shot.”
If his wardrobe was any indication, Hadwin embraced the pressure of playing with the weight of a nation’s expectations on his shoulders. He wore a red shirt with a white cap and pants.
“I was debating whether to wear it yesterday, being so high up (on the leaderboard),” Hadwin said with a chuckle. “But my girlfriend actually convinced me that I wasn’t going to play bad yesterday, and that I could wear it today.”
Making the day even more special for Hadwin was the fact his younger brother Kyle was able to walk the course. Kyle, 20, has been battling Crohn’s disease, and he’s undergone five surgeries since last August. He was at Shaughnessy on Friday and Sunday, marking the first time he’s been able to watch Adam in person since last year’s Canadian Open.
“I had to take yesterday off,” Kyle Hadwin said. “There was no way I would have made it three days in a row. But I needed to be here today. I needed to see this.
“It was amazing. The front nine he struggled a little bit, but we all had faith and we knew he was going to have a good back nine. He made those three birdies in a row, and it was unbelievable watching coming in. The last thing I needed was a high heart rate, but he left one for me.”
Hadwin said he’ll keep this week’s accomplishment in perspective.
“You’re not going to build a career on one event,” he said. “If I just fold, people are going to look at me like a one-hit wonder. I don’t want that. I’ll just go back to the drawing board, and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Adam Hadwin uses some body English in an effort to coax a long putt into the hole at the RBC Canadian Open.