GOLF

Graham DeLaet announces his retirement from the PGA Tour

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In the third round of the 2017 PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Golf Club, Graham DeLaet went par-3 13e hole and hit a crisp iron which flew over the pin, rolled past the cup and stopped four inches from the hole, narrowly missing a hole in one. After tapping he went to par-4 14e tee and again drilled his tee shot precisely towards the green. He landed on the front, rolled to the pin and bounced back, narrowly missing the exceptionally rare on a par 4.

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Two swings, two nearly perfect shots, both coming from a guy who could barely walk due to the pain shooting through his back.

In many ways, it epitomizes the career of DeLaet, one of Canada’s greatest and almost certainly toughest golfers.

This week, DeLaet finally succumbed to his back pain and announced his retirement from the PGA Tour.

“Every part of me has always wanted to keep playing and keep doing what I’m doing,” DeLaet said. “I love the game. I love the competition and everything, but every time I tried to step it up and practice again, I would back off. It got to the point where it wasn’t worth it anymore. pain because it was affecting my life with my family and the things I wanted to do at home with my kids and all that kind of stuff. So finally, after multiple decisions and a lot of tears, Ruby [his wife] and I realized it was probably time to move on.

The 40-year-old has been battling his wobbly back since he was 15. When it was good enough to let him play he could hit a ball with such precision it made a unique sound coming off the face of the club a crisp click that would send the ball off like a ball and turn heads on the practice of his peers.

When it was bad, he would spend hours getting treatment before and after his rounds, relying on chiropractors and physiotherapists to bend it into some sort of shape that would allow him to put it in place. When the pain got too much, he underwent back surgeries (he had a microdiscectomy long before Tiger Woods), stem cell treatments, cortisone injections, cryotherapy and, most recently, nerve ablations.

There were times when DeLaet didn’t hit a practice shot or even walk the course before the tournament started and could barely navigate any incline without nearly falling to his knees. That was the case during that 2017 PGA Championship. Yet somehow he finished tied for seventh that week.

“It was so tough mentally because I don’t know anything different,” DeLaet said. “I have been a professional golfer all my life and have been golfing since I was 10 years old. I felt like I was giving up and I never gave up on anything and it was kind of the heart that was the last step, getting through the mental hurdle of ‘Okay, you won’t be anymore a circuit player. You’re just going to be a regular, quote-unquote guy in society.'”

It would be easy to look back and think about what might have happened if DeLaet’s back hadn’t been so troublesome. But that would overlook his long list of notable accomplishments.

He has earned more than $11 million in 186 PGA Tour events, finishing in the top 10 33 times. He was only the second Canadian, after Mike Weir, to play on the international team at the Presidents Cup , recording a 3-1-1 record in 2013. He has also represented Canada at several World Cups and in 2016 he went to the Rio Olympics where golf returned to the Games after a long absence.

“He played hard when he played,” said DeLaet’s Olympic teammate David Hearn. “He left everything out on the course, gave 110% even though he might be in pain. He was just an amazing ball hitter too. He was awesome to watch.

“I looked up to him when I was debuting here,” said Corey Conners, another Canadian PGA Tour pro. “He was a guy you looked up to. He was great fun to be around and his swing was so pure.

Indeed, it was. He attracted a lot of attention for his accuracy off the tee and around the greens, and many of his peers envied the swing that produced them.

“His swing is so simple and so effective,” said Derek Ingram, Golf Canada Men’s Head Coach. “There are guys who have tried to swing like him and it just comes naturally to him.”

DeLaet’s road to the PGA Tour is remarkable. He grew up in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where there was only one golf course, a functional layout that wasn’t much of a challenge, but it was the teeing ground.

“Looking back at the time, I didn’t know anything different,” he said of the course. “So I made the most of what I had all along. We had a six-month golf season, and the golf course was only really in good shape for about three of those months. .

There was a range with well used balls and a chipping and putting area that was a bit rough but allowed him to practice.

From this beginning, his talent grew rapidly. He was good enough in the amateur game to earn a scholarship to Boise State, and in 2005 and 2006 he was a member of the Canadian National Amateur Team.

After turning pro, he honed his skills on the Canadian circuit, winning three events in two years. In 2009, he went through the tough PGA Tour qualifying school, finishing tied for eighth. From then on, DeLaet never lost his card, a testament to his perseverance.

“Doing the PGA Tour was something, if you had asked me when I was 20, I probably wouldn’t have thought it was a reasonable thing I would do,” DeLaet said. “But never losing my card, I think that was pretty big. Because it’s not easy, especially your first year there and then playing badly and I’ve been playing minimal schedules pretty much my entire career. So never losing my card is like a card I can really hang my hat on.

Over the years, he has racked up dozens of top-10 finishes, repeatedly coming close to his first win. It went up to 26e on the Official World Golf Ranking and was named to the 2013 Presidents Cup, an event where his exuberance was on full display. He ended two matches – singles against Jordan Spieth and a foursome match against Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley – by hitting shots from the green.

“I had a great partner in Jason Day, who is one of the best players in the world,” DeLaet recalled. “From a golf standpoint, that’s probably the most memorable thing, I guess. Holing that bunker shot against Jordan to win two of 18 and the little pitch shot, which ended up halving the game against Phil and Keegan, these are etched in my memories and will never go away I can almost see it as a video on my head still.

Three years later, DeLaet marched through Rio’s Olympic Stadium wearing Canadian colors. It was golf’s return to the Games after having been absent since 1904. As Canada were the defending champions, George S. Lyon of Toronto having won gold 112 years earlier, DeLaet was chosen to strike the first shot start of the competition. He ends up being 20e.

In addition to golf, there’s also a charitable side to DeLaet’s career. For years he hosted the Graham Slam in his home province of Saskatchewan and later in his adopted home of Boise. It was a huge golf event and party, something he and his wife Ruby worked hard on. Over the years, the event has raised nearly $2 million to support children’s health and well-being.

As for the next chapter, DeLaet is still thinking about it. He joined TSN as an analyst for its coverage of major golf events and quickly proved to be as adept in front of a microphone as he was with a golf club. “It’s good work in small doses,” he said.

“The main thing for me is being able to be home and spend time with my kids,” he said of his six-year-old twins, Roscoe and Lyla. “I don’t want to have a full-time job where I work 20 or 30 weeks a year and travel. Because I did this. And that was great, but my family is more important.

He will always play golf too, even if these days it will be for fun, and he will take a cart. There is no turning back for DeLaet. As he always has, he will embark on his next adventure with the positivity and determination that made his golf career so successful.

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