SPORTS

Phoenix Open a hot spot for Canadian golfers, fans

01/29/2015 03:49 EST | Updated 03/31/2015 05:59 EDT
It’s not just the weather that drives Canadians south of the border in droves each winter — it’s also the golf.

Though Florida may come to mind as the hot spot for snowbirds, the U.S. desert southwest is just as popular, which works out nicely for the Canadians competing in the PGA Tour event in Arizona this week.

Round 1 of the Waste Management Phoenix Open — also known as "The Greatest Show on Grass" — is underway Thursday. It's the rowdiest event on a tour schedule that’s known more for its refinement and tradition than its party atmosphere (though this year the players are no longer allowed to throw gifts up into the stands at the 16th hole, and the caddies are no longer allowed to race each other). 

Like at last weekend’s Humana Challenge, there will be six Canadians in the field: Mike Weir, Graham DeLaet, Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor and Corey Renfrew, who's in instead of Roger Sloan after shooting a six-under 66 in a Monday qualifier.

“For a country of 30 million that’s so hockey crazy, it’s pretty amazing that six guys can make it out here," says DeLaet. "It's not that easy."

'Incredible' support

What makes it easier is all the support from Canadian fans. 

A course marshal at the Humana event last week spoke of a certain player drawing large crowds.

“He’s up there, two holes ahead now, but that’s the largest gallery I’ve seen yet. Thought it must be for one of the leaders, but it was for some Canadian. Name’s 'Day-LATE,' I think, or something like that."

R.J. Neild, another course official, had similar remarks.

“Biggest gallery’s following Graham DeLaet. We know because we noticed the crowd was a lot bigger than any of the rest we had seen, so we surveyed people as they went by. They all said the same thing — they were following DeLaet. Right after came a group with guys like Zach Johnson and Luke Donald, yet DeLaet's [gallery] was way bigger.”

The Canadian golfer noticed.

“The support in this part of the country, in Phoenix, is incredible,” DeLaet said. “We’re very lucky to have such enthusiastic fans down here.”

Could it be time to give a name to his fans? Justin Beiber has his Beliebers and Taylor Swift has her Swifties, so why not something like the DeLights?

"Yeah, there you go," DeLaet laughed. "That could work.”

Woods making debut

The attendance for the Phoenix event is expected to be around 180,000, including the sizable Canadian contingent.

While the support is appreciated, the crowds could make players new to the tour nervous, especially with the infamous boos and jeers heard at the 16th for players who miss the dance floor on the famously festive par-3.

Plus, the competition will be stiff as 10 of the world’s top 24 players are in the field, including Tiger Woods in his first appearance of 2015.

DeLaet has proven he can handle the pressure at the TPC Scottsdale course. Last year he missed the win by one shot to Kevin Stadler and settled with a tie for second with Bubba Watson, both at 15-under.

For his part, the less experienced Hadwin feels comfortable too.

“You get nervous whether there’s five people or 500 or 5000; whether you’re playing on the PGA Tour Canada or Web.Com events," says Hadwin. "You’re just in a zone and you’re going for it and it’s like they aren’t even there.

"But having Canadians there supporting us… makes it all the better."

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