NEWS
01/21/2016 14:42 EST | Updated 01/21/2017 00:12 EST

Olympic berth, more PGA Tour riches in reach for Canadian golfer Hearn

With a spot in the 2016 Olympic Games there for the taking, not to mention more riches on the PGA Tour, David Hearn has established himself as Canada's top-ranked male golfer at the perfect time.

When it comes to cultivating facial hair, however, Hearn is willing to concede defeat to fellow Canadian Graham DeLaet.

Hearn, who grows his version of a playoff beard during the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup Playoffs as a nod to his hockey-playing roots, said he had seen some pictures of DeLaet's wild bristles but "certainly didn't know it had gotten to that level" when he crossed paths with him at the Sony Open in Hawaii last week.

When asked if he could copy DeLaet's bushy beard, Hearn replied "not even close."

Right now Hearn is more concerned with his golf season, which he conceded is off to a slow start. Hearn shot 5-under 65 in the first round in Hawaii, but struggled in the second and third round and missed the secondary cut. It was his first tournament of the year after a lengthy holiday break.

"For whatever reason, I tend to be slow out of the gate," said the 36-year-old from Brantford, Ont.

Hearn will be looking to build on his breakout 2014-15 that came with US$1.8 million in earnings, and not just for the money. His eyes are set on representing Canada at the Rio Olympics in July, when golf makes its return. There are two sports on Canada's men's team up for grabs.

"It's been a big goal of mine since the announcement," he said, "It's exciting that it's 2016 now and we're in the year when it’s all happening. To represent Canada would be a tremendous thrill.

"I can't really start planning for that team until I know that I'm on it. There's a lot of golf between then and now."

DeLaet and Hearn — along with Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor, who are a little further back in the Olympic standings — are in the field at this week's CareerBuilder Challenge in La Quinta, Calif., a tournament notorious for its low scores.

"These golf courses are courses I've played very well on in the past," Hearn said. "They lend themselves to low scores and that's what I'm preparing to do."

Hearn played five events in late 2015 as part of the PGA Tour's Fall Series — the official start of the 2015-16 season — and earned just over $200,000 with one top-10 finish.

With his successes on the course, Hearn has also become more in demand off the golf course.

It was announced recently Hearn is now sponsored by Shaw Communications Inc. (along with DeLaet and Hadwin) and has partnered with Extendicare, a company that provides a range of care and services to senior citizens. That will help Hearn's newly established foundation benefitting the Alzheimer's Foundation of Canada.

On the course, Hearn will have to adapt to a new rule change that affects his putting style.

As of Jan. 1, professional golfers are no longer allowed to anchor a putter to his or her body, something Hearn had long done. He was the last golfer on the PGA Tour to use a broomstick-style putter in competition and changed to a "regular" putter during the off-season.

"When you do something one way for so long, you have to re-learn what you used to do," he said. "Thankfully, I've done this (putted with a regular-length putter) in the past, so going forward I just have to continue to work at it.

"I'll figure it out. I was a good putter the other way, and I can be a good putter this way as well. I just can't be that after Week 1."

Hearn said he wouldn't be making any adjustments to the schedule he's kept the same for the past four PGA Tour seasons.

"I've gotten used to the golf courses that I like. I'm just trying to prepare and compete on the Tour, and if I do that, when the summer rolls around, I'll make the time to fit in the Olympics – if I happen to be one of the two guys who ends up on the team."

Adam Stanley, The Canadian Press