Success, on the golf course, did not come quickly for Brent Hatton.
Once it did arrive, however, it just never slowed down.
With 55 titles to his credit, either in the form of tournament victories or club championships, the 57 year-old Lively legend recently registered another strong showing, this time at the Ontario Senior Championships. He entered the third and final day of the event in third place and was playing in the final grouping of the weekend.
It was just the latest impressive accomplishment for the life-long native of the Nickel City, who literally wandered into the sport by simply crossing the road.
"It's kind of funny, because I think I kind of introduced myself to the game of golf," said Hatton.
"Vic Whissell (long-time local golf instructor) used to live right across the street from me on Agincourt Avenue. He kind of invented his own driving range, hitting balls out of his backyard, into the bush which is now Dearbourne Avenue - that was all bush back there."
"He would hit balls into the woods and every so often, my brother and I would wander back and pick up a handful of balls, go knock on his door and he would give us a nickel or dime or whatever," Hatton continued. "I think we had an old five iron in the basement and needless to say, it occurred to me to start hitting a few of these balls."
"I would hit the balls, backstop to backstop, at Agincourt Public School, and I did that for a few years before I started golfing at Cedar Green, when I was thirteen."
If the golf landscape of 2020 offers no lack of fellow 13 to 15 year olds to round out a comparable foursome these days, such was definitely not the case in the mid 1970s. "I played with anybody and everybody," said Hatton with a laugh. "I played with a lot of retired seniors: Mickey McKinney, Jack Newell, Gerry Lavallee."
"These guys were more than generous letting me play with them - and those are just a few of the names."
Yet for as avid a proponent of the sport as Hatton was, he was equally largely self-taught, gradually honing his skills to the point of winning his very first tournament, the Lively Junior Open, at the age of 18. "My swing came naturally - and I think I was fortunate that I had a good grip, right at the beginning. That's key."
"My golf swing is a very short, compact swing, not a textbook swing. In one sense, the shorter the swing the less that problems can happen. I believe I was consistent because of that swing, and I remain consistent to this day."
That ability to play the fairways remained a trademark of his game, even as he maxed out at perhaps thirty rounds of golf a summer, with tournament action limited to Lively, Cedar Green and maybe Huron Pines in Blind River.
"My game really started to come around in my late teens and early twenties," said Hatton. "I never really hit the ball way left or way right; it was pretty consistent, all of the time. I think my short game was fine-tuned, as I got older."
In fact, for as impressive as his golf resume might read, Brent Hatton has built the bulk of his success within the northern circuit, only recently testing himself with more regularity against the provincial elite. "If there's something I do lack, it's experience at events outside of Sudbury, outside of northern Ontario."
"But it was an easy decision. My wife (Rochelle) was a registered nurse and we were raising a family with three kids (Eric, Curtis, Carolyn), so it would have been unfair to the family, as a whole, to always be going out of town, playing in tournaments, to be away that amount of time. I have no regrets about it."
Despite limiting his golf outings to just a couple of times a week, mixing in a weekend tournament here and there, Hatton remained at or near the top of his game. "I was lucky that my game maintained that consistency, that my golf swing maintained that consistency," he said.
"I was lucky enough to go out, year after year, and still hit the ball roughly the same way that I did the year before."
For as hard as it might be to believe, it's entirely possible that Brent Hatton might be even more successful, beyond his 50th birthday, than he was in the half century that preceded it - at least on a larger scale. "Playing senior golf now, I've had a pretty good run so far, with victories at Timberwolf, the Idywylde, Elliot Lake, Lively, Huron Pines and North Bay."
"The senior circuit has been good to me."
Competing at Taboo Muskoka in early September, Hatton carded rounds of 73 and 72 on the first two days of the provincial senior championship, scores which left him four strokes back of Ashley Chinner, who finished second, and just one shot back of eventual champion and Golf Ontario Hall of Famer, Dave Bunker.
"To be in that position, I thought, was pretty thrilling, pretty rewarding," said Hatton. "It was great just to be there, in that environment. I'm an extremely competitive individual when it comes to tournament golf - I don't think there's any question about that. It feels good to still be able to do it."
"As you get older, there will come a time when the game starts to slip. I'm just happy to compete and still play well, and if you can grab an occasional victory out of it, that's great."
Though he has recorded four holes in one over the course of his career, Hatton would make his very first appearance at a national event in 2018, travelling to New Brunswick to compete at the Canadian Seniors. His 12th place finish last month at provincials qualified him for another berth, one that fell victim to the pandemic.
"My priority, these days, is trying to qualify and play in the Ontario Seniors, every year, for years to come, hopefully."
Truth is, once Brent Hatton and his golf game got going, there was no slowing him down.