The Ryder Cup is all about great golf, a lot of fun and club pride-driven competition.
Sure, that was being said a few decades ago as well, though truth be told, the notion of “fun” might have fallen a little further back on the list of priorities in those days.
These days, the camaraderie of the local golf community - most notably within that wave of young talent that has emerged over the past 10 to 15 years - would be difficult to dismiss, even in an event that still allows either the Lively Golf Club, Timberwolf Golf Club or the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club to enjoy crosstown bragging rights for a full year.
The shift in the mood of the three-day tournament, now home to music blasting in the background while fellow competitors actually cheer each other on (or, at the very least, acknowledge quite cheerfully the jaw-dropping shots of their opponents) was not at all lost on returnee Eric Vickman.
Making his comeback to Ryder Cup play following an absence of 15 years or so, with work commitments behind a family move from Sudbury to Thompson (MB), the Lively club rep was quick to note that time has not stood still in his absence.
“The game in general and the culture around the game has changed so much in that time,” noted the 37 year-old father of two who teamed with Max Kallio to earn a draw with David Bower/Ward Kyle (Idylwylde), before upending Bower/Jason Picco on day two while playing alongside Alex Watier.
“When I was the young guy out here, I was just so concerned about not stepping on any toes,” Vickman continued. “Now, we’re all out here having fun, the music is playing, we’re cheering each other on. It’s definitely a changing of the guard.”
Based on his recollections, Vickman has no issue at all with the current balance between competitiveness and camaraderie. “It’s still a dogfight, for sure,” he laughed. “But I think we’re all out here having fun, trying to make a few birdies. We have a lot of laughs - it just lightens the mood.”
Still, it’s not just the atmosphere that’s been altered over the years.
“I came to the Idylwylde and I walked down to go to the putting green - and now, it’s just normal grass,” said Vickman. “People probably thought I was crazy. That’s one nice thing about coming back after a long layoff, you really notice the changes and the growth of the courses.”
Like most who took part, Jesse Graham is fairly well acquainted with all three courses. After competing in three previous Ryder Cups as a member of the Timberwolf crew, the former Sudbury Northern Wolves sniper and current teacher made the move to the Idylwylde this year, helping the Walford Roaders to a fourth straight title.
“It’s different, for sure, coming out here and seeing all of your friends from the other golf course,” said Graham, now 35 years old and back in town after spending some time in Ottawa. “At the end of the day, it’s a friendly competition and it’s really good to be playing golf with some new players.”
“It was a really great experience meeting all of these guys.”
In fact, if given the choice to select the foursome of his choice, Graham decided to blend the old with the new, opting to insert long-time hockey teammate and Timberwolf team captain Brian McGarry, former clubmate and final draw matchup Matt Matheson (the duo finished all square on Sunday), as well as former Ontario Junior champion Tristan Renaud from the Idylwylde.
“I would love to play with Tristan - that would be nice to watch,” said Graham.
As for his own game, there is a very gradual metamorphosis taking place, one that very much mirrors the contrasting elements of the two courses that he knows best. “It’s more course management now for me than when I was younger, especially at the Idylwylde,” stated Graham.
“It’s all about shot placement. My game is to overpower a golf course, which you just can’t do there.”
Unlike a year ago, the Idylwylde did not necessarily overpower their competition in extending their current run of excellence, with the title still up for grabs late Sunday afternoon. Final scores: Idylwylde = 11; Timberwolf = 8.5; Lively = 4.5.
Part of Idylwylde victories on both day one and day two, former Laurentian varsity team member Jordan Couture was enjoying his first shot at the Ryder Cup. “To be out here with this group of guys, some of the most competitive golfers in the city, it’s an honour. It really helped me bring out the game that I do have, even if it doesn’t always come,” he added with a smile.
A local product who saw some success in the junior ranks, Couture finds himself now with a slightly different perspective, having celebrated his 27th birthday. “When I was about 14 or so, I was a range rat, dropped off at the course at 7:00 a.m. and spending the whole day there,” he said.
“Then you start to work full-time and the game goes downhill, a little bit. Deep down, you know that you’ve still got some game - but you’ve got to play. That’s the reality of it.”
Making his first appearance in the event as well, Ben Fowke (Timberwolf) can relate far more to the range rat to which Couture alluded, turning 17 in a week or so. After playing the first two days of the tournament, Fowke would compete at a Junior Boys Qualifier in Lively on Sunday, finishing second to Dayton Price of Mississauga and earning his berth at provincials.
The nerves from his first Ryder had apparently subsided.
“I got to play with Jari (Sundholm), and that gave me a little more comfort in the cart,” said Fowke. “I didn’t play my best, but it was still a lot of fun. Jari plays a little shorter than I do, but he was very straight all day and really put us in good positions where I could just let it fly.”
Coming off a very strong year at Ranger College in Texas, older brother Alex is looking to make the jump to the NCAA Division I ranks this fall. Though he was out of town on an official school visit for part of the weekend, the elder Fowke made it back in time to claim top spot at the Northern Ontario Men’s Championship, also contested at Lively on Sunday.
Firing a round of 72 and then downing Kevin Philipow in a playoff, Fowke secured his place at the Ontario Men’s Amateur in Windsor on August 11th. Seems like he hasn’t slowed down much at all after an impressive spring at the junior college level. “I got to play a lot of great courses,” said Fowke.
“I played pretty well at the tournaments and was able to put myself in a good spot for the year coming up.”
One sombre note from the weekend as the Lively Golf Club team members donned yellow ribbons throughout the Ryder Cup, honouring the memory of Kelsey Hamilton. The 24 year-old daughter of club member Terry Hamilton passed away tragically in recent weeks, her thoughts remaining in the forefront of the team members who know the family well.