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Golfing dominance and athletic excellence
2020-07-08

In many a year, the fight for the Ryder Cup in Sudbury has come right down to late afternoon on Sunday, the final few matches critically important to crowning a champion in the three-club battle for local golf bragging rights.

Such wasn't the case in 2020.

In fact, the mid-afternoon thunderstorm on day three eliminated what might have offered the only potential drama in this year of dominance, as the question of whether the Idylwylde Golf & Country Club crew could establish an all-time record for the most points accumulated by a single club in any given year would remain unanswered.

(Truth be told, I am not entirely sure whether such a mark has even been maintained over the course of the 27 year northern links showdown - but it's hard to imagine any team coming this close to sweeping across the board)

After racking up 7.5 of the maximum eight points up for grabs, on a club level, in pairs play the opening two days, the Idylwylde closed the book on their three peat with victories from both Bryan Davidson and David Bower on Sunday, with several other matches simply abandoned when the skies opened up and with the tournament outcome officially decided.

"I think the biggest advantage this year, honestly, was getting the chance to start at our home course," noted Idylwylde team captain Matt Bortolotto, whose appearances in the event now number in double digits. "We went 6-2 last year in the head to head final matches last year (at the Idylwylde) - we have a lot of confidence on our home course."

"Did I expect to win seven and a half out of eight points the first two days? I'm going to say no. I can't remember a Ryder Cup that I've ever played in where anybody has even sniffed hitting seven points."

Mind you, seldom have we seen the accumulation of talented young golfers that Team Idylwylde trotted out this year, rounding out their championship winning roster with a quintet of Tristan Renaud, Ward Kyle, Jason Picco, Josh Hayes and Cory Vaillancourt.

"We give them encouragement, more than anything," said Bortolotto, who at just 32 years of age is now the grizzled veteran of the crew. "Their golf games are so good, those four to five kids that we have on the team, that we don't need to tell them much. There's really not much to be said when they hit the ball and putt and do the things that they do as well as they do."

Having been in their shoes as a top-end local junior in his era in Sudbury, Bortolotto now appreciates the change in viewpoint that comes with Ryder Cup experience. "For guys like me, I think it's more fun now to get together with the guys that we may not play golf with all the time, guys that we may not see as much anymore," he said.

"You look at the young guys - they're out there primed and ready to go, so intense. And I think when you're young like that, you want to show everybody that you can play with some of the best golfers in the city."

While the debate over whom exactly would rank as "the best amateur golfer in Sudbury" at the moment could rage on for hours, Tristan Renaud would certainly find himself in the conversation.

Having just completed his freshman season with the Sam Houston State Bearkats in Huntsville (Texas), the 19 year old, who become the youngest ever champion of the Idylwylde Invitational in 2017, was particularly pumped after sinking a birdie for the win on eighteen on Saturday.

"This tournament is right up there with the Invite, in that it's a hometown thing," said Renaud. "You have everybody watching around the green, especially being the anchor match, so it's a little more of a gallery, which is cool. And you know everybody up there."

In a sense, this was exactly the improvement that the Lockerby Composite noted in his play in year one of NCAA competition, continuing to work on his mental game. "You get into a spot, in qualifying or team competitions, where you really need to just be better," he said. "There are times where you need to do something, and it doesn't matter what the mechanics are, you just have to find a way to do it."

"There have been glimmers of that over the course of my career, but I've kind of figured out how to transition into it now when I need to."

As for what year two holds in store, Renaud has no trouble locating a silver lining, even as he prepares for what is expected to be start of classes, in Texas, no less, in mid-August. "I try not to worry about it, and I do what I am told. They have measures in place at my school to keep athletes safe, so I have faith in that."

"I try and stay away from news that doesn't apply to me. It would be easy, in these times, to become a martyr about it, looking at all the negatives. Realistically, I've enjoyed some of the best time off that I've had in the past few years. I've been able to mentally and physically relax a little bit, while still working out and getting in better shape."

Sounds a lot like the regimen that Timberwolf Golf Club member Kyle Lekun is looking to maintain - though his adherence to the program has nothing to do with golf. After spending the past few seasons officiating every level of hockey locally, including the OHL, the former Sudbury Wolves' draft pick spent the 2019-2020 season as a referee in the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League).

"I actually really liked it," he said. "I was gone pretty much every weekend, driving to Charleston, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Norfolk, with flights to Boise, South Dakota, Texas, Kansas City. It was cool going to different cities, checking out the mountains and the desert and everything else."

And even more important was the fact that Lekun was offered a late season contract to officiate in the AHL, one step up from the ECHL, and just one rung away from the NHL. Though the pandemic would deny the SMHA product his first games within the American Hockey League, the fact that his rapid progression was noticed was encouraging, to say the least.

"It was a real learning experience because I had never really worked a three-man system much before," he said. "I did it maybe in my first year of refereeing, and then everything else was four-man. I had to go back to the basics."

"I had to learn where to be, when to be skating hard, and when to glide a bit, just to save some energy. They really helped me referee at the standard that I wanted to referee at. Once I got the basics, it was like a normal game."

A normal game, in a year that hasn't had much normal to it, including arguably the most dominated Ryder Cup ever.

Northern Ontario AAA Hockey League