The Next Wave of B.C. Golfers Swinging for a Spot on the PGA Tour

Abbotsford’s Nick Taylor has the PGA tour card young B.C. golfers are striving for

Vancouver’s Ryan Williams took home the win at the 2014 TOUR Championship of Canada

Eugene Wong played his way onto the Tour for 2016

The dream of earning a spot on the PGA tour can be an elusive one, but for some of B.C.’s rising stars their ultimate goal is within striking distance

Ryan Williams knows the road to the PGA Tour is difficult one. It is filled with challenges, both financial and physical, and is ultra-competitive. More than 225 golfers play on the PGA Tour regularly, but only the top 125 on the FedEx Cup list have full playing privileges.

Williams, from Vancouver, knows the difficulties all too well. A former professional hockey player, Williams has battled it out on the Mackenzie Tour/PGA Tour Canada in recent years, having considerable success and winning the Tour Championship in 2014 and losing in a playoff in 2015. He’s had some status on the Tour, golf’s version of Triple-A baseball and a step removed from the world of courtesy cars, million-dollar cheques and the PGA Tour, but like many golfers playing in the game’s mini-tours, he’s still looking for his break.

It is an expensive proposition that Williams says is financed with credit cards and lines of credit.

“You have to get comfortable living in debt to do this,” says Williams. “But if you get to the Tour those things will take care of themselves.”

In recent years British Columbia has seen a number of golfers rise to the top of the sport. In 2014, Nick Taylor, the former World No. 1 amateur from Abbotsford, won the Sanderson Farms Championship in his fourth start of his rookie season on the PGA Tour. The win gives Taylor a two-year exemption on the tour. Taylor was joined on the tour by Adam Hadwin, who had a solid rookie season, retaining his card and having a strong 2015-16 season. Taylor and Hadwin are both competing to be one of two golfers from Canada who represent the country in Brazil when golf returns to the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

Of course male golfers aren’t the only ones making strides. Last year 14-year-old Tiffany Kong qualified for the CP Women’s Open at Vancouver Golf Club. Kong didn’t make the cut, but she did impress. Though she’s more than double Kong’s age, Vancouver’s Christina Proteau has excelled at the amateur level, competing in the U.S. and nearly winning the Women’s Mid-Am despite being six months pregnant at the time.

Trying to get to the PGA Tour is a difficult, and often expensive, proposition. Consider that Williams can spend $1,500 to $2,000 a week playing on the Mackenzie Tour with no guarantee of recouping his costs. That’s why B.C. golfers like Kevin Spooner, who grew up playing at the prestigious Capilano Golf and Country Club in Vancouver, received support from members when he began chasing his pro dream.

“They really stepped up,” says Spooner, who won on the Mackenzie Tour last year. Spooner ended up in the final stage at the Tour qualifying school last year, but finished in a tie for 67th, outside of the Top 45 that gain some status on the tour.

Other B.C. golfers travel all over the world to try and find a way onto the PGA Tour. Vancouver’s David Rose, another Capilano golfer, won qualifying school for PGA Tour Latinoamérica in Mexico, and is pursuing his road to the PGA Tour through events scattered all over South America.

Eugene Wong, 25, is the winner of the Jack Nicklaus Award, which recognizes the top NCAA player in American college golf. He turned professional four years ago, and last year went to PGA Tour China to play. The PGA Tour has affiliates in Canada, South America and China, and the top players gain some access to the Tour.

“It gets really expensive travelling back and forth to play in China,” Wong says, who adds his equipment deal with Nike covers most of his costs. But lacking status on the Tour, Wong can’t determine whether he’ll play this season in Canada or China.

“There’s no way to plan for it,” he says. “I have an idea of how the year in China will look, and I’m hoping to get into some Tour events. We’ll see.”

One player who doesn’t have to play the waiting game is Surrey’s Adam Svensson. Svensson, who cut short his time at Florida’s Barry University to turn pro last year, won the Tour qualifying school. He’s already played on a PGA Tour tournament this year, making the cut in Puerto Rico. He signed a deal to play Titleist clubs and his agent says more corporate deals are forthcoming.

For Williams, he continues to work in Arizona, playing mini-tour events as he prepares for another run at Mackenzie Tour and his dream of playing on the PGA Tour.

“The year has started out well,” he says. “We’ll see where it goes from here.”