Focus On Player Development Paying Big Dividends For B.C. Golfers

BC's Amateur Golfers Hold The Top Spot In The Country's Rankings In Three Of Four Categories And Are Second In The Other. Clockwise Top L-R: Jared du Toit, Naomi Ko, A.J. Ewart And Mary Parsons

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

Golf, at the competitive level, is all about the leaderboard. After all, that is ultimately how players are judged.

Right now, British Columbia amateur golfers are enjoying the view from the top. As we head down the 18th fairway and prepare to put a wrap on another year, it is not a stretch to say that 2016 has been a very good one for British Columbia Golf. No wonder Debbie Pyne is smiling.

Pyne has been Managing Director of Player Development for British Columbia Golf for the past 12 years and while gloating is not her strong suit, she is certainly willing to acknowledge being quite pleased when she looks at the rankings of the top amateur golfers in Canada.

In the four main categories, a British Columbia golfer finished on top in three of them and was second in the other.

Kimberley’s Jared du Toit is ranked as Canada’s top male amateur and also sits 30th in the world. On the women’s side, Victoria’s Naomi Ko is second to Ontario’s Maddie Szeryk. A.J. Ewart of Coquitlam and Mary Parsons of Delta led the 2016 National Future Links rankings of junior players in Canada.

All four players are members of Canada’s national and developmental teams. Which translates to 38% of the National Team being made up of players from British Columbia.

“It’s exciting,” says Pyne. “For one province to have three players ranked No. 1 in Canada and another second is huge. These are players who have risen through the junior ranks in B.C. and we have worked with over the years.

They’ve been on B.C. teams before, they’ve been part of our training programs, they’ve tried out or have been part of Canada Games or Western Canada Games teams. It bodes well for us that these players have come along the competitive pathway. These kids have been given opportunities and they have taken full advantage.”

Pyne is quick to note that ultimately it is the players themselves and their families who deserve so much of the credit. But Pyne is a firm believer that the work British Columbia Golf does behind the scenes gives its young golfers an edge over players from other parts of the country.

image credit mike du toit

Kimberley's Jared du Toit Captured The Imaginaton Of All Canadian Golf Fans At The 2016 RBC Canadian Open With His Top 10 Finish

Under the leadership of longtime Executive Director Kris Jonasson, British Columbia Golf has been all-in on player development for the past 15 years. “It is a key component of what we do,” Jonasson says. “We made a concentrated effort years ago to start to develop a provincial coaching program with the view that we could help.

British Columbia has always had good players. They made it to a certain level, but then never really got much further. It was our view that if we started a good coaching program that maybe we could get to the point where they take that one extra step if they were better prepared as young people.

I think Debbie has done an outstanding job in terms of developing a program that the players are starting to embrace and in terms of understanding that they need an annual work plan, a training plan and that type of thing, if they want to get to where they want to be.”

Du Toit, Ko, Parsons and Ewart all had outstanding years. Du Toit, the 2015 B.C. Amateur champion who is now in his senior year at Arizona State University, drew national headlines this summer with his stellar play at the RBC Canadian Open, where he finished tied for ninth place.

Pyne acknowledges British Columbia Golf has not worked as closely with du Toit as Ko, Ewart and Parsons. That has a lot to do with du Toit growing up in Kimberley. “I will be really honest here,” says Pyne, “Those players in the outlying areas sometimes do not get the attention they deserve. We should never forget that because they are from Kimberley it doesn’t mean they don’t have the talent or dedication a player from Vancouver has. Jared made himself, it was his work, his family’s work, to push him and all of a sudden he is in the limelight. We didn’t see much of him as a junior until he won the B.C. Junior Boys (in 2013).”

Ko, a sophomore at North Carolina State University, won this summer’s Canadian Junior Girls Championship and PNGA Women’s Championship. She also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open and another LPGA Tour event in Portland and tied for sixth at the World Amateur Team Championship.

Ewart, a Grade 12 student at Gleneagle Secondary in Coquitlam, is starting his 2nd year on the Team Canada Developmental squad. His 2016 highlights included second-place finishes at both the B.C. Junior Boys and B.C. Amateur Championships.

Parsons, who attends St. Thomas Moore in Burnaby and will head to Indiana University next fall, won the Future Links Pacific Championship this past spring and then followed that up by winning the B.C. Junior Girls Championship. She finished second at the B.C. Women’s Amateur and third at the Canadian Junior Girls Championship.

Parsons is a terrific example of a player who has worked closely with Pyne and her team at British Columbia Golf to reach her goal of making it onto Golf Canada’s developmental team.

image credit jurgen kaminski (jkam photos)

Mary Parsons (R) And Her Father Richard (L) Consult With BC Golf Player Development Manager Debbie Pyne During The B.C. Women's Amateur At Beach Grove GC

“I have known Mary since she was 14 years old,” says Pyne. “This year we worked very closely with Mary and her dad Richard to help get Mary on Team Canada. That was her goal.”

Parsons achieved that goal with a super season, which started with her win at the Future Links Pacific Championship at The Dunes in Kamloops. “That was huge for her,” Pyne says. “It was her first real taste of winning and propelled her whole year. Every player hits that point, where they are actually ready to win, and when she won in Kamloops that was a signal to her, ‘I can do this, I can win.’ Then she kept moving on.”

It should be noted that 2016 is not an anomaly. British Columbia golfers have been excelling on the amateur stage for quite some time. The Canada Summer Games and Western Canada Games offer evidence of that. Very convincing evidence.

British Columbia Golf works closely with the BC Games Society and the Team BC program and is gearing up BC’s player selection for the 2017 Canada Summer Games which are being held in Winnipeg.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the multi-sport games and a special year to capture gold. “We have won every gold medal so far,” Pyne says proudly. “No other province has ever won a gold medal at the Western Canada Games or the Canada Summer Games in golf.”

Pyne and British Columbia Golf use a very sophisticated athlete management system called Kinduct. It provides Golf Canada and the provincial golf organizations with a central hub to track performance metrics and create training programs.

“All the information from B.C training camps, coach’s reports and performance results… it all goes into this system,” says Pyne. “My job is to work with the coaches and put the program together. Their job is to talk to the players about their schedules, hydration, rest and recovery. I firmly believe the BC Team players’ success starts with our office and how well we are connected to help them get that extra inch over competitors from another province.”

Recently, British Columbia Golf has placed considerable emphasis on developing top-level junior girls. That mission seems to have been accomplished. The depth of talent on the girls’ side in B.C. has never been stronger. Pyne says growing the boy’s program will now get some extra attention.

“We are doing well there but we want to do better,” she says. “The last time we won a national championship for the men was Nick Taylor (in 2007). We’re looking for the next Canadian Amateur champion coming from B.C.”

Based on the performance of B.C.’s amateur golfers from 2016 alone, there’s every reason to believe that will happen sooner than later.