By Jim Sutherland.
When we caught up with Jared du Toit last month, he was about to play in a monster tournament on a landmark course designed by Alister MacKenzie.
No, not Augusta and the Masters. Not this time, but probably some year soon.
Instead, the Arizona State Sun Devils senior and native of Kimberley, B.C. was set to tee off in the 71st annual Western Intercollegiate, played at Pasatiempo Golf Club, in Santa Cruz, Calif., a course that MacKenzie considered his greatest achievement, ahead of both Augusta National and nearby Cypress Point.
Entering the tournament, du Toit was the second-ranked amateur in the world (down from the top spot a couple of weeks earlier), according to the Golfweek/Sagarin ratings, which rates players based on head-to-head match-ups rather than the more complicated R&A/USGA World Amateur rankings, where he hovered around 10th. He shot up both rankings thanks to a slate of top NCAA Division I tournament finishes, including a tie-first and an outright victory in early 2017, coming on the heels of some close calls in the fall.
“I was a little surprised, but very happy to see that,” du Toit says of the No. 1 ranking. Named captain of the Sun Devils team at the start of the 2016-2017 season, the marketing major balances confidence with affability, and is praised by coaches for his great work habits and a level head.
In truth, though, the 22-year-old’s rapid ascension wasn’t such a surprise. After all, last summer, in his first PGA Tour start, the two-time BC Amateur champion and 2016 PNGA Player of the Year threatened to become the first Canadian since 1954 to win the RBC Canadian Open, and the first amateur to win a PGA Tour event of any stripe since Phil Mickelson in 1991. Ultimately, du Toit landed in a tie for ninth, but notice was officially served.
Du Toit is definitely a different cat compared to his predecessor as Sun Devils captain, this season’s break-out PGA Tour star, Jon Rahm, one of the longest players in the game. Instead, he brings a balanced arsenal of talents, matching good power with lots of finesse and great putting – much like, oh, Adam Hadwin, another B.C. product who currently makes the Phoenix area home and who was playing in the Masters the weekend we caught up with du Toit.
Incidentally, Hadwin is currently flirting with a World Top-10 ranking for men’s professionals in the same Golfweek/Sagarin list. Not bad for two B.C. boys.
“He’s a guy I looked up to growing up,” says du Toit. “I remember back in 2011, when the Canadian Open was at Shaughnessy, he made a run there and ever since I’ve been a big fan of his.”
Hadwin ultimately finished tied for fourth at Shaughnessy, but would take five more seasons to grind his way to the highest echelons of professional golf. In Phoenix, he and fellow Abbotsford Ledgeview Golf Club product and PGA Tour regular Nick Taylor played du Toit and a buddy in a nine-hole match, which ended as a draw after the amateurs won the last hole. “An old-guy/young-guy kind of thing,” du Toit explains. “They were an open book about life as a pro. A big thank you to those guys.”
About du Toit, Hadwin counters, “It’s obvious he has game, and more obvious that he’s a quality individual with a very bright future.”
Hadwin’s own rocket ride up the rankings came via a second place finish in the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge in February, followed by his first tour win at the Valspar Championship in March. He announced at the beginning of the 2016-2017 season that he was ready to step up to the next level, and he accomplished that.
“Different things have come into focus,” Hadwin says now, citing the President’s Cup and Tour Championship. “But the goals haven’t changed. I’m a firm believer that if I do the little things right, the bigger picture will take care of itself. That means going out every day and improving weaknesses.”
That’s pretty much the du Toit philosophy as well, suggesting that B.C. beginnings and early-career near misses at the RBC Canadian Open may not be the only things the two end up having in common.
Du Toit’s been spending between-tournament chunks of his summers split between Calgary’s Glencoe Club and Kimberley, home to several old pals and lots of good golf courses, but is widely expected to turn pro after the NCAA Championships in late May, which could mean who knows what.
“It’s still up for grabs,” he contends of a pro career. “I don’t have set plans.” Whether as an amateur or a professional, though, he’s certain to get a start at the RBC Canadian Open in July, and probably others as well.
All of that’s in the future, of course. Back on wickedly difficult Pasatiempo, he got off to a hot start, shooting a first-round 68 before fading to a 30th-place tie. The same weekend, Hadwin finished his first Masters tied for 36th. Not the very brightest weekend for either, but golf being golf, there will be worse. And much, much better.
Jim Sutherland has been editor of magazines such as Vancouver, Western Living and the Vancouver Sun’s weekend Mix section. He recently completed a comic novel entitled “Snap Slice.”