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Short Game: Vandermade eager to get it going

Nicole Vandermade

Abelimages/2010 Abelimages

It's easy to see why Nicole Vandermade is eager to get the Symetra Tour season started.

The 22-year-old from Brantford, Ont., hasn't played competitively since last fall and has spent the off-season fine-tuning her swing in preparation for her first full year as a pro.

The first Symetra event, which begins Friday in Mesa, Ariz., gives her a chance to return to the heat of battle and test whether all her hard work has paid off.

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"I am definitely excited to see where my game is at," Vandermade said this week in a telephone interview from the range at Longbow Golf Club, trying to stay warm against afternoon temperatures in the single digits.

Vandermade will be one of eight Canadians at the inaugural Gateway Classic, joining Izzy Beisiegel. Kirby Dreher, Sue Kim, Danielle Mills, Samantha Richdale, Alena Sharp and Jessica Wallace.

The tournament is the first of 15 this year on the tour, which is the developmental circuit of the top-tier LPGA Tour.

Vandermade, a former amateur standout who represented Canada on its national team, turned pro last year after graduating from the University of Texas and played eight Symetra events.

She made four cuts and posted one top-10 finish. By finishing in the top 90 on the circuit's money list, she assured herself a return for 2013.

But she had her sights set higher. She went to the LPGA Tour's qualifying school, hoping to earn a card to play on the world's best tour for women.

She stalled in the Q-school's second stage, missing the third stage (and her chance to win an LPGA card) by three shots.

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"It was actually beneficial … a blessing in disguise," Vandermade said, reasoning that her exit gave her the time and motivation to put in some heavy off-season practice.

She camped out in Orlando, meeting with her instructor Sean Foley often, and sharpened all the skills she'll need to be competitive in tour golf.

Vandermade said she honed her short game intensely and worked on finding a repeatable swing, among other things – "everything to be a more complete player."

She felt she fared well most of the time last year but must learn how to salvage rounds and tournament's when she's not 100-per-cent on. "I know my game is right there when I am playing my best."

This year, she'll have every opportunity to prove herself. The Symetra Tour has expanded to 15 events and they're clustered closer together, which will cut down on travel time and expenses.

Her goal, she said, is simple. "I want to finish in the top 10 [on the Symetra money list] and get my LPGA card."

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Her quest begins Friday.


GLIGIC OPENS UNDER PAR: Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., shot one-under-par 72 on Thursday in the opening round of the Sunshine Tour's Dimension Data Pro-Am in George, South Africa.

He was tied for 57th place, seven shots behind co-leaders Scott Arnold of Australia and Justin Harding of South Africa.

Gligic, a PGA Tour Canada player, is trying to make his first cut in three starts in South Africa this year.


MATCH PLAY LORE: Previews of the Accenture Match Play Championship predictably have focused on Tiger Woods, even though he is not the top seed or the hottest player going in.

Previews also predictably have dredged up Woods's thrashing of Canadian Stephen Ames at the tournament's 2006 edition.

Before their match, Ames infamously suggested that Woods, then the No. 1 player in the world, could be beaten. "Anything can happen," Ames told two golf writers, Doug Ferguson of The Associated Press and Mark Garrod of PA Sports in London. "Especially where he's hitting the ball."

But Woods was having none of that, dispatching the Canadian 9 and 8 in the most lopsided match in event history.

Afterward, Woods was asked to comment on what Ames had said. "9 and 8," Woods replied tersely.

The match outcome and chirping have taken on a life of their own since, becoming etched in the lore of both the Match Play and Woods's career.

But what's lost in history is context. The truth of this epochal episode has been ignored, replaced by a myth that is now so thoroughly ingrained that it's the new reality.

This wasn't a case of trash-talking. Ferguson's story noted that Ames, who is well known for his dry and cutting sense of humour, spoke while "breaking into a smile."

Ames was joking, or at least just giving his rival the kind of good-natured needling that is prevalent in golf (or most other sports for that matter).

Ames wasn't speaking inaccurately anyway. Anything can happen in match play, and Woods was driving the ball erratically at the time.

The Canadian elaborated in a subsequent interview with Golf Channel, saying about Woods, "How he goes about scoring from where he hits it – that's the amazing thing. That's the mark of a champion. As bad as he hits it, he still manages to win golf tournaments."

It's easy to see this as a compliment, not a jab, Woods's talent being so immense that he still found a way to win with his B-game.

But these subtleties were lost on Woods, apparently, and many in the golf media, who made the story viral and turned Ames into a villain or clown. The quote was too spicy to water down with the facts.

Ames later put up a token protest that his comments had been taken out of context. He was right. But by then there was little he could say to turn back the tide, just as there was nothing he could do inside the ropes once Woods had vengeance on his mind.


NO LONGER PART OF SHOW Ames won't be at the Match Play Championship this week near Tucson, Ariz., having slipped to No. 530 in the world ranking. Just the top 64 are eligible.

The 48-year-old veteran, whose wonky back has hurt his performance in recent years, made just seven cuts in 20 starts last year.

This year, he's 2-for-5. In his most recent outing, the Northern Trust Open, he withdrew during the first round with back spasms.


BACK IN THE SWIM Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., has been swimming with the sharks off the coast of South Africa, according to his Twitter feed.

He goes back into a different kind of shark tank this week at the Dimension Data Pro-Am, competing in his third tournament this year in South Africa.

Gligic, 23, a PGA Tour Canada member, missed the cut in his other two appearances.

The Sunshine Tour event will be played again at Fancourt Golf Resort, the same venue that played host to the Presidents Cup in 2003.

Alan McLean, a Scot who lives in London, Ont., is also in the field at Fancourt.


HE'S AT IT AGAIN Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., has won another mini-tour event, his third of the year.

The 25-year-old topped the field at the ITGA Tour's South Florida Classic in West Palm Beach, Fla., last weekend.

Silverman, who has two victories on the Golfslinger Tour this year, won the 36-hole tournament by two strokes. His take: $4,000 (U.S.).


CAREER BEST: Rebecca Lee-Bentham's tie for 18th place at the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Open represents her best career finish on the LPGA Tour.

The LPGA sophomore's previous high was a share of 47th at the same tournament last year.

Her $13,138 (U.S.) paycheque Sunday almost doubled her career winnings on the top ladies circuit.

Lee-Bentham of Toronto had an up-and-down Australian Open, opening with a career-best seven-under-par 66 to be within sniffing distance of the lead.

She gave four of those strokes back during the second and third rounds but rallied Sunday with a four-under 69 that took her back to seven under.

During the final round at Royal Canberra in Yarralumla, she climbed 33 spots on the leader board, finishing 11 shots behind winner Jiyai Shin.

Her result in the LPGA season opener was also a nice turnaround from the end of 2012, when she missed five consecutive cuts and had to return to the tour's qualifying school to regain her card.

Lee-Bentham plans to return to North America and says her next start will be at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup in Phoenix. It begins March 14.

Stephanie Sherlock of Barrie, Ont., did herself a favour, too, during the final round Sunday.

She also shot 69 and climbed to a share of 55th place. It was her best finish since the Kia Classic last March.


NATIONAL NO. 1: The National Golf Club of Canada has been named the country's best course by Golf Digest in its inaugural ranking of best Canadian courses.

The private, all-male club in Woodbridge, Ont., edged St. George's Golf and Country Club in Toronto and Capilano Golf and Country Club in West Vancouver, B.C., for the honour, which was announced in the magazine's February issue.

The ever-tough National, designed by George and Tom Fazio and opened in 1975, is no stranger to top spots.

It was the No. 1 course on ScoreGolf magazine's most recent lists (2012 and 2010) as well.

Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ont., and Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course in Jasper, Alta., rounded out Golf Digest's top five.

Of the 30 courses listed as "Canada's Best," half are located in Ontario. British Columbia is the next most represented province, with five.

The list is split roughly equal between private clubs and courses that are open to the public (16 to 14).

While much of the list contains courses that routinely pop up in best-of surveys, there are a few curve balls and surprises.

The excellent new Cabot Links in Inverness, N.S., cracks the top 10 at No. 9. Dakota Dunes Golf Links, on First Nations land in Whitecap, Sask., comes in at No. 15 and the little-known Black Bear Ridge in Belleville, Ont., grabs the last spot.

The U.S. magazine added Canadian rankings this year to its biennial rating of top U.S. courses. According to its methodology, a course needed rankings from at least 10 panelists to be considered.

In the U.S. ranking, Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey took over the top spot from Augusta National Golf Club.

Pebble Beach Golf Links was deemed the best public facility, well ahead of Whistling Strait (Straits course) and Pacific Dunes.


BIG MAC: Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., has received an honourable mention in the Golf Digest Awards for 2012.

In the same February issue, the magazine ranked Hughes at No. 10 in its list of top amateur men for last year.

Hughes, 22, is the reigning Canadian Amateur champion and won a few times while playing U.S. college golf at Kent State. He turned pro last year after graduating.


HOLA AMIGO: Matt Johnston of Winnipeg will join fellow Canadian Andrew Parr on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica this year.

Johnston, 28, earned his card on the developmental circuit last Friday at its qualifying school in Florida. He tied for 15th spot to earn one of 20 cards up for grabs.

Adam Cornelson of Langley, B.C., and veteran Derek Gillespie of Oshawa, Ont., came up shy by one and two shots, respectively, of winning cards.

Parr of London, Ont., secured his playing privileges earlier in the month at another Latinoamerica Q-school, this one in Peru.

They'll start the season as the only two Canadian full-time members of the circuit, which is owned and run by the PGA Tour and seen as a feeder system to its second-tier Tour.

Johnston and Parr have also both played on the PGA Tour Canada, another third-tier developmental league owned by the PGA Tour.

The Latinoamerica and Canadian schedules are set up to offer a full year of events, with the South America dates in the spring and fall and the Canadian stops in the summer.

The top players on each tour at the end of the year graduate to the Tour.

Parr indicated in a recent e-mail that he would play both this year. 'They provide the best opportunity right now for me and the direction I want to go," he wrote.


EGOLF OPENER: Former Canadian Amateur champion Cam Burke of New Hamburg, Ont., was the low Canadian at the eGolf Professional Tour's season opener on Sunday.

Burke, 25, who won the 2008 and 2009 Ams, tied for 17th place at the Palmetto Hall Championship in Hilton Head Island, S.C.

He finished 72 holes at even-par 288, 15 shots behind runaway winner Matt Hendrix of the United States.

Charlotte-based eGolf is regarded as the hottest U.S. mini-tour in men's golf these days. Other talented young Canadians who play the circuit include Matt Hill and Mackenzie Hughes.

RELATED LINK: More blogs by Jeff Brooke

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