Bright future for Canadian women's golf

Tim Wharnsby notes that Lorie Kane was the last Canadian to win on the LPGA Tour, in 2001, but the current crop of homegrown professionals and future pros is worth getting excited about.

The facts are difficult to ignore.

There hasn't been a Canadian victory on the LPGA Tour for more than a decade and the best finish by a Canuck other than Charlottetown's Lorie Kane was Hamilton's Alena Sharp's career-best, seventh-place showing in October 2007.

So has Canadian women’s golf hit the skids?

Kane doesn’t think so and we'll take her word on the subject because, at age 46, she remains relevant on the LPGA Tour, even though her last visit to the winner's circle was back in February 2001. Since her last victory Kane has 38 Top 10s, including six runner-up finishes.

What gives the four-time winner hope for the future of women's golf in Canada? Well, preparing Tuesday for the CN Canadian Women's Open, Kane played a practice round with a pair of promising Canadian amateur golfers, Nicole Vandermade and Jessica Wallace.

"Jessica qualified here by winning one of the CN Tour events, which I think is a great feat for an amateur," Kane said. "Nicole, I’ve been watching for the last couple of years and I think she's somebody definitely on my radar that has length and strength.

"She, basically, hits it like a guy and is going to progress very quickly. I think the state of our game in Canada is very good."

Kane was a late bloomer. She didn't notch her first LPGA victory until she was 35. What helped her persevere was the inspiration she drew from other Canadians who won on the LPGA Tour like Dawn Coe-Jones, Lisa Walters, Jennifer Wyatt, Barb Bunkowsky-Scherbak and Gail Graham. That impressive group was stirred to success earlier by Sandra Post and Jocelyne Bourassa — the only Canadian to have won the Canadian Women’s Open, back in 1973.

"Dawn Coe-Jones once told me that coming home and playing in Canada was like having an extra club in your bag, so embrace it," Kane said. "For a while, I didn’t embrace it.

"I was very nervous to come home and play because of the expectations not only for myself, but for what other people want for us. Of course, we want a Canadian to win.

"I didn't handle that burden very well. Now I embrace it.

"Dawn gave me lots of hope, so now I'm giving back to the younger players. It was very flattering to get a call from Brent to say could you or would you be interested in playing a practice round with Jessica."

Brent is Brent Franklin, a former Canadian amateur champion and later a successful professional golfer. Franklin is the assistant golf coach at the University of Colorado, where the 20-year-old Wallace, from Langley, B.C., attends on a golf scholarship. Vandermade, 21, is from Brantford, Ont. and plays golf at Texas. The two youngsters took the opportunity to ask Kane all sorts of questions during their practice round together.

"We talked generally as to what their next step in the process that they're going to be going through," Kane said. "They’re both seniors in university and are getting ready to decide where they want to go.

"Frankly, I'm here to encourage them because I was really lucky that I had a lot of help from a lot of different people … Come Thursday, we're competitors, but I’m going to give back as much as I have taken from the game."

With Vandermade and Wallace on the horizon, Canadian women's golf is looking up again. Another boost came when Manulife announced earlier this year it will sponsor a second Canadian LPGA event in Waterloo, Ont. next June.

Canada's open championship lost its major status on the LPGA Tour several years ago, but remains one of the most popular events. It boasts the strongest field of the season this week with 19 of the Top 20 money leaders.

"This is probably the best tournament on tour," Kane said. "The U.S. Open is the U.S. Open, but this is a national championship and what CN does for the players — bringing us the great facilities across the country, the purse size — everything has major status."

Past champions competing at Hillsdale