Bunker is Canadian Open's weekend warrior

Peter Robinson profiles Dave Bunker of Richmond, Ont., a full-time school teacher good enough to gain entry into a second Canadian Open at Vancouver's Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.

Amid the stars, journeyman and assorted characters that arrived in Vancouver this week for the Canadian Open, it's a virtual certainty that none have quite the story like Dave Bunker.

No, it's not the name. Bunker has been arguably Canada's most successful amateur golfer the past five years, so a surname that denotes trouble on a course is misleading if nothing else.

It's the fact that the 45-year-old school teacher from Richmond Hill, Ont., is more like those that will be watching rather than playing in the field he will be competing against at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.  

The world of courtesy cars, multimillion-dollar purses and the generally coddled existence that most PGA Tour regulars enjoy week in and week out is about as far away as you can get from Bunker's.

Heck, even the handful of other amateurs in the field, in addition to being half his age, enjoy a comfortable existence as high-end college and national team players.

Bunker's world, though, is an entirely different existence.

Canadian Content

The field has 17 Canadians with the first dozen either regular PGA Tour members or having received early exemptions. Joining them are five late qualifiers via the Canadian Tour money list or the Monday qualifier.

Mike Weir's T5 in 2008 at Glen Abbey remains Canada's finest showing in recent years.

Stephen Ames tied for seventh in 2005 at Shaughnessy and tied for eighth with fellow Canadian Chris Baryla in 2009 at Glen Abbey. 

No Canadian has won the Canadian Open since Pat Fletcher in 1954 at nearby Point Grey.

— Peter Robinson

Every year, he uses his summer vacation to compete — and compete well — in a dizzying array of amateur tournaments, in particular the Canadian mid-amateur championship. Bunker has won it three times in recent years, including late last summer in Ottawa. That earned him a second invitation to the Canadian Open after he made his tournament debut last year at St. George's in Toronto.

"It's the same as last year," Bunker said, referring to how relatively comfortable he feels about teeing it up in his second PGA Tour event.

"I didn't feel anything [as far as nerves] until the first tee shot on the first day [last year]. I feel the same now — maybe a little more comfortable about how to get things, how to get to the range and transportation and how to get places."

Say one thing about him, he's taken a circuitous route in reaching Vancouver.

Bunker's story is not much different than the literally thousands of excellent recreational players that play every year in Canada. He is not a member of any club and, until he started showing up on leaderboards at provincial and national amateur tournaments roughly five years back, his competitive golf acumen was limited to playing as an undergrad at the University of Toronto more than 20 years ago.

Once Bunker started working and became a married father of two girls, his spare time was spent mostly helping to raise Sandra and Kristine, who grew up to be competitive swimmers on U.S. college scholarships.

A little more than a decade ago, with his daughters nearing their teens, he started to find more time to play golf and slowly started to develop some serious game. That progression, combined with a mental and physical maturity not common among the young bombers that dominate amateur golf, eventually bagged him the three mid-am titles and an Ontario amateur, along with a whole host of other honours.

"I'm old enough to know that you have to play the way the golf course [allows], to set myself up to a spot on the fairway where I have 140 yards in," Bunker said. "With younger guys, that sort of thing doesn't matter.

"They try and take advantage [of their length]. That's how you end up making dumb mistakes."

'I really want to make the cut'

Bunker certainly didn't embarrass himself in last year's Canadian Open, shooting two rounds of one-over par 71 and missed the cut by three strokes. It can be tricky to gauge the scoring variables that go into tournament golf, especially for an amateur in a one-off event, but Bunker got the tougher side of the draw last year at St. George's and had some tough luck chasing the cutline.

Had good fortune shined a bit more light his way, Bunker could very well have made the cut.

Viewing last year's showing through the Canadian lens, Bunker ranked ninth among the 18 Canadians in the tournament — four shots better than former Masters champion Mike Weir and tied with David Hearn, who re-earned his PGA Tour card a few months later.

Knowing that he was guaranteed an exemption at Shaughnessy, Bunker spent most of the past year — well, aside from his job — working on his short game in the hope he can stick around for the weekend.

"Last year, I just wanted to play well," he said. "But this year, I really want to make the cut.

"That's the goal."