Gander's Blair Bursey breaking new ground at Canadian Amateur Championship
19-year-old was the first male golfer from N.L. to receive an NCAA division-I golf scholarship
Through two rounds at the Canadian Amateur Championship, Gander's Blair Bursey sat atop the leaderboard.
The product of Gander Golf Club shot rounds of 64 and 69 to go nine-under-par after 36 holes. He holds a two-stroke lead over Beijing's Andy Zhang in a field of the best amateur golfers in North America.
For the avid golf fan in Newfoundland and Labrador, this is huge news. But for anyone unfamiliar with the less-than-glamorous world of amateur golf, Bursey's lead might be hard to put into perspective.
So here it is.
Canada's premier amateur tournament
First, let's consider the magnitude of the tournament.
The Amateur is Canada's premier tournament for amateur golfers. The field is deep, featuring the top golfers in Canada, most of whom play for American universities. Then there's some of the best American players from those American universities. Then there's Andy Zhang, who played in the U.S. Open alongside Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy at the age of 14.
This week's winner gets a berth in next week's U.S. Amateur Championship, as well as a chance to tee off alongside the pros in the 2017 RBC Canadian Open. Since golf is a sport of tradition and heritage, it's worth noting the Canadian Open is the third oldest continuous tournament on the PGA Tour behind the Open Championship and the U.S. Open.
For any Canadian to win the Canadian Am, it's a big deal.
What it means back home
For somebody from Newfoundland and Labrador, it's groundbreaking.
The province hasn't exactly set the golf world on fire. While NCAA schools bolster their men's rosters each year with the best young golfers from each province, Newfoundland and Labrador has contributed… well... Blair Bursey.
The 19-year-old was the first male golfer from the province to receive an NCAA division-I golf scholarship, joining the Utah Valley University Wolverines in 2014. Cathy Matthews-Kane of Corner Brook was a three-time Academic All-American at Iowa State and co-captained the golf team in her senior season.
Since 1950, the Canadian Amateur has moved around the country, landing at top golf courses in every province not named Newfoundland and Labrador. Bursey, along with St. John's natives Nathan Peters and Chuck Conley, has already made history this week. The trio was the first from Newfoundland to win the Willingdon Cup, given to the province with the two best combined scores through the first two rounds.
So now you know what it means to win the tournament, why should you care?
Who is Blair Bursey?
Gander Golf Club's golden boy was just 12 years old when he won the men's championship at his home course. When he enters a tournament in Newfoundland, he wins. It's hard to see that kind of talent as an underdog, but as Newfoundlanders, there's a chip on every shoulder.
Bursey doesn't attend a top-ranked program like the players below him on the leaderboard. The guy holding most of Utah Valley's golf records is now a senior account development manager at a social media company in Salt Lake City. Not exactly the jet-setting life of a pro golfer.
In a conversation with CBC last week, Bursey mentioned feeling a little spurned by being left off Golf Canada's national amateur team. The five-man squad features last year's Canadian Am runner-up, along with a Florida Gators graduate with a made-for-TV story and three other brilliant young players.
But it doesn't matter.
When he teed off just after noon on Wednesday, Bursey was beating them all.
"Golf is a funny game," he said in that conversation. The ups and downs come fast. By the time you finish reading this, Blair Bursey could have snowballed off the leaderboard.
But just to be there in the first place is more than any Newfoundlander has done before, and he knows it.
"I'm really proud to be from where I'm from and to always represent my province," Bursey told a Golf Canada reporter after the second round. "Being a little different and growing up in Newfoundland, trying to play college golf and high-level amateur golf out of Newfoundland has been difficult at times... but the people back there are so good and so supportive."