Q&A with Graham DeLaet: ‘Like a dream come true’

The Statesman catches up with former Bronco who’s making a PGA run.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comSeptember 12, 2013 

Graham DeLaet is sporting a playoff beard during the FedExCup playoffs. He anticipates being ‘pretty furry’ at the Tour Championship next weekend.

RICH SCHULTZ — The Associated Press

One of the best stories in professional golf spent last week relaxing at home in Meridian, playing with the Boise State men’s golf team and accepting a warm welcome from the fans at Bronco Stadium.

Graham DeLaet — a former Boise State golfer (2001-06) from Saskatchewan who has made the Treasure Valley his home — is fifth in the FedExCup standings going into the PGA Tour’s final two events of the 2013 season.

Any player in the top five after this week’s BMW Championship in Illinois can win the season-long FedExCup title — and $10 million prize — with a victory at the 30-man Tour Championship next week in Atlanta.

DeLaet, 31, finished second and third in the first two playoff events. He has seven top-10 finishes overall.

“Originally going into the playoffs, my goal was pretty much to make the Tour Championship,” DeLaet said. “I thought that would be a pretty good achievement. But because I played well the last couple weeks, I think it’s a realistic goal to set my sights on trying to win (the FedExCup). It will probably take a win in the next two weeks.”

DeLaet’s hot streak has pushed him to No. 34 in the World Golf Ranking and 16th on the PGA Tour money list ($2.65 million). He will become the second Canadian to play for the international team in The Presidents Cup next month in Ohio. He likely will make his World Golf Championships debut in late October in China. And he has secured his first invitations to the Masters and U.S. Open for next season and second to the British Open, making it likely he will play all four majors next year.

“I’m really looking forward to what the future holds,” he said.

Here’s what else DeLaet had to say last week — on the Masters, compliments from Ernie Els, his hockey career, his playoff beard and the search for his first victory.

Q: In the past couple weeks, you’ve qualified for the Presidents Cup, the Tour Championship and the Masters. What’s that feel like?

A: “It’s unbelievable. Literally, like a dream come true. Making the Presidents Cup team is by far the proudest moment of my career. Obviously growing up and watching the Masters, that’s my favorite sporting event to watch — over the Super Bowl. To be playing in that, I don’t know, I kind of just have to pinch myself. I don’t think it’s really soaked in yet.”

Q: What has made the difference for you this year?

A: “I’m just feeling comfortable playing out there. It’s my third year. I know the courses that I feel that I can play well at, I kind of avoid the courses that don’t suit my game. I’m playing with a lot more confidence. I feel like I belong out there. … I’m making a lot more putts this year. That’s been the difference with the numbers I’ve been shooting.”

Q: You have peaked for the playoffs. Coincidence or planning?

A: “We had the week off before the playoffs started. I was on a long haul. I had played eight weeks in a row. I was worn out. I missed my last two cuts — at the Canadian Open, which means a lot to me, obviously, it’s my national championship and it was disappointing playing poorly there, and then missing the cut at the PGA Championship. I was just worn out both mentally and physically and needed a break. I came home for a week off before we headed off to The Barclays. It was just refreshing. Mentally, I felt like a new person. So that might have helped. It was definitely timely to have a second- and third-place finish but I did feel like I was in a good place mentally.”

Q: You’ve taken the long road to the PGA Tour — playing on the Canadian Tour and winning money on six tours in 2009. It must be rewarding to see all that pay off like it has.

A: “For sure. Anyone who knows me will tell you, I’ve chased my dreams. I set high goals and I go after them. It was definitely disappointing to have to play on the mini-tours for three or four years because I felt like I had the game to be on the PGA Tour at that time. Looking back, I think it helped me develop my game and learn how to win. Even if you’re winning on the Canadian Tour or the Sunshine Tour (in South Africa), you feel the exact same nerves walking down the 72nd hole as you do in a PGA Tour event. Because at that time, if you’re playing for a $30,000 paycheck on the Canadian Tour — that’s a big deal when you don’t have any dough in the bank.”

Q: How has your game changed since the Canadian Tour days?

A: “Mentally, more than anything. I accept poor shots a lot better than I used to. I don’t get all riled up. I’ve just learned to play the game better. From a physical standpoint, I’ve improved a little bit with ball-striking and chipping and putting. But the main difference is learning how to play the game and just maturing as a player.”

Q: How do you explain the jump from three top-10 finishes last year to seven this year?

A: “It’s believing in myself and feeling like I belong out there. I get more respect from the top players — guys that I looked up to my whole career, coming up to me on the driving range and saying, ‘Great playing. Keep it going.’ Those are the little things as you go along the way that just really help build your confidence, when some of the best players in the world are impressed with the way you’re playing. It’s still kind of unbelievable to me. I played with Ernie (Els at the Deutsche Bank Championship). When I shot 62 in the third round, we were shaking hands afterward and he kind of pulled me in and said, ‘Unbelievable playing, man.’ That’s coming from a four-time major champ who I’ve looked up to my whole life. It’s pretty cool.”

Q: I heard you grow a playoff beard. Is that because of your hockey roots?

A: “Exactly. I didn’t quite make it deep enough into the playoffs (last year) to make any kind of impact on my face.”

Q: How is it this year?

A: “It’s getting pretty grisly. By Atlanta (for the Tour Championship), it’s going to be pretty furry.”

Q: How much hockey did you play?

A: “I played competitively my whole life growing up. My hockey career ended when I had some back issues when I was 18. I always wanted to play hockey — that was my goal in life. I got hurt when I was 18 and that’s when I started looking for a golf scholarship. I was always a pretty good golfer, but it was never anything I thought I’d do for a living. Boise State was the best offer I had. I really didn’t know much about Idaho. I came down here and fell in love with the city. A lot of guys on tour will be like, ‘Why do you live in Boise?’ I’m like, ‘Man, it’s awesome. That’s why we live there. We love it there.’ ”

Q: When did you start playing hockey?

A: “I was on skates when I was 3 years old.”

Q: How good were you?

A: “When I was 17, I played a couple games up with the Junior A team in my hometown. I probably would have played on that team had I not gotten hurt. … But who knows? I wasn’t a very big guy, so I would have definitely had to put on a lot of weight and get stronger. That was always my dream. I’ve got some buddies now who play in the NHL. They always think I have the best job in the world and I’d (like) to be doing what they’re doing.”

Q: What did you do to your back?

A: “I probably had a bulging or herniated disc at that time. I couldn’t put on my socks by myself for about a month. It slowly got better. I always had little spurts where it would kick in and I wouldn’t be able to play golf for a few days when I was at Boise State. Eventually it got the best of me and I had to have surgery in 2011. (He missed most of that season.)”

Q: What kind of golf career did you have in Saskatchewan?

A: “I had success as a golfer growing up. I won a provincial high school (title) my last two years of high school and a lot of local tournaments. I just loved competing. I’m a super-competitive guy, but I never really practiced at all. I just loved to go play golf with my buddies and my parents and play in tournaments on the weekends.”

Q: How’d you end up in Boise?

A: “Mike Young (was the coach). We went through a company in San Diego, College Athletic Placement Service. My parents hired this guy and he sent my resume to pretty much every school across the U.S. Boise State was the best offer, financially, that I had. … I met the love of my life (his wife of five years, Ruby). K.B. (current coach Kevin Burton), he had a huge influence on my career. He was kind of my mentor my first two or three years I was playing professionally and my last couple years in college. He’s one of the best guys in the world — he’d do anything for anybody.”

Q: Ruby was a student at Boise State?

A: “She was. My last year in college, one of my old teammates, I was living at his place at the time. His fiancée at the time was good friends with Ruby. She introduced us.”

Q: How often do you get home to Meridian?

A: “Pretty much any time I have an off week, I’ll be here, unless I have some sponsor functions I have to do or if I’m going up to Canada to visit my family.”

Q: Does Ruby travel with you?

A: “She does. Pretty much full time. … You definitely do get homesick. It helps a lot to have Ruby with me. The first three years, when I was playing mini-tours, Canadian Tour, down in South Africa, we didn’t have the finances at that time for her to travel with me. She was working here at the bank and I was traveling around the world. It got pretty lonely.”

Q: Strange to go from that lifestyle to all of a sudden you’re winning $2 million?

A: “It’s crazy. One of my good buddies, a Canadian guy who I played the Canadian Tour with, we traveled together. He texted me after I made the Presidents Cup and said, ‘Dude, you just made the Presidents Cup team. It’s a long way from sleeping on the floor in a hotel in Mazatlan, Mexico.’ That put it all in perspective.”

Q: The one thing missing so far is a win. At what point do you get frustrated or impatient trying to get that?

A: “I’ve only really had the chance, like a legitimate chance to win, probably five or six times, so it’s not like I’m a guy who’s been out here for 15 years and never closed the deal. There’s no frustration at all. I’m patient. I totally believe in myself that it’s going to happen. There have been times I’ve been in contention and I’ve played well and sometimes you just get beat. You’re playing against the best players in the world. … You’re playing against Tiger (Woods), Phil (Mickelson), (Henrik) Stenson and (Steve) Stricker. It’s hard, but I definitely feel like I have it in me to get it done.”

Q: What’s the closest you’ve come to a win?

A: “A second, two thirds. Twice I’ve been a stroke behind a playoff. I’ve had the lead going into Sunday’s round. I’ve been in the final group on Sunday three or four times. That’s what we play for. Obviously you want the wins, but it’s being in contention and having those goose bumps. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

Q: How do you keep this hot streak alive for a couple more weeks?

A: “Just keep doing basically what I’ve been doing. I’m more of a feel player. I’m not mechanical at all. I don’t have a swing coach — never really have. For me, it’s hitting balls, getting that repetition, just feeling like my swing is kind of grooved — and that’s what it’s felt like the last couple weeks. The only way to keep that going is to continue to practice and play. And then just riding the confidence and believing that it can happen.”

TOUR WATCH

Web.com: Former Boise State golfer and Meridian resident Troy Merritt is in 10th place in the competition for 25 PGA Tour cards during the first Web.com Tour Finals. Merritt, who earned the second-to-last spot in the finals during the regular season, has tied for 15th and 17th in the first two events. The tour is in Ohio this week and concludes with the Web.com Tour Championship beginning Sept. 26.

PGA Tour Canada: Joe Panzeri of Meridian is fifth on the PGA Tour Canada money list. The top five players earn membership on the 2014 Web.com Tour. Tyler Aldridge of Nampa is 16th. The Tour Championship begins Thursday.

Symetra Tour: Madeleine Sheils of Boise is 61st on the money list in her rookie season (top 10 advance to LPGA Tour). She has made the past six cuts, including a tie for 11th and a tie for 25th. The tour has two Florida events left, beginning Sept. 20 and 26. Sheils also tied for fourth in the Colorado Women’s Open last week and plans to enter LPGA Tour qualifying school in October.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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