Graham DeLaet Playing For Calgary, For Canada

CROMWELL — He has a leather-covered Calgary Flames yardage book in his pocket. His caddie has a Whalers cap on his head.

And this weekend, Graham DeLaet has Canada in his heart.

"It's just a shame what's happening up there in Calgary," DeLaet said Saturday after he had taken a three-way share of the Travelers Championship third-round lead with a 5-under 65. "A lot of people are affected. It's a disaster situation."

Charley Hoffman, who is tied with DeLaet and Bubba Watson at 10-under heading into the final 18 holes of our state's premier sports event, walked to the 17th tee with a hybrid club and a two-shot lead last year. Hoffman drove his shot into the water and by the time he walked off the 18th green, the 2012 championship belonged to Marc Leishman.

Water means disaster in golf. Water ruins rounds and championship dreams. Water breaks hearts. Yet we also have to be careful with some words on the sports pages, because they are relative to the games we play and do not equate to life's harshest realities.

At least three Albertans lie dead and 75,000 were forced from their homes as the Bow and Elbow rivers raised five to 10 times their normal flow levels in recent days. Calgary's downtown is closed off until mid-week. This is the real devastation of water.

Cities like Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary may seem awfully distant to us at times, but for those who followed the Whalers, who followed the WHA and NHL in our state for years with a passion, they are cities never too far from our sporting hearts. It's hard to read about the Saddledome, home of the Flames, home of the 1988 Winter Olympics, flooded to the 10th row of its seats. It's hard to read about water cascading high off the barns on the Calgary Stampede grounds. For a Western Canadian like DeLaet, from the small town of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, it's more difficult.

DeLaet and his wife Ruby decided to step up and do their share. They decided to donate $1,000 for every one of his birdies this weekend, and $2,500 for any eagle.

"It's a pretty small part, what we're doing, but anything helps," DeLaet said. "All across Canada the support has been unbelievable for those in Alberta. I feel super fortunate to have grown up in that country and now living in the U.S. [in Boise], you guys do the same thing here. You saw it with the Oklahoma tornadoes."

PGA Tour of Canada is matching DeLaet's donation.

"That tour means a lot to me," DeLaet said "I spent there years of my life out there trying to hone my game. For them to step up as well, means a lot."

On Saturday, DeLaet birdied six holes, so there's $12,000 right there. He'll be playing for a lot more money Sunday, $1.098 million goes to the winner. And while the galleries love Bubba and will have a soft spot for Hoffman after last year's meltdown, the winds from the North Country will blow in DeLaet's favor. It doesn't hurt that his caddy Julien Trudeau is wearing a Whalers cap he bought at Lids in Meriden.

"All year, we've been doing it to support local teams," said Trudeau, originally from Montreal. "I try to go NHL as much as possible. I'm a big Canadiens fan. So I'd never wear a Bruins or Maple Leafs hat."

Of course not.

"I'm definitely a Flames fan," said DeLaet, pulling his leather-covered Flames yardage book out of his pocket. "Julien and I were talking about the hat walking up 18, that he has gotten more cheers — 'Go Whale!' — than we have all year. We enjoy it. He has a pretty nice hat collection now as well."

It's shouldn't be an insult to DeLaet, who played at Boise State, to say his golf is bigger than his reputation in the states. The guy has three Top-10s and eight Top-25s in making 13 of 16 cuts this year. He's 52nd in the FedEx Cup standings. After making $954,000 in 2010, including a career-best third place tie at the Shell Houston Open, he played in only two events, including missing the cut at Travelers in 2011, after undergoing back surgery for a herniated disk. DeLaet got it back together last year, winning $1.051 million with three Top-10 finishes. The guy is eighth on the PGA Tour in driving distance, ahead of Watson, and bet you didn't know he leads in greens in regulation.

"The guy is a great golfer," Trudeau said. "It's no surprise he's playing this way. Friday [when he shot a 70] we just had a lot of putts that broke a lot."

DeLaet said Trudeau kept him patient through a front nine with only one birdie. Mr. Whalers Cap told him he was rolling the ball well. He was. DeLaet birdied 10, 11, 12 and 13. Folks in Calgary smiled.

"I settled my nerves a bit," said DeLaet. "I made a three-putt bogey on 16. I was fortunate my [second shot] on 18 stayed up on top and didn't fall over because that would have been an impossible up and down."

He holed the birdie putt from the fringe from 15 feet. He had a share of the lead. Yet here's the thing. In two of the past three Travelers, the eventual winner has come back from six shots in the final round. After Saturday, 28 golfers were within six shots of the three leaders.

"It's going to take a hot putter for me to win," DeLaet said. "At the same time, I feel like I'm hitting it well. I'm in control of my ball."

DeLaet certainly is well rested. He decided to take two weeks off after Memorial. He had signed up for sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open in Columbus, but pulled out.

"I knew mentally I needed a break," DeLaet said. "I felt like I was playing well and could have qualified for the U.S. Open, but at the same time I thought the best thing for me going forward was take the year as a whole not just one week.

"I'm fresh again. I'm in a good place mentally and physically. I was able to go home and fish for a week. It turned out to be a good decision."

The other day on a PGA Tour conference call, DeLaet talked about his improved consistency. He talked about going in the right direction. And then he said something telling.

"Without a win, I don't really consider it a breakthrough," he said.

He has had his chances at Colonial and Honda and hasn't been able to complete the deal. Today he has a chance for his first breakthrough which would make him the 17th golfer to gain his first PGA Tour win in this tournament. It will not be easy. Patrick Reed had shot up the leaderboard and with his blonde wife, Justine, as his caddy, Reed began Saturday as the delightful national TV story. There in the shadow of Bubba's wife, Angie, the 6-4 former blonde basketball star at Georgie, was 5-1 Justine carrying a 40-pound bag effortlessly. By nightfall, however, Reed had fallen five shots off the pace. By nightfall, another long-haired blond, Hoffman, had joined Bubba and DeLaet atop the leaderboard for a delicious Sunday of golf and his chance at Travelers redemption.

Somebody is going drop one on the water, Sunday. Somebody's dreams will fall apart. Somebody is going to drop one more birdie than anyone else. One guy will be playing for a little more this time around TPC River Highlands and you can feel winds from North Country calling for those putts to drop.

"It's cool what Graham is doing for Calgary," Trudeau said. "Really, really cool."

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