Beyond mastering their short game, Canada’s up-and-coming golfers must also clear some steep financial hurdles on the path to professional success.
Adam Hadwin remembers all too well what it’s like to be uncertain where your next paycheque is coming from. These days the 25-year-old wunderkind from Abbotsford, B.C., is one of Canada’s most hotly tipped golfers. He has status on the Web.com Tour—golf’s equivalent of Triple-A baseball—and earned $168,713 last year, barely missing the dollar total that would have vaulted him onto the PGA Tour.
But in 2009, after graduating from the University of Louisville, Hadwin faced some difficult choices. He could have tried to qualify for the Canadian Tour, but decided that was too costly. Instead Hadwin decided he’d stay closer to home and play the Vancouver Golf Tour. He put $2,000 in entry fees on his credit card, which Hadwin’s father, a club pro, later covered. Hadwin had immediate success, winning four local Vancouver events, but still didn’t have the cash to pursue his dream. To raise $60,000, he sold some investors from his home club of Morgan Creek, a stake in his potential earnings. In the end he didn’t need the money—he won a tournament in Arizona that bankrolled his season—but Hadwin recognizes the money still played an important role.
Frankly, the biggest hurdle most young Canadian golfers face isn’t talent, it is the lack of financial resources to chase their dream, which can cost upwards of $75,000 a year.
“With $60,000 in the bank I didn’t worry about where my next meal was coming from or whether I could afford a hotel,” Hadwin says. “Cash is the reason a lot of guys don’t make it. It is expensive if you’re trying to do things right—getting proper training and eating right. I was fortunate to find some guys willing to take the risk so I didn’t have to worry.”
A year later Hadwin would win $228,800 for a fourth-place finish at the RBC Canadian Open, all but eliminating any financial concerns.
“The game requires a lot of focus,” says Landmark Sports Group Inc.’s George Sourlis, who became Hadwin’s agent after the golfer competed in the 2010 Canadian Open in Toronto. “It is really hard to have that presence of mind when you are worried about your funding.”
Interestingly, B.C. has produced several of Canada’s most successful young pros in recent years. Perhaps the most successful was Abbotsford’s James Lepp, who inked a significant deal with Titleist after winning the NCAA Division I championship in 2005. Lepp’s golf career took a back seat in 2010 while he launched Kikkor, a shoe company. He resurfaced in 2012 for a Golf Channel reality TV series, but it remains to be seen if Lepp will return full time to the game. Nevertheless, his off-course sponsorship success is the model most agents strive for.
“Everyone was very bullish on James,” says Wasserman Media Group sports agent Chris Armstrong, who represents Abbotsford golf notable Nick Taylor. “He received a sizable equipment deal, which has become more of a challenge in recent years.”
Armstrong says the goal with top young prospects is to ink low six-figure deals that will offset any expenses a golfer has while playing mini-tours and trying to build a career. In Taylor’s case he is sponsored—somewhat fittingly—by equipment giant TaylorMade.
But Danny Fritz, vice-president of IMG Canada and agent to North Vancouver golfer Eugene Wong, says finding sponsorship deals has become an increasing challenge. Wong signed a deal with Nike last year that gives the golfer some freedom, and his finances were buoyed by wins on the Canadian Tour last summer. But Wong is the exception, rather than the rule, Fritz says.
“There are a lot of guys out there who were good players, but perhaps didn’t have the same exposure as someone like Eugene,” Fritz says. “But what you can get is based largely on what you’ve done.”
And that’s the case for every deal. Fritz says smaller sponsorship deals are as much of a challenge to conclude as larger deals. Wong says he initially considered turning pro in 2011, a year after winning the Jack Nicklaus award as the NCAA’s top male golfer, but he stumbled in his junior year at the University of Oregon and corporate interest waned. He rebounded in his senior year, and with Wong once again one of the world’s top young golfers, Fritz was able to seal the Nike deal.
But golfers never tend to forget the fallow periods. Hadwin knows that a spell of poor play, coupled with the costs of travelling to tournaments each week, can rapidly deplete his finances. These days, however, he’s opening up the purse strings, especially where it involves improving his performance. He may not own a car, but Hadwin, who’s on the road some 30 weeks each year, says he’s prepared to pay for what counts.
“I’ve started valuing my comfort and time a little bit more,” he says. “I still use Priceline.com for all my hotels and have roommates each week. But… I’ll spend it on coaching and training—things that will contribute to my career.”