The Masters is extra Canadian this year


It's been almost five decades since Canada had this strong a presence at the Masters.

Recent PGA Tour winners Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., and Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., will join former winner Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., when the golf season's first major tees off Thursday.

The Canadians, who played a practice round together at Augusta National on Tuesday. form the first Canadian trio at the Masters in 49 years. Al Balding, Gary Cowan and George Knudson all played in 1968.

Weir, of course, set the standard for Canadian achievement at men's modern major championships when he won the green jacket in 2003. Soon to turn 47, Weir is playing on his lifetime exemption from that victory and it will be an accomplishment if he were to survive Friday's cut.

Expectations are much higher for Hadwin and Hughes, who are making their Masters debuts. Both are recent winners on the PGA Tour, achieving their maiden victories in stunning fashion on either side of the holiday break. 

Life is good for Hadwin

Hadwin, 29, and now in his third PGA Tour season, had already turned heads when he fired a 59 in the California desert on his way to a solo-second finish. To that point, it had been his best PGA Tour finish, and when he won less than two months later at the Valspar Championship, few were surprised.

His general approach was to keep the good vibe and successful run going this week. 

"I'm going in there with confidence," he said. "I'm playing really well, I've had some success against great fields and it's just a matter of preparing the best I can and seeing where my game stacks up."

Hadwin was married two weeks ago and had to delay his honeymoon in Bora Bora when he earned his Masters invite. The newlyweds — Jessica Hadwin is a nurse from Kansas — also bought a house, closing the sale eight days before he will strike his first tee ball at the Masters. 

"All very good things happening, lots of good things in life right now," he said.

Hughes ready for Augusta's ups and downs

Hughes, 26, won in South Carolina in November, emerging as the victor in a four-man playoff in just his fifth start since earning his PGA Tour card. Like Hadwin, he's trying to be a sponge this week and on a couple of previous visits to Augusta National. 

In a quirky twist, Hughes is also newly married, leaving for his honeymoon in Thailand shortly after his win.

Hughes had no magic explanation between the recent nuptials and winning on the PGA Tour. Be he did offer a perspective about the Masters that doesn't show itself even on high definition television screens — the rugged elevation changes.

Hughes said his pre-tournament visits showed him how much the storied course can take out of you if you're not careful managing your practice schedule and related activities. 

"There are a lot of things you have to learn quickly, but one of the things that you have to be careful about is conditioning," said Hughes.

It ain't easy on the greens

Managing expectations is another factor. The reality is that first-timers at Augusta typically don't fare well. The tricky greens and the general aura of the place seem to be the two chief culprits.

One former U.S. Amateur champ, Bubba Dickerson, remarked upon his first visit that he gently tapped his ball on a practice green and it rolled all the way through the putting surface and came to rest near another player's bag. 

Hadwin acknowledged it was a lot to take in, especially with his recent wedding, but seemed unfazed. 

"I've gone to lots of courses that I haven't played before and I played well," he said. 

Realistically, both Hadwin and Hughes also have to take the long view. They have good seasons going, and more high finishes — especially a win — will put them in the driver's seat for other major championships and the playoff events that follow. 

To that end, Hadwin is currently fifth in the FedEx Cup standings and Hughes is 14th. Also looming is the Presidents Cup, slated for the fall, and Hadwin is currently inside the cut-off to make the International team. 

Right now, both Hadwin and Hughes are about to take their place among the relatively few Canadians who have earned a spot to play in the world's most exclusive golf tournament.

"You have to do something special to get in to the Masters," he said. 

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