GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Five Canadians qualified for match play at this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, but before the event started at Nassau Country Club each was fully aware that it has been nearly 40 years since a Canadian lifted the Robert Cox Trophy.
To be exact, Cathy Sherk, in 1978, was the last Canadian to win this championship. Prior to that, World Golf Hall of Fame member Marlene Stewart Streit won it in 1956.
“The gap since the last Canadian winner is part of the reason why we now have the Team Canada program,” said Canadian national team coach Tristan Mullally, a PGA professional who keeps his national players’ swing mechanics sharp.
“We feel there should have been more success since the last U.S. Women’s Amateur winner, but Canada is a big country with a small volume of golfers. We want to find ways for players to be as good as they can be.”
Part of that national push is evident in the team approach utilized by the players. The national team members wear matching uniforms each day, dine together in the clubhouse and huddle with coaches for discussions in the practice areas both before and after matches.
Away from the course, Team Canada focuses on mental performance, strength and conditioning, equipment fitting, nutrition, technique, course management and planning.
Thanks to corporate funding, Golf Canada travels to elite amateur competitions throughout Canada, the United States and around the world. National team members are also lodging together this week in a restored mansion located on the old Guggenheim estate on Long Island’s North Shore.
“All year, we approach every event as a team even though we play as individuals,” said Mullally. “We train together, practice together and travel together, and when our players get knocked out of competition, we support the ones who are still in it.”
Four of the five national team members qualified for match play, led by Brooke Mackenzie Henderson, a 16-year-old from Smiths Falls, Ontario, who is No. 2 in the latest World Amateur Golf Ranking™ and the low amateur at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open. She was joined by Augusta James, Brittany Marchand and Anne-Catherine Tanguay. All but Tanguay advanced into Thursday’s round of 32, with Henderson and James the lone survivors into the round of 16.
One other Canadian, Elizabeth Tong, also moved into Thursday’s round of 32, however, the Indiana University senior isn’t on the national team, which is selected through a structured qualifying system based on national and provincial performance results. Tong lost to James, 2 down.
Players who earn a spot on the team also must play well enough to stay on the team, based on each year’s order-of-merit system in Canadian amateur events.
“All girls growing up in Canada want to be a part of the national team,” said Henderson, who tied for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open at Pinehurst No. 2 and also made the cut in the 2013 Women’s Open.
Henderson reached the round of 16 with a 4-and-3 win over Ember Schuldt.
“Definitely, golf in Canada is growing, which is nice to see,” added Henderson, who has been on the national team for three years and represented Canada in the 2012 Women’s World Amateur Team Championship. “Hopefully, we’ll just keep going.”
The 2013 Canadian Ladies Amateur champion, Henderson credits Team Canada for offering support in every facet of her game.
“We have amazing coaching through this program,” she said. “I have access to coaches, a physical trainer, a psychologist, a physical therapist and a nutritionist. And because of the financial support, I’ve competed with the team in Scotland, Colombia, Turkey and in a lot of events in the U.S.”
The camaraderie between the players is also evident, which can make a long week of stressful match play more fun. Following her first-round match on Wednesday, Henderson stayed on the course to cheer for Marchand. On Thursday, the two were seen walking back to the clubhouse after their respective matches.
“I love coming to events like this because people see us in our uniforms and know we’re here together,” said Marchand, 22, of Orangeville, Ontario, a fourth-year Team Canada member who lost, 2 and 1, to Dylan Kim on Thursday.
“I think we’ve made a name for ourselves in golf and I think we’re proving we’re great in competition,” added Marchand, who just completed her collegiate eligibility at North Carolina State University, where she played for four years. One of her college teammates was James.
Like Henderson, Marchand also credits much of her personal success and growth as a player due to Canada’s support of the national team. Having expenses covered at competitions, as well as the benefit of on-site coaching and support from her compatriots, has enabled the Canadian to improve “by leaps and bounds.”
“Honestly, sometimes your success is not about technique,” added Marchand. “Sometimes, it’s about what you’re thinking before you get to the first tee and our coaches help us with that.”
While supportive of each other, members of Team Canada are still fiercely competitive. Each wants to win and when they have to play each other, it’s with the understanding that they will still amicably shake hands when the match concludes. But when one of them wins a championship, the team is also there to celebrate.
“When Augusta [James] won the Canadian Women’s Amateur in July, the whole team ran out on the green and sprayed her with water,” said Marchand. “We want the best for each other.”
And Team Canada wants the best for its top golfers. On its website, the mission statement is simple: “Our mission is to produce the best amateur golfers in the world.”
Already, that goal is on track. Canada currently has three players among the top 75 in the WAGR. Besides Henderson, James is No. 30 and Marchand No. 71.
“This program is about promoting excellence,” said Mullally. “And we’re all in this to have these players grow the game of golf in Canada.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.