ATB Fi­nan­cial Clas­sic re­turns to Coun­try Hills Golf & Coun­try Club

Calgary Sun - - SPORTS - wes Gilbert­Son @WesGil­bert­son

Shhh … Be sure to spread the word to your golf-fan friends, but maybe don’t men­tion to Mother Na­ture that the ATB Fi­nan­cial Clas­sic re­turns this week to the Talons Course at Coun­try Hills Golf Club.

The ris­ing stars of the Macken­zie Tour-PGA Tour Canada have seen some wacky weather in two pre­vi­ous stops at the pri­vate hang­out in north­west Cal­gary.

The tour pros were al­ready in Cow­town when the tour­na­ment was post­poned due to the his­toric flood­ing in June 2013, with a mid­week make-up date sched­uled later that sum­mer.

A year ago, third-round leader Char­lie Bull was crowned the champ af­ter the fi­nal lap was washed out by an overnight down­pour.

“We’re hop­ing it’s third time lucky,” said Brett Burge­son, the head pro­fes­sional at Coun­try Hills. “Ob­vi­ously, in the flood year, there were a lot of big­ger is­sues in Cal­gary than miss­ing a golf tour­na­ment. But last year, hav­ing the rain event that we had on Satur­day night, it was not ex­pected by any­body that we weren’t go­ing to be play­ing on Sun­day. It was just crazy. You wouldn’t be­lieve how much the creek rose and all of sud­den, we didn’t have ac­cess to the sev­enth green. We didn’t have ac­cess to the 18th fair­way. We didn’t have ac­cess to No. 9.

“So all of a sud­den you go from pretty be­nign con­di­tions to not playable, which was just crazy. The flood year, that was a dif­fer­ent story. We knew it was com­ing and it could be bad. Last year was a to­tal sur­prise, and re­ally dis­ap­point­ing be­cause of that.”

The 45-year-old Burge­son has twice as much rea­son to mon­i­tor the fore­cast this week — the Air­drie res­i­dent is not only play­ing host but will also com­pete in the $175,000 show­down, which tees off Thurs­day on the 7,209-yard Talons track.

Burge­son, feel­ing much bet­ter af­ter bat­tling a trou­ble­some hip for the past few years, is one of eight lo­cals in field for the lat­est in­stal­ment of the ATB Fi­nan­cial Clas­sic.

Jared du Toit (Glen­coe) and James Love (In­gle­wood) are full-timers on the Macken­zie Tour.

The list of spon­sor ex­emp­tions in­cludes young­sters Ri­ley Flem­ing (Col­li­cutt Sid­ing) and Scott Secord (Coun­try Hills) and four teach­ing pros — Burge­son, Wes Hef­fer­nan (Golf Canada Cal­gary Cen­tre), Dustin Ris­don (Na­tional Golf Academy at McCall Lake) and Kyle Miller (GolfTEC Cal­gary Mid­na­pore), who will make his­tory this week as the first ath­lete with cere­bral palsy to tee it up in a PGA Tour­sanc­tioned show­down.

Burge­son has had a hand­ful of op­por­tu­ni­ties over the years to test his game on what’s now the Macken­zie Tour, high­lighted by his T-22 show­ing at the 2007 Telus Ed­mon­ton Open. He missed the cut by one stroke at the 2013 ATB Fi­nan­cial Clas­sic.

“It’s go­ing to be a very nerve-wrack­ing first tee for me,” Burge­son said. “I’ve said this to many mem­bers that I’ve taught over the years: ‘If I’m not ner­vous on the first tee, then there is some­thing wrong.’ But this will be a whole new level, or at least a level that I haven’t felt in a few years.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to that. I’m look­ing for­ward to that chal­lenge. I’m look­ing for­ward to be­ing done that first tee-shot. I’ve al­ready got a plan of what I’m go­ing to do so I can get off the tee and into the fair­way and start to at­tack. And that’s ul­ti­mately what I have to do.”

Af­ter all, you need to rack up some birdies or the ris­ing stars on the Macken­zie Tour will leave you in the dust. They’ve proven ex­actly that in two pre­vi­ous stops at Coun­try Hills Talons.

Idaho’s Joe Panz­eri shaved 17 strokes off par dur­ing the resched­uled shootout in 2013, good for a two-stroke vic­tory.

A year ago, Bull was al­ready 16-un­der through 54 holes when Mother Na­ture had a hissy-fit.

For­merly known as the Cana­dian Tour, this mi­nor­league loop has al­ways pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity for fans to see golf’s soon-to-be stars be­fore they are big names.

Thing is, the wait seems to be get­ting shorter and shorter.

In 2013, Tony Finau matched the course record at Coun­try Hills with a rip of 8-un­der 64 in the clos­ing round. He was on the cover of Golf Di­gest just two years later.

The Cana­dian con­tin­gent that week in­cluded both Macken­zie Hughes and Nick Tay­lor, now win­ners on the PGA Tour.

If you re­visit the leader­board from last Au­gust, there’s one name you should im­me­di­ately rec­og­nize — Canada’s Austin Con­nelly was a run­ner-up at the 2016 ATB Fi­nan­cial Clas­sic, just 11 months be­fore he was a sur­prise con­tender at the Bri­tish Open at Royal Birk­dale.

“Th­ese guys that are go­ing to be here, they are that close,” Burge­son said. “And when they’re that close, it’s in­tim­i­dat­ing for a guy like me. I don’t play golf for a liv­ing. I work at golf for a liv­ing. So to go play with a guy that next year could be play­ing on the PGA Tour, it’s pretty big shoes out there. I’m go­ing to try to re­lax and just en­joy the event. I think that’s the key for me.”

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Eng­land’s Char­lie Bull, who walked away as champ in 2016, will be bring­ing his tal­ents to the 2017 edi­tion of the ATB Fi­nan­cial Clas­sic.

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