Josh Whalen’s amateur golf season will start with a bang this week, teeing off against the likes of Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy at the 2019 RBC Canadian Open June 6-9 at the Hamilton Golf and Country Club.
The 23-year-old Napanee golfer was one of three members of Team Canada to be granted an exception to play the prestigious tournament, which dates back to 1904 and carries a $7.6 million purse.
Whalen had just finished a round in Vancouver, B.C. when his coach had told him he’d been invited to play the Canadian Open.
“I wasn’t too sure if I was going to receive one of the exemptions,” said Whalen, who will be making his Canadian Open debut. “This year the tournament is scheduled differently and they’re starting to get some really strong players from around the world. Being the week before the U.S. Open, they’re getting some of the top names. I wasn’t sure I’d get one. When I found out I was definitely excited. A little nervous, but more excited.”
This marks the second year for Whalen on Canada’s national team. He’s already accomplished quite a bit in his career, including a second and third place finish at the 2015 and 2017 Canadian Men’s Amatuer respectively, a second place finish at the 2017 Boilermaker Invitational while playing NCAA at Kent State and just last year he qualified for the U.S. Amatuer en route to being named Golf Canada’s amateur golfer of the year. Just for good measure, in 2017 he set the course record for the Napanee Golf and Country Club, firing a 62. Teeing off on Thursday in Hamilton will mark yet another career highlight.
“Every golfer’s dream is to play a PGA Tour event,” said Whalen. “It’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s cool that I can knock that off the checklist, but hopefully I can be back here and it’s not a one time thing. I’m looking forward to it and want to soak it all in, but not get starstruck and still be focused and look to play some good golf.”
Leading up to the main event he was hoping to watch some of the greats on the driving range while also chatting with fellow Canadian golfers such as Corey Conners, also a former Golden Flash, to pick up a few tips.
“My assistant coach from college, Jon Mills, he’s originally from Belleville, he’s going to caddy for me,” said Whalen. “He was joking and saying ‘you’re here to play. You can look around and take in a little bit, but you got to play golf and stay focused.’”
This week will mark the unofficial start to Whalen’s amateur season in Canada, though he already has a few tournaments under his belt from warmer climes. In January he was in Australia to take part in four events, finishing strong by reaching a match play semifinals in one of the events. He’s also teed off in Florida and posted a strong showing in England, making the cut in a field of 144 golfers before finishing 30th on a challenging course.
Following the Canadian Open he’ll have a full slate of Canadian events.