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ROBIN SHORT: Blair Bursey's shooting for the top

For the next two to three months, Blair Bursey will be punching in long hours and a lot of work in practice in Phoenix, Az.
For the next two to three months, Blair Bursey will be punching in long hours and a lot of work in practice in Phoenix, Az. - Contributed

Fresh off a U.S. collegiate career, Gander golf star aims to make PGA Tour

Blair Bursey is from Gander, NL, and he’s trying to break into what may be — with the exception of perhaps the NBA — the hardest professional sport to crack: golf.

Don’t tell him it can’t be done.

“Robin,” he was saying over the phone the other night, “I don’t mean to sound arrogant in any way, but I’m very confident I’m going to become one of the best players in the world.”

Whoa!

Come to think of it, Bursey’s outlook is refreshing. It’s that attitude which separates the good ones from the great ones.

I don’t know for certain, but I think Brad Gushue really, truly believes he’s the best curler in the world. Probably did so even when he didn’t have the world championship.

In Gander, golfers didn’t have an 18-hole course until 2001. It’s not a place, with all due respect, where pros of the links are produced.

There are a hundred reasons why Bursey cannot crack the PGA Tour. Call him delusional if you wish.

Except … it’s hard to believe there is somebody out there who wants it more, or is willing to do more to make it happen than 21-year-old Blair Bursey, fresh off a four-year U.S. collegiate career at Utah Valley University.

“It’s just a matter of when,” he says of a breakthrough on golf’s top tour. “I know what it takes, and I’m prepared to do it.

“I’ve played with some of the players in the world, a lot of guys on the PGA Tour, and I know that I’ve got what it takes. I simply have to outwork everyone in my competition.”

Today, Bursey leaves for Montreal. He’ll play a little tournament in the Eastern Townships in the next couple of days, and then head to Arizona, where he plans to set up camp for the next two to three months.

A monumental understatement would be to suggest he’ll be playing a little golf in the desert.

We’ll let him explain: “It’s going to be pretty development heavy, and catching up on repetition. Where I was home this summer in Gander, there’s no driving range. I was playing quite a bit of golf, but not a lot of structured practice.

“So I’ll be refining and trying to get my game to the point where if I simply play average, I’ll be successful at professional golf. What that means is really highly intense practice.”

Which is …?

“A whole bunch of 12-hour days. I’ll work on whatever my strength is. Strengths come first. At professional golf, people think you try to make your weaknesses your strengths. That’s not true. You work your strengths first and for me that would be my wedge play… an hour or two hours of wedge play, then full swing for a couple of hours.

“Then I’ll take a break, grab some water and then a couple of hours of drivers, couple hours of short play, followed by a couple of hours of putting, and then go play.”

So, pray tell, how many balls does Bursey plan on hitting?

Anywhere from 750 to 1,000.

A day.

Oh, that doesn’t include doesn’t include chipping and putting.

After four of golfing in the NCAA ranks, Blair Bursey of Gander is preparing himself for the next step — a professional career.
After four of golfing in the NCAA ranks, Blair Bursey of Gander is preparing himself for the next step — a professional career.

“From sun up to sun down,” he says, “a lot of hours, and a lot of work and probably some weight loss and aches and pains. But that’s what it requires at the highest level.

“My practice is a big reflection of how I play.”

There’s no denying Bursey’s talent. Despite coming from Gander, he managed to land a golf scholarship to Utah Valley where he completed his four years last spring.

Bursey was named the Western Athletic Conference first all-star team last season, a year in which he recorded four top-10 finishes, and was a first-team all-WAC member in 2015-16, his sophomore season.

Bursey is very deliberate in his short- and long-term goals. For now, and up until Christmas, he’ll be immersed in training, “kind of going off the grid, at a small private course in Phoenix, just making sure I’m taking care of my own thing.”

In January, he’s headed to Latin America Q School, a PGA-sanctioned Tour which runs up until the spring. Then it’s PGA Tour Canada next summer.

“I’ll try and get status on those two Tours,” he said. “They’re incredibly deep in talent.

“That will bring me up through next summer, and from there I’ll head over to Europe and roll the dice, if you will.”

Bursey is in no rush. In fact, he’s taking a long-term approach, hoping to build a 20- to 30-year professional career, which is impossible to comprehend for a kid from central Newfoundland.

Then again, who’d have thought a few curlers from here would win Olympic gold medals?

“Oddly enough, there are a lot of benefits to being from Newfoundland which have helped me as a golfer,” he said.

“You get to play in certain conditions others don’t have experience in which is crappy weather. If you can post a score in wet and foggy weather, or on a windy day, you can post a score in anything, right?

“What comes with that is a certain amount of self-belief.

“And another thing that comes along with being from a place like Newfoundland is it mitigates some of that burnout effect. Golf at its highest level is very, very intense. If you hear some of the best players talk about their schedules, they’ll say it’s difficult to put together three weeks in a row when you have a lot of focus weeks on end.

“I know a lot of kids from other countries, or even here in Canada, who have longer seasons than I do. They were really good at 14, 15 and 16-years-old, but playing nine-, 10- and 11-months of the year, once they get to my age (21) or whatever age, sometimes they can have a little bit too much golf. There’s a fine line and balance to everything.

“Newfoundland is not an excuse, but rather an obstacle and in many ways a privilege.”

Bursey’s quest doesn’t come cheap. From now through November, 2019, he’s budgeted $66,000 Cdn.

The Gander Golf Club staged a fundraiser recently, for which Bursey is eternally grateful. Ditto the small firms and the large provincial businesses which have stepped up to help sponsor him.

“People figure it’s extremely expensive to play at the top level, but at the top level everything is taken care of,” he said.

“When you’re starting out at grass roots level of professional golf, that’s when it’s quite expensive. You have registration fees, airfare fees, accommodations, training costs and if you don’t have equipment deals, you have that cost as well. That’s on top of whatever facility you’re practicing at or whatever coach you have.”

Who knows where this will take Bursey. He’s a very good golfer, but there are a million very good golfers out there.

He’s failed to make the cut at the Canadian men’s amateur championship the past two years, but on the other hand finished tied for fifth at nationals in 2016.

It typically takes the world’s top amateurs five to seven years to make the grade on the PGA Tour, if at all. Bursey is committed to grinding it out for the next three years, regardless what happens.

If there’s no significant progress after that, he’ll step back and reassess things.

Like we said, golf’s an unforgiving sport.

But sometimes you have to think a ridiculous work ethic, coupled with insatiable will and desire, pays off in the end.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email robin.short@thetelegram.com Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

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