HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
The Whistle Bear Golf Club in Cambridge, ON., has a fascinating, although rather drenching, tradition, when a golfer becomes a tournament champion on its two-decade-old, links-style course.
Royal Ottawa Golf Club’s James Newton, the first Ottawa-based player to win the Ontario boys’ junior golf championship in a fashion rarely seen in a competitive field, knows all about it. And he was good with it.
Moments after his unprecedented 16-under-par 272 gave him an eye-bulging 13-stroke margin of victory, Newton accepted the trophy as the 99th winner of the provincial title. He then carried it into a stepped water fountain.
Instead of a celebratory jump into a pond, the winner of every tournament at Whistle Bear is encouraged to step into the fountain for a unique celebration, photo shoot with the trophy and shower.
And to help Newton, 17, remember his championship moment for a lifetime, the club presented him with a white bath robe, which was marked with the Whistle Bear logo and the words “U19 Champion.”
“I was totally OK with it,” said Newton, a few days after four rounds of stellar golf that included 24 birdies. “I learned about it the previous day. I went along with it.”
Besides the trophy, which has the names of Mike Weir, Gary Cowan and Stu Hamilton inscribed on it, a gold medal and a flag, Newton also was granted an exemption into this week’s Canadian men’s amateur championship in Windsor.
Newton has continued his steady play and made the cut in his first national men’s amateur by shooting rounds of 73-70 for a one-over-par 143 at the Ambassador Golf Club. He had no expectations for his debut.
“I’ll develop a game plan during a practice round on Sunday,” he said in an interview last Saturday before heading to Windsor. “I know the course is links-style, like the Scottish courses.”
Newton is familiar with that style of course as he mastered the par 72 Whistle Bear layout not once, not twice, not three times, but four times with rounds of 68-67-70-67. That’s a major feat for any junior golfer.
Ben MacLean of Cherry Hill Golf Club stayed with Newton for the first three rounds, carding 68-70-68, but exploded in the fourth round with a 79. Isaiah Ibit of Greyhawk Golf Club tied for third at 73-71-72-72-288 (even par).
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Ottawa Hunt’s Yaorui Xu tied for 25th at 76-74-72-73-295 (seven-over par), Mississippi’s Ellis Kinnaird shared 36th at 72-74-74-79-299 (11-over) and Rideau View’s Caelan Sammy was deadlocked in 38th at 73-72-75-81-301 (13-over).
“I didn’t expect to win by 13 strokes, but I’ll definitely take it. I put my head down in the final round and just kept going,” added Newton, who has accepted a golf scholarship to Rutgers University starting September 2022.
“I was playing well two weeks before, but I wasn’t shooting the scores I wanted. I knew I could shoot low, but I didn’t expect that low. I just stuck to my game plan. I have never played that well.
“There was lots of happiness and excitement,” he said about his victory. “My hard work paid off. I’m satisfied with the result, but I’d like to perform better on a bigger stage.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic postponed and then condensed the 2020 season into a short period, Newton relocated to Florida from last September to mid June to strengthen his game and complete Grade 12 through Blyth Academy.
“I went to Florida hoping to play more tournaments, pick up my golf skills and get better,” he continued. “My game was good going down, but my play was not consistent. The coaches helped me become more consistent.”
Newton played 10 tournaments during his extended stay and put extra time into his putting and wedge shots. Last December, he won the final tournament on the South Florida PGA Junior Tour with a four-under 72-68-140.
Newton’s father Peter introduced James to golf, when he returned to the game by taking him to a driving range. James then followed a path taken by the LPGA’s Brooke Henderson, playing at Rideau Lakes and Smiths Falls golf clubs.
Every step of the way, I liked it a lot,” said Newton, who was 10th at the Quebec men’s amateur championship (70-74-73-76-293, plus-five) and 10th in the Quebec boys’ junior championship (77-75-74-71-297, plus-nine).
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.