Kimberley native Jared du Toit embraces fans during final round action of the RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville on Sunday.

Runnin’ down a dream

Kimberley's Jared du Toit lifts nation, ignites hometown, signals PGA of immense potential with inspiring performance at RBC Canadian Open

It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down.

From a small little mountain town in the heart of British Columbia’s southern Interior to the links at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Canadians everywhere felt so good, like anything was possible on Sunday afternoon.

And though Jared du Toit may not have won the 2016 RBC Canadian Open, he lifted his nation and ignited his hometown as he put the pedal down and began running down a dream.

There’s something good down the road this 21-year-old Kimberley native has embarked upon and while many in the East Kootenay have been privy to his potential for years, all of Canada and everyone in the golf world was awakened to the emerging star that is Jared du Toit after he drove home a top-10 performance and claimed the Gary Cowan medal for the lowest-scoring amateur at his first ever PGA Tour event this past weekend.

“If you would have told me a week ago that the week would have went like this, I would have called you a liar and said, ‘In your dreams,'” du Toit said over the phone Monday morning, while enjoying a well-deserved day of rest. “I really did get to live out my dream this week. Hopefully it’s the start of something big.

“This week really motivates me. I still don’t think it’s settled in, but it was cool to see that me playing my best golf is not far off the best in the world, being able to compete with some of the best guys in the world.

“That was really cool to see and it’s big for my confidence. Getting my first taste of the [PGA] Tour life and obviously the Canadian Open being my first one is a bit of an exception.”

From start to finish, the Arizona State University Sun Devil held his own and pushed a field of quality PGA Tour professionals this past week at the RBC Canadian Open. Though he didn’t quite have enough in him to finish the weekend atop the leaderboard, du Toit proved he belongs with the world’s best, firing a 9-under 279 over the 72-hole tournament to finish in a tie for ninth, three strokes back of 31-year-old Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas, who claimed the crown with a tournament-best 12-under.

Sitting one stroke off the lead heading into the final round, du Toit found himself paired alongside PGA pro Brandt Snedeker — the world’s No. 21-ranked golfer — in the final group of the day.

While the amateur du Toit wasn’t eligible for the more than $1-million prize awaiting the tournament winner, Snedeker was. With that kind of money on the line, you’d expect the fiercest competitor to emerge with teeth bared and while Snedeker certainly did put on a performance as he pursued the RBC Canadian Open title, the 35-year-old native of Nashville was pulling for the young du Toit just as much.

“He was honestly like my big brother for the day,” du Toit said of the mentorship he received from Snedeker, who won the 2013 RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey. “He is obviously a lot more experienced and he just kind of showed me around. He kept it light when he saw me getting too tense and tried to focus me up, fire me up when he thought so.

“He was rooting for me. It was unbelievable. It speaks about his character. He’s an unbelievable guy. The guy is playing for a million dollars out there and he took the time to make me feel like I was the big deal out there. He showed me the ropes. Just the classiest guy.”

Snedeker finished the tournament in a tie for fifth at 10-under, one stroke ahead of du Toit.

Whether it Snedeker’s pointers, the packed clubhouse at Kimberley Golf Club or the roar of the crowd behind the 18th green at Glen Abbey, du Toit was blown away by the immense support he received throughout the tournament.

With a self-imposed social media ban in full effect — and supported by Derek Ingram, his Team Canada coach — du Toit really didn’t get the full effect of the outpouring until after everything was said and done. Monday morning, he was still scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, taking in everything that had been directed his way, including a congratulatory video put together by those at Kimberley Golf Club (KGC).

“Congratulations, Jared. What an awesome ride,” said Don McCormick, Mayor of the City of Kimberley, in the KGC video. “It’s impressive how you’ve handled the pressure. You are a great ambassador for the community.”

Not only were friends and family back home cheering on the pride of their little mountain town, golf fans in attendance at Glen Abbey were doing just the same.

During the third round Saturday afternoon, du Toit sparked an explosive roar from those off the 18th green as he drained a monstrous 40-foot eagle putt to vault himself into the final pairing with Snedeker on Sunday.

What followed was a celebration seen around the country, as du Toit throttled a passionate fist pump before embracing his caddy Sean Burke.

Taking his final stroll down the 18th fairway and sitting at 8-under without a chance to catch Vegas on Sunday, du Toit approached to a standing ovation from the red-and-white clad crowd.

He signed autographs. He slapped high fives. He tipped his hat and he bowed his head.

Above all, he soaked it all in and he loved every minute of it.

“I tried not to think about it too much while playing,” du Toit said. “But after, checking Facebook [Monday] morning, I saw the Kimberley Golf Club put up the little video… I got a little emotional watching it. It’s just crazy all the support I got and that I’ve received over the years. To now be where I am and obviously to have had the week that I had, I just look back and it seems surreal right now. I’m very honoured and humbled to come from a small town and a place like Kimberley.”

While Canada’s top-ranked men’s amateur battled admirably against the competition on the course all week long, it would be remiss not to mention that bronchitis was waging its own war on the Kimberley kid, both on and off the fairways.

Saturday night, du Toit made a trip to a local hospital in order to get treatment, keeping him there until nearly midnight local time. He may not have gotten the best night’s sleep he had hoped for, but there was no way du Toit was going to let a little bronchitis keep him from playing the biggest round of his life.

“I’m living my dream right now and I’m not going to let a little cold slow anything down,” du Toit said.

“Everything worked out. I got some treatment and honestly it was kind of a blessing in disguise, a little bit. The bronchitis took my mind off what was going on maybe. It made it a little easier for me and took the pressure off a little bit.”

Du Toit fired a 1-under round of 71 on the final day, good enough to keep himself in the top-10, but not enough to track down the world’s best as they made the most of scoring opportunities on the final day of competition. Still, all things considered, there’s no way anyone was disappointed with what the Sun Devil’s phenom did over the course of the week.

“Jared’s been playing great, he’s been trending really well for the past six months,” Ingram told Canadian Press. “He’s been playing great, a bit of a surprise to be in the final group of the Canadian Open as an amateur, but not surprised that he played well at all.”

Du Toit enjoyed a much-deserved rest day on Monday, but will get right back to swinging the sticks as he heads to Niagara Falls Country Club in Lewiston, N.Y., for the Porter Cup. First-round action is slated to get underway Wednesday morning.

A big part of his Monday was spent going through text messages, social media posts and the parade-length support sent his way from across the country.

“I just want to thank everyone involved and anyone that’s ever helped me growing up,” du Toit said. “Obviously in a small town, it magnifies the people involved in your life. You really get a big sense of community and I just want to thank everybody that believed in me before I believed in myself.”

Du Toit was attempting to be the first Canuck to win the RBC Canadian Open since Pat Fletcher claimed the crown in 1954. He was also attempting to do something last accomplished on the PGA Tour by Phil Mickelson in 1991 — win a tour event as an amateur.

While du Toit was the top amateur and Canadian at the tournament, fellow Canuck Adam Hadwin was presented with the Rivermead Cup for low professional Canadian after finishing in a tie for 49th at 1-under.

“Little awkward holding this with Jared playing so well this week,” Hadwin said during the awards ceremony. “Y’know, he beat me by eight [strokes]. Not sure I should be holding this, but I’ll accept it.”

The summer of 2016 has been nothing short of incredible for the former Selkirk Secondary School student. Prior to his outstanding outing at the RBC Canadian Open, he marked down a third-place finish at the Monroe Invitational in Pittsford, N.Y., before gathering up a victory at the Glencoe Invitational in Calgary.

Du Toit’s first year of play with the ASU Sun Devils was also a smashing success, as he secured a top-five finish at the NCAA New Mexico Regional Championship, along with four other top-10 finishes throughout the season.

There’s something good waiting down this road, as Tom Petty sang, and this country just witnessed Jared du Toit embark upon. Let’s all just sit back and enjoy as we watch the pride of Kimberley run down his dream.

If there’s one thing that can be said, there isn’t much mystery as to where that road will lead — Jared du Toit is headed for PGA stardom.