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It’s a good thing there were plenty of cameras around to capture Mark Scheifele’s first shot Thursday because the Winnipeg Jets star says he has no memory of it.
“I think I blacked out when I hit. I didn’t even know where it went. It was crazy,” The Winnipeg Jets centreman said, describing how nervous he was teeing it up with touring pros at The Players Cup at Southwood Golf & Country Club.
“You think playing (hockey) in front of thousands and thousands of fans… you’d be used to it. But when you get a golf club in your hand it’s a totally different story,” he said.
“There were a few putts where it felt like I was going to have a heart attack; my face went all red. It was a totally different animal out there, but it was so much fun.”
Scheifele was granted a sponsor’s exemption as a means of attracting some additional eyeballs to the four-day tournament. And it worked, given the swarm of fans following him every step of the way. At times there appeared to be a few hundred spectators in his gallery, impressive for a weekday opening round.
“I didn’t expect that many people to come out. It was awesome to see…. I hope they had fun. We had a lot of fun having them cheer us on and throw some jeers our way. It was definitely very nerve-racking,” said Scheifele.
Not surprisingly, the top players on the circuit known as the Mackenzie Tour — PGA Tour Canada left him in their dust. Scheifele fired a 15-over 87 Thursday, which puts him last in the 156-player field and 24 shots off the lead. He obviously won’t make the cut following Friday’s second round, which is expected to be a few strokes under par.
“I knew I wasn’t going to score overly well. I just wanted to make sure I was hitting the ball well,” Scheifele said.
And he certainly did that at times, including rolling in a birdie putt on his second-last hole for his major highlight of the day.
“That was a little lucky one, going in the side door like that. That one felt really good,” he said.
“The par 3s were my masterpiece today. If my putting was on. I probably could have made a few more birdies.”
Scheifele played Southwood’s four par-3 holes to a terrific 1-under.
Along with the birdie, his round included six pars, seven bogeys, three doubles and a triple.
He was in a group with Manitoba amateur champion Justin McDonald and Southwood head pro Andrew Steep, both of whom also received exemptions into the event. McDonald shot 3-over 75, while Steep carded a 77.
“Hit some good shots, hit some bad shots,” Scheifele said. “Spent probably a little too much time in the fescue. But I had two great guys I was playing with… so they made it easy. It was fun to be out there.”
There were plenty of smiles along the way, and Scheifele often stopped to sign autographs for young fans and pose for pictures. He got a huge laugh from the crowd on his seventh hole when he nearly picked up his ball after lipping out a par putt, just like a weekend golfer might while enjoying a round with friends.
“Oh, that would have been dangerous,” he said afterward. “I literally didn’t even think about it, it was just like a normal game; if it’s that close I’m going to pick it up.”
Scheifele knew he’d probably be in over his head but was a good sport in accepting the invitation. As an elite hockey player, he has little time to dedicate to his golf game. And he has had even less time this summer, after the Jets’ deep playoff run into late May.
He arrived in Winnipeg late Wednesday afternoon from Ontario and was able to get in four practice holes that evening.
“I really didn’t go in with any expectations. I wanted to make sure I was making good contact and everything, hitting the ball well. The biggest thing for me was try to hit it straight, try to hit some putts and see how it goes,” he said.
The 25-year-old said he was blown away by the talent he witnessed on the golf course.
“I knew they were going to be good, but you see it in real life, you see how well they strike the ball each and every shot, it’s a pretty special thing to see,” he said. “I know just the mental grind. I got to the 13th hole and I was like wiped, I need a nap right now. It’s crazy, the mental fortitude they have, the bounceback that they need to have. They have one bad shot and you need to regroup. You can’t just quit, it’s not like, ‘Ah, I’ll just take the maximum on this one.’ You gotta put everything out, you gotta make every shot. They’re definitely really special athletes.”
Scheifele was a late replacement for Jets captain Blake Wheeler, a more accomplished amateur golfer who was originally set to play but had to back out due to another commitment.
“A lot of the boys (on the Jets) were texting me the last few days,” he said. “They’re definitely jealous I’m playing in this. I’m definitely a lucky guy to be playing in this. They were just so excited to see what I shoot and what it’s like.”
He’s also expecting to hear from his mother, who will be proud he was on his best behaviour on the course.
“I’m sure I have a text from her saying, ‘I heard there was no broken clubs or thrown clubs.’ So she’ll be happy.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.