2017 was a remarkable one for Josh Whalen. Now 22 but still a kid from small-town Ontario, he ended the year as the best amateur in his chosen sport, golf, for all of Canada. It might sound like heady stuff but he appears to be taking it in stride as he now finds himself on the National Team for Golf Canada. We recently chatted to #1 ranked male amateur golfer for his perspective on his remarkable climb and to let our readers get to know him a little bit better.
FGM: You were born and raised in Napanee, Ontario?
JW: My dad’s family moved there when he was about ten and they (we) have been there ever since. My mom’s family has been there a long time as well.
FGM: Is Avril Lavigne still the most famous person to come from Napanee, so far? You have any Avril stories?
JW: Yeah, I think so (laughs). Zero, actually, she’s a little older than me.
FGM: How did you get into golf?
JW: I used to go out to my grandparent’s place to be babysat. I’d go out with my grandpa. He cut down some clubs for me and I would go out with him. I just continued that way. I think I was four or five, I’m told. I remember some of it but not specifically when I started.
FGM: What other sports did you play growing up?
JW: I played hockey all the way up to the end of high school. I played softball until I was about twelve or thirteen in the summer until I got busy with golf and that stopped that.
FGM: What appealed to you about golf?
JW: I kind of picked it up quickly so I enjoyed it in that sense. I think that is also was a sport that was all about yourself, it wasn’t a team sport. That was different when I got into the college ranks. But I guess, because it’s just you; you only have yourself to depend on out there.
FGM: Who helped you with your game early on?
JW: Milt Rose from Napanee (GM at Napanee G&CC and fine amateur player) kind of took an interest in me and helped me out when I was younger, just voluntarily. I would ask him for tips and advice and he was always more than happy to help. I still, to this day, might ask him for a little tip here and there when I am up at Napanee (GC) practicing or playing. I’ve worked there, I don’t know seven or eight years in the summers, so it’s kind of nice. I still love going up there and even after work, grabbing a cart and going out there to play and practice and have the place to myself.
FGM: You broke the Napanee G&CC course record of 63 set by legendary Sam Snead last year, what did that mean to you to shoot 62?
JW: It’s funny because every time I had shot 64, which I think the first time I was 16, every time since then it was always on my mind when I was playing well. I think that was the biggest problem. I would get out there and get five or six under and be thinking about it. Now that I’ve done it I’m a little more relaxed when I play there now.
FGM: How fast did you develop your golf skills progress?
JW: It was just kind of a steady progression. Every year I would get a little big bigger, a bit stronger, could hit the ball farther. I continued working with Milt and started playing in more and more tournaments. A lot of years my handicap would be three of four better by the end of the summer.
FGM: One of your greatest career moments had to be winning the Ontario Juvenile Championship not far from your hometown at Loyalist Country Club in Bath (shooting 64 in the final round); what did that mean to you?
JW: I had progressed a lot through the local junior events and some CJGA (Canadian Junior Golf Association) tournaments but that let me know I could play with some of the best players at my age. It certainly put my name in the hat for NCAA teams to choose from. It gave me a starting point to the next step.
FGM: What was the best part about playing golf and attending Kent State University?
JW: I just loved the competitiveness, with the guys, and as a team as well. Whether that was qualifiers or competing. It was just such a different atmosphere than anything I had ever been in before. It was a lot of fun, a lot of hard work but I enjoyed it and now that I am done I am missing it a bit, but I am looking forward to the next step.
FGM: How important was it for you to earn a victory in your senior year?
JW: That was huge, obviously that was one of my goals for my time being at college. It was one I certainly had written down and underlined my last year. I had some good finishes in the Fall and was playing well in the Spring. Unfortunately, it was my teammate I was battling with when I won.
FGM: That win plus some other finishes really propelled you up the Canadian rankings. Were you aware of it and what it could mean?
JW: Yeah, when I sat down with Coach Mills (Kent State Associate Coach Jon Mills) and wrote out my goals, making the National Team and being #1 was on my list. It was something I was focussed on and I kept track of it. I knew that by the time the college season ended I had done a good job and if I kept doing what I was doing through the summer it would all work out itself.
FGM: What did it mean to end up as the #1 ranked Canadian Men’s Amateur at the end of 2017?
JW: I guess it didn’t really set in right away but when I looked at the names of the guys who had been there in the past, teammates like Corey Conners and another Kent State guy like Mackenzie Hughes, and you look at where they are now, I knew it was certainly one of the highest things I had achieved.
FGM: What were your first thoughts when you were told you had officially made it on to Team Canada?
JW: I was really happy. Honestly that was probably my biggest goal, to make the National Team because I don’t think I was prepared to try to step out and play professional golf. To have another year and get the support that the team has, and to get the experience of playing some really good tournaments, the top amateur events and maybe some Canadian (Mackenzie) Tour events, will really help me feel better prepared
FGM: How has the experience been so far?
JW: It’s certainly cool to put on the shirt with the Canadian flag, and carrying around the bag representing Canada. Derek (National Men’s Team Coach Derek Ingram) is very good at what he does and getting a chance to work with him is amazing. He is very knowledgeable and so is the whole team (of coaches) he has working for us. It has opened my eyes to some things I never thought of working on before.
FGM: Ultimately do you see yourself playing golf for a living or working in the game?
JW: I’m certainly going to give it my best go for a couple of years anyways. If it doesn’t work out, all I have ever done, really, is play golf and worked around golf courses so I’ll probably end up in the game somewhere but I’m hoping to play and give it my best for a while and see how I stack up.