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Russell Budd qualifies for the Canadian Open

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Russell Budd, centre with his parents, Michael, left, and Kaila.

OAKVILLE, ONT. – Pro-golfer Russell Budd is finally getting his chance to play with “the big boys.” The Toronto native qualified to play in the Canadian Open this week, after shooting 67 and winning a medal in the qualifying event at a course outside Hamilton, Ont.

The Canadian Open will be held from July 23-29 at the Glen Abbey golf course in Oakville, Ont.

Although he has been playing professionally for five years now, this is Budd’s first major tournament. Until now, he has been playing on the PGA’s LatinoAmerican tour through North and South America.

“This will be my first ever PGA tour event.… I’ve been playing everywhere, but this is the first week I get to be with the big boys,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s nice when all your hard work gets recognized. It’s not full-time on the tour, but it’s a taste of what I’ve always dreamt of doing. Not very many people ever get to say they’ve competed in a PGA Tour event, let alone your own national championship that’s 30 minutes away from your house.

“It’s really cool to be able to share with my whole family and friends… A lot of people have never seen me play professionally just because I’m never in town, so that’ll be kind of a cool experience for me.”

Aside from being a young player – he’s only 27 – looking to break into the big leagues, Budd is distinguished by being one of the very few Jewish players on the circuit. At his level, he has only met one other member of the tribe.

READ: MARCEL DIONNE HEADLINES B’NAI BRITH GOLF EVENT

That’s a little added responsibility, he admits.

“I don’t just represent myself, my school and my family when I travel through North and South America, I also represent being Jewish. That’s part of who I am,” he said.

That part of himself, Budd added, isn’t flashed about, although he does keep a small hamsa amulet in his golf bag for luck.

So far, that little token has been doing its job. Budd won his first professional event in 2015 at the Mandarin Golf and Country Club in Richmond Hill, Ont. A month later, he won another event at the same course. Later that same month, he shot a 69 to qualify for the PGA Tour Canada.

Wins like that are good for his self-confidence, but Budd admits that golf remains a tough way to make a living, unless you get good enough to qualify for the big money tournaments.

“Golf and tennis are pretty much the only sports where you don’t get paid unless you play well and it’s coming out of your own pocket to get there. Other sports, like baseball and hockey and football, you have a salary that doesn’t more or less depend on how you play. Your team pays your travel expenses, you get a per diem,” he said.

I’ve been playing everywhere, but this is the first week I get to be with the big boys.
– Russell Budd

“We don’t get any of that. We’re pretty much independent contractors where we have to think about the bottom line and ask if it’s worth going to a tournament and trying to figure out the journey that is golf.”

That can be a costly journey: Budd figures that being on the tour costs him up to $2,000 a week for everything from travel, accommodation, food and caddies, in addition to entry fees that can be up to $2,000, depending on the length of the tournament.

“If you play in 30 events, which is kind of a fullish year, you can run up a lot of expenses,” he said.

“I’ve been everywhere. I’ve been to some real dumps in North and South America, I’ve slummed it, I’ve slept on floors and in cars – every cliché. And then, this week, it’s an opportunity to get pampered and see what the big boys experience. It is really a blessing and a cool moment.”

Like most professional golfers, Budd has a sponsor – Toronto-based condo developer Camrost Felcorp Inc. – but he’s always looking for financial help. In 2013, he tried crowdsourcing money at GoFundMe.com, but came away with just $2,600 of his $10,000 goal.

Raised in Toronto, Budd learned golf playing with his father.

“I played with him growing up, I must have started when I was two,” he said. “I’ve been doing this pretty much my whole life.”

I’ve slummed it, I’ve slept on floors and in cars – every cliché.
– Russell Budd

As his play developed and it became clear that he had a flair for the game, Budd said he was “was put in the right hands in terms of instructors,” before getting a golf scholarship to DePaul University in Chicago, where he graduated in 2013.

Right now, the young man continues to develop his game, playing in as many tournaments as he can and pushing himself on Florida courses during the winter to stay sharp.

“It’s like any sort of an art, it takes time to develop your skill set and mature and gather experience,” he said. “You see the 150 guys playing every week, but what you don’t see is the 1,500 guys who are grinding away in Asia, Latin America, North America, trying to survive. It’s not as glamorous as you think, but once you do make it, from my two days experience, it is beyond a wonderful lifestyle.”