Albin Choi Golf Canada jennifer kirby MACKENZIE HUGHES Rebecca Lee-Bentham

Four Ontarians announced to Golf Canada’s new Team Canada Young Pro Program

OAKVILLE – Golf Canada is pleased to announce the names of the athletes who have been selected to the new Team Canada Young Pro program.

In all, five athletes – three female and two male – have been chosen to the inaugural Team Canada Young Pro Squad, with four of the members coming from Ontario. Developed in partnership with the PGA of Canada and supported in large part by the Golf Canada Foundation, the Young Pro program was created to bridge the gap between amateur and professional performance on the international golfing stage.

“There has been a critical gap for our top amateur golfers making the difficult jump to professional golf and the launch of the Team Canada Young Pro initiative is designed to bridge that gap,” said Golf Canada CEO Scott Simmons. “We have seen tremendous results for Team Canada amateur athletes at national, international and collegiate competitions. With the launch of Young Pro, we expect those strong results to carry over to the professional ranks including the PGA and LPGA Tours, the various developmental tours and ultimately the Olympic Games beginning in 2016.”

A trio of LPGA players including Rebecca Lee-Bentham of Toronto, Jennifer Kirby of Paris, Ont., and Sue Kim of Langley, B.C., will join the new Young Pro squad. All three players are graduates of Golf Canada’s National Amateur Squad and have secured full playing status for the LPGA Tour’s 2014 season. Bentham, 22, was the top-earning Canadian on the LPGA Tour last season after finishing a personal best T-11 at the Evian Championship. Kirby, 23, earned her spot after a fifth place finish at the LPGA’s Final Qualifying in December. Kim, 23, secured her full card by finishing in sixth on the LPGA’s Symetra Tour’s Volvik Race to the Card.

“I feel so fortunate to once again, have the opportunity to be a part of a program that is so dedicated to developing players,” said Rebecca Lee-Bentham. “Golf Canada, without a doubt, has helped me tremendously throughout my amateur career and has led me to where I am today. It is an honour to represent Canada each week on the LPGA tour and having the opportunity to play for Canada at the Olympics would mean more than words can describe.”

“I am incredibly grateful to have been selected for the Young Pro program,” said Jennifer Kirby. “Golf Canada has always been supportive of my career and I am proud to be an ambassador of this important program in my inaugural season on the LPGA Tour.”

On the men’s side, Tour players Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., and Toronto’s Albin Choi debut as the first two male members of the Team Canada Young Pro program. A two-time Canada Amateur champion, Hughes, 23, finished the 2013 season atop PGA TOUR Canada’s Order of Merit after capturing the Cape Breton Celtic Classic. Choi, 22, is also a former Canadian Amateur champion who earned his ticket to the Tour after a 15th place finish at final qualifying in December.

“I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of Team Canada and the new young pro squad,” said Mackenzie Hughes. “The coaching and support staff has played a big role in my development and my transition to pro golf. I also want to thank the Golf Canada Foundation as well as all the sponsors and donors that have made this program possible.”

“I am very excited to be back with the national team and part of the program,” added Albin Choi. “I have been with Team Canada for over six years and have always appreciated the support and having a team around me. Most pros lose that support structure from a national or college team as soon as they turn pro and it’s easy to get lost. It’s great to have an opportunity to have a team behind me with my best interests in mind.”

Each member of the Young Pro squad will receive funding as well as access to Team Canada’s coaching staff and sport science experts. Men’s National Squad coach Derek Ingram and Women’s National Team coach Tristan Mullally will provide coaching to their respective Young Pro players. In addition, the athletes will have access to Team Canada’s sport science staff that includes psychologist, Dr. Adrienne Leslie-Toogood, strength and conditioning coach, Jason Glass, nutritionist, Nicole Springle and physiotherapist Greg Redman.

“I congratulate Golf Canada on the launch of this exceptional program,” said PGA of Canada CEO Gary Bernard. “The commitment Golf Canada has shown in collaborating with the PGA of Canada in our world class teaching and coaching certification programs is commendable.”

The Team Canada Young Pro initiative has been in the works for more than a year as an extension of Golf Canada’s National Amateur Team program. The 2014 launch is a direct result of the fundraising support of the Golf Canada Foundation.

“On behalf of the board of the Golf Canada Foundation, we’re proud to help support these talented young golfers in their pursuit of competitive golfing excellence,” said Golf Canada Foundation CEO Martin Barnard. “In the coming months, we look forward to announcing more fundraising activities as well as donors and corporate partners to extend the program to more Canadian athletes.”