For Walter Keating Jr, the game of golf took on a new perspective for him with the passing of his older brother, Dennis, earlier this year.
That harsh dose of reality caused the 22-year-old from Thunder Bay to take a new approach to the game—and life—as he continues his ascent through the amateur rankings.
“With my brother dying, it put everything into perspective,” Keating Jr. said Sunday after firing a two-under-par 70 to seal his first-ever Kitchen Creek Classic title—setting a new tournament record (139) in the process.
“My work ethic has improved so much. I’ve decided to work real hard on my game and dedicate my game to [my brother],” he remarked.
And with that hard work has come some much-deserved results.
In fact, the young college golf phenom—named first-team all-conference while attending NCAA Division I Youngstown State (Ohio)—has played extremely well this season at several big tournaments, including the prestigious Porter Cup in Lewiston, N.Y. last month.
On a smaller scale, he recently won a tournament in Geraldton.
His next focus will be on a professional level when he heads to Toronto next month to try to qualify for one of the few remaining spots available for the Canadian tour.
In fact, Keating Jr. admitted it’s quite possible the Kitchen Creek Classic will be one of the last amateur events he ever plays.
And for future Kitchen Creek fields, that may very well be a good thing.
That’s because Keating Jr. dominated this year’s tournament right from the start, getting things going with a three-under-par 69 in Saturday’s opening round en route to his record-breaking score.
The previous tournament record of 141 was set by Hal Wilmering of Dryden in 1979.
Keating Jr. was solid throughout the tournament, making very few mistakes along the way. He said he has matured quite a bit on the course since his pair of runner-up finishes in the Classic in 1995-96.
“I was young back then and I think playing in the last group made me nervous,” the burly 6’7”, 240-pound left-hander said.
“Two years ago, my game was inconsistent. I’d shoot a 69 and then follow it up with a 76, but I’ve been working on my swing [this year] and my game is now so much better,” he noted.
For the tournament, Keating Jr. recorded just three bogeys while netting eight birdies—including two on the par-five, 484-yard sixth hole.
“I played solid golf all weekend and had a lot of good strokes,” he said, admitting his putter was not particularly effective, especially during his round of 69.
“[But] I hit the fairways and played consistent. The difference with me now and two years ago is that I know the time when to take chances,” he explained.
Still, while Keating Jr. won the tournament with a convincing six-stroke cushion over Ryan Adamson of Kenora, he was only one shot ahead of the 157-golfer field when a severe thunderstorm halted play for nearly an hour Sunday afternoon.
But he got hot again when play resumed, recording birdies at the sixth, seventh, and 10th holes to give him some breathing room.
Adamson finished first in the championship flight with a 145 total after carding scores of 71 and 74 respectively. Greg Ross was the top local golfer in the tournament with a 150 (74-76).
That tied him with Gareth Payne of Atikokan, the defending three-time champ who carded rounds of 72 and then 78, but Ross was awarded second place on a countback.
Former champ Rob Badiuk came fourth in the championship flight on a countback, with Brian Bukovy fifth. Both finished with a 152 total.
Jeff Nahnybida won the first flight (148), Wade Rooney captured the second flight (152), Terry Martinson topped the third flight (159), and Steve Choun led the fourth flight (160).
Rounding out the fifth-ninth flight winners were John Hazel Jr. (156), Steve Boudreau (167), Steve Lundon (165), Dave Berry (172), and John Payne Jr. (180).