Coming off a three-year break from elite competition, Rebecca Lee-Bentham is finding ways to keep golf interesting.
She'll be the only woman in the field when the Mackenzie Investments Open tees off at Montreal's Elm Ridge Country Club's North Course on Thursday. It's not the first time that Lee-Bentham has played against an elite male field, so the Golf Journalists Association of Canada's 2013 female professional of the year knows what challenges the rain-soaked course will present.
"I'm getting no rolls so it's all in my carry and I don't carry the ball very far," said Lee-Bentham. "It's hard because we're playing the same tees. We're playing at 7,000 yards and I usually play at, I think 6,600 is the average in the LPGA. So when you add all that it is difficult because I'm hitting a lot longer clubs to the holes."
Lee-Bentham has excelled against men before. She was on the men's golf team at Toronto's Northview Heights Secondary School with Albin Choi, Richard Jung and Daniel Kim, all of them now on pro tours. Lee-Bentham proudly notes that she won the regional high school championship while at Northview Heights.
The 27-year-old from Markham, Ont., also finished 10th at the Bermuda Grey Goose World Par 3 Championships in May, holding a first-round lead against a predominantly male field that included PGA Tour-winner Chip Beck, among others.
"Whenever I go out for a fun game it's 95 per cent men," said Lee-Bentham. "I'm always surrounded by them anyway. Yes it's different because the Mackenzie Investment Open is a different environment where they're all tour pros but I'm trying to focus more on playing the golf course rather than focus on how long they're hitting it past me."
Choi has total confidence in Lee-Bentham, who he believes has the skills to surprise people.
"I think she's going to do a lot better than what people think," said Choi. "The toughest part about playing in a men's event is obviously just the yardage, the golf course is longer.
"But she's going to just be hitting some longer clubs into the greens. She's going to do a lot better than people expect."
This year has been a welcome return to competition for Lee-Bentham, who retired as a player in 2016. She had been working as a golf coach and spending more time with her family and, in her own words, growing as a person. This season she has decided to play occasionally in elite competitions.
"My perspective on golf changed. Just seeing golf as a small part of life, it's not everything," said Lee-Bentham. "Before it was all of nothing. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I really cared about my performance and results. I put that in front of happiness."
The Mackenzie Investments Open is the penultimate stop on the third-tier Canadian golf tour. The Mackenzie Tour's season wraps up next week at the Canada Life Championship at Highland Country Club in London, Ont.
PGA TOUR — David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., wowed fans on Monday, making birdie on No. 18 to card a 6-under 66 to a tie for fourth at the Korn Ferry Championship and guarantee himself a 2020 PGA Tour card. A total of eight Canadians have full PGA cards heading into the new season.
Hearn, Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., Nick Taylor also from Abbotsford, and Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., comprise the Canadian contingent when the new season begins next week at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier held at The Old White TPC in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., is still on major medical exemption and Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., is a past champion who will earn several exemptions over the season. He turns 50 in May.
LPGA TOUR — Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., finished the LPGA Tour season fifth on the world rankings. It's a personal best for Henderson, who tied for fourth at the Cambia Portland Classic on Sunday and tied for third at the CP Women's Open on Aug. 22.
SYMETRA TOUR — Maddie Szeryk of London, Ont., sits at No. 16 on the Volvik Race for the Card standings, the highest ranked Canadian on the Symetra Tour heading into this week's Garden City Charity Classic at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course in Garden City, Kan. Hannah Hellyer of Stirling, Ont., Samantha Richdale of Kelowna, B.C., Valerie Tanguay of St-Hyacinthe, Que., and Elizabeth Tong of Thornhill, Ont., are also in the field.
John Chidley Hill's weekly golf notebook is published on Wednesdays.
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