Like many Canadian boys, U of G student Chris Hemmerich dreamed of one day playing in the NHL.
But his decision to eventually replace his hockey stick with a golf club was one of the best ones he has ever made.
Over the last year, the 21-year-old’s skills on the golf course have earned him second place at the Canadian University/College Championships, the gold medal at the Ontario University Athleltics (OUA) and a spot on Team Canada’s national golf team for a second consecutive year.
“I was a decent hockey player, but I knew I was definitely better at golf,” says the fourth-year bachelor of commerce student. “I started playing golf competitively as a teenager, but never really thought about a future in the sport until about a year or two ago.”
Now the Kitchener native’s future aspirations include becoming a successful professional golfer after graduation in the spring, earning a spot in the U.S. Open and representing Canada in the 2016 Olympics.
These may seem like lofty goals, but it’s Hemmerich’s ambition and confidence that have helped him become one of the top amateur golfers in Canada, says Gryphon golf team coach Bob Wanzel.
“Chris is easy to coach because he is driven to attain the goals he has set out for himself,” says Wanzel, who has been coaching the team with Toronto golf professional Brandon McLeod for the past three years. “He doesn’t wonder how he will do or worry about the competition. He just focuses and believes he can win.”
Hemmerich joined the Gryphon team in his first year at U of G and is currently the team captain. His impressive golf skills and dedication motivate his fellow teammates to improve their own game, says Wanzel.
“The rest of the team wants to raise their play because of being around Chris.”
This year the Gryphon men’s team tied the University of Waterloo for third place at the OUA and will compete in the national championships in Winnipeg in May with Hemmerich leading the way.
“He’s a great talent,” says McLeod. “He’s very easy to discuss golf technique and strategy with, and it’s been a pleasure watching him grow these last three years into a good leader. Working with a talent like Chris is fun, but it’s even more fun because he is a good guy with a great attitude.”
When Hemmerich isn’t competing with the Gryphon team, he is training or playing in tournaments across North America with Team Canada’s national golf team. So far he has had great success at the national level, placing second in the Canada Amateur and qualifying twice for the United States Amateur.
That’s likely because Hemmerich spends 11 months of the year working on his golf game. He only had a few weeks off between the end of the U of G season in October and the beginning of training for Team Canada in November.
But it’s not the physical training that Hemmerich finds tiring.
“Golf is very mentally draining,” he says. “You can hit so many good shots and not be rewarded. In hockey you may hit the post once a game, but in golf it can happen over and over again, because all it takes is a gust of wind. There are constant triggers that can impact your focus, but if you let them affect you, you will never do well. You have to be mentally tough and shake it off. “
McLeod points to Hemmerich’s “even-keeled” personality as one of the major reasons for his achievements in the sport.
“He is never too up and never too down. This is why he can bounce back after mistakes and is also what allows him to make a pile of birdies in a row and still maintain his composure. His even-tempered attitude is a great strength on the golf courses and is one he employs well. “
Hemmerich’s father introduced his son to the game when he was 10. Despite his keen interest in hockey and a number of other sports, as he grew up Hemmerich never stopped golfing.
“It’s a fun sport. You get to spend five hours outdoors with friends. It’s great social time.”
Hemmerich says he also enjoys the unpredictability of the game.
“It’s not like in other sports, which are pretty much stationary and stay the same. A basketball court is the same no matter where you are playing, but with golf elements of the game are always changing. Your shots will be different each time you play a course and the conditions will be different, too. It could be windy at one hole and raining by the time you reach the next.”
The element of the unknown is what makes competitive golf stressful, but also exciting, he adds.
Despite his plans to become a professional golfer, Hemmerich is trying to stay focused on his studies in between training for Team Canada.
“I think it’s important to have a university degree to fall back on just in case things don’t work as a professional golfer.”
He is eager to begin his golf career, but admits he will miss his Gryphon teammates.
“I’ve had a lot of fun playing for U of G. I have made some great friends on the team and even live with a few of my teammates. My time at Guelph has been amazing.”