DAN HALLDORSON, AN UNSUNG STAR OF CANADIAN GOLF

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You probably missed it, but one of my favourite golfers recently shuffled off this mortal coil. In fact, most of you probably don’t even have a favourite golfer. But never mind.

Apart from that, the reason you may not have noticed his demise, is that Dan Halldorson, tragically done in by a stroke at 63, defined the phrase “low profile”. Not only was he a Canadian professional golfer before Mike Weir, he had the on-course charisma of a dozing accountant. Not many noticed him during his golfing career, and after he retired, he was soon unjustly forgotten. Me, I loved the guy.

There was something so unassuming about Dan Halldorson, so unlike any other golfer on the PGA tour. Shunning the flashy polyester slacks and other riotous garb of the time, Dan preferred loose, almost baggy, dark pants. When the weather fell below 80 degrees, he often donned a formless sweater that might have been picked up on sale at The Bay. With his dour moustache, photo gray glasses and a thin expression that never seemed to change, whether he was shooting 80 or 65, he trudged around the golf course, as if fearing the worst on every shot.

Yet, in one of those unfathomable attachments that makes being a sports fan so much fun, I became a huge fan of Dan the Man. Long before the days of instant leaderboard updates, I would scrutinize the tiny agate roundup of the latest PGA tournament every Monday in the paper to see how Dan did. If he made the cut and pocketed a nice cheque, it cheered me up.

Maybe it was the fact that I love underdogs, and Dan Halldorson woofed with the best of them. He had none of that year-round golf on immaculate, sun-bathed courses, college scholarships, coaching and every other advantage that characterizes the competitive background of so many American pros. Dan grew up in dusty, nondescript Shilo, Manitoba, never went to college, and scratched around on the  barebones Canadian tour, before making it to the glamorous PGA tournaments through hard work, grit and determination. His career was a triumph of will over adversity.

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Despite missing more half-way cuts than Boo Weekly, plagued by a bad back and terrible attacks of eczema, Dan survived for more than 15 years on the toughest tour in golf. Even after he won the Pensacola Open in 1980, he never seemed to emerge from the fog into the sunlight. When he earned the biggest pay cheque of his career, a princely $88,000 for finishing second in a tournament 11 years later, Dan admitted afterwards: “I was totally confused out there.”

That tournament was a bonanza for Halldorson watchers. For the first time in a while, he was in contention. As the final holes approached, the American TV announcers were forced to talk about him. However, it was clear they knew almost nothing about this strange golfer from Canada, lurking behind those glasses. He seemed to belong on the other side of the spectator ropes, rather than vying for the lead. Finally, after an awkward pause, commentator Arnold Palmer offered: “Dan’s a fine player.”

Our man from Shilo approached the 16th hole, only a stroke or two out of the lead. But two bad shots left him with a short tap-in for a bogey. Unbelievably, his 18-inch putt slid by the hole.  Dan’s shoulders drooped as sadly as his moustache. He staggered off to the difficult 17th hole, a long par 3.

An indifferent tee shot left him about 8 miles from the hole. He let fly his mammoth putt. The ball scooted all the way across the green, over dips and dales and a break or two. And then, miraculously, it plopped into the hole. A completely improbable birdie. Too much. Dan’s reaction? He smiled slightly and headed to the 18th hole.

In a way, those two holes were typical of Dan Halldorson on the course. You just never knew what he was going to do. Likely, he didn’t either. Two examples. At the Canadian Professional Golf Association championship late in his career, competing against a bunch of fellow Canadians who could barely carry his bag, the veteran PGA tour competitor shot an opening round 80. That’s right, 80! Did Dan think of finally quitting this “crazy game of golf”? Nope. In the second round, he carded a 67. How can a golfer improve by 13 strokes in a single round?

A bit later, at the Greater Milwaukee Open, Dan was lights out for the first nine holes, shooting an incredible 29, seven under par. With visions of a 59 inevitably dancing in his head, Dan proceeded to shoot 39 on the back nine, a swing of 10 strokes. Then, after barely making the cut, while almost every other player was battering the relatively easy course with under par rounds, Dan shot 77, by far the day’s worst score. He plummeted to the bottom of the leaderboard. But Dan was ever a never-say-die kind of guy. On the final round, despite bad weather and difficult pin positions, Dan shot 67. He still finished last. But what a ride.

There’s little doubt that his many health problems were a major reason for these wild swings from wonderful to wobbly. If his back was feeling good, look out! If it was out of sorts, look out below!

Yet, besides his PGA tour win, Dan won two World Cup Championships, partnered with Jim Nelford and then Dave Barr, a few other miscellaneous tournaments, and compiled 28 top 10 finishes on the PGA tour. Said Canadian Tour one-time winner Adam Speith: “My dad used to tell me I was a ball-striker. After watching Dan, I guess it explains why I’m in advertising now.”

Added former pro Ian Leggatt: “I think it’s unfortunate really that a lot of people don’t know the amazing career that he had in the game of golf….But that was Dan’s thing. He never talked about himself. He was always more concerned about how everyone else was doing.”

Soft-spoken, modest to a fault, and a huge supporter of Canadian golf, Dan Halldorson was a class act all the way.

RIP, Dan. Gone too soon.

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