Two years after putting the finishing touches on his first Canadian Tour championship at the 2002 Victoria Open, the long-hitting Australian took his first dip into the PGA pond and at times had a hard time keeping his head above water. Playing on new tracks and against a new level of competition, Hend found the learning curve tough to negotiate in the latter stages of the season.
All things considered, he wouldnt change the experience for the world.
Its been a lot of fun, says Hend. Last year was tough learning the ropes at times. You play a lot of golf courses that youve never seen before, so you have to get used to that. It was the same thing when I first went to Canada'there were a lot of courses I had never played, and I really had a hard time that first season.
Yes, indeed, that first season on the Canadian Tour could easily be described as mediocre at best. In that summer of 2000 north of the border, Hend would make the cut in just three of nine cuts.
Fast-forward to his rookie season on the PGA Tour. Following a slow start out of the blocks, Hend found his groove at the 2004 BellSouth Classic, staying in contention all week long before eventually finishing in third spot, two strokes behind champion Zach Johnson. If the result at the BellSouth, which landed him a $306,000 payday, was a sign of things to come, someone forgot to tell Scott Hend.
The 31-year-old hit a roadblock for the rest of the year, playing on the weekend in just three of his final twelve events. When the curtain dropped on the 2004 PGA Tour season, Hend had earned a healthy $536,000. Not a bad salary by anyones standards, but in the world of professional golf, it represented a 136th-place showing on the money list.
I struggled for about the last 11 tournaments of the year. I made a few rookie mistakes, but you have to make them in order to learn. My confidence was sky-high after the BellSouth, but I just couldnt string anything together after that. But it was a learning experience.
So it was back to Q-School last December as Hend went looking to improve his PGA Tour status for 2005. He did just that and is heading into this campaign with a newfound outlook, not to mention a lighter work schedule. Hend figures he will see action in 30-plus tournaments over the next 10 months and is focused on pacing himself , something he was not able to do a year ago.
Last year, I practiced extremely hard the first half of the season, and I dont think I was as fit as I should have been, admits Hend, who went through a seven-week stretch without a day off in April and May. Im taking a different approach this season. You have to be both mentally and physically prepared. It comes down to quality, not quantity, and you cant burn yourself out. There are only a few guys that can play all year long without a real break, but they are few and far between. They found the key to it somehow.
Drawing up his travel itinerary is one thing, but there is one change that will be a little tougher to deal with this coming season. You see, there are very few people on this planet, at least in the professional golf ranks, that can hit a golf ball as far as Scott Hend. For the long hitters, it is often described that they are playing a different golf course, and Hend hits em as long as anyone. In fact, some players must be wondering if they put something in the water in Canada. Last season, Hend was second to 2002 Canadian Tour money leader Hank Kuehne in driving distance on the PGA Tour with an average launch of 312 yards.
Control, on the other hand, was a problem. Hend ranked 189th in driving accuracy on tour meaning, for lack of a better term, he snatched bogey from the jaws of birdie on more than one occasion.
When you hit a ball as far as Hend, course management is a term in your vocabulary that is rarely used. This time around, it is different.
In the Buick Invitational, his lone event thus far in 2005, Hend averaged 310 yards on eight drives, still tops in PGA ranking, but with one notable exception. That week Hend hit 56 of 72 greens in regulation, a 77.8 clip that is eighth-best at this early stage of the season. A year ago, Hend was 157th in greens hit.
Its funny, last year I seemed to be hitting driver so much, and the next thing you know youre walking away with bogey, he admits. Now I am using a different mindset. I want to hit my 14 to 16 greens a round. Of course, the power game matches up well on some courses, but you have to pick your spots.
And how hard will it be to keep the driver in the bag some days?
As you get a little older, you have to mellow out a bit, laughs Hend. Mind you, for some of us, it takes longer than others.
Hend will be the first to tell you that some things simply cant be taught. The experience of playing on the Canadian Tour, he says, is one of them. In Vancouver back in 2001, he was involved in a tour-record, six-man playoff at the Telus Vancouver Open, which was eventually won by two-time champion Steve Scott. Less than a year later, Hend carried a lead into the final round of the Myrtle Beach Barefoot Championship before Canadian Derek Gillespie came from behind for his first tour win.
Months later, Hend would shake the proverbial monkey off his back at long last with a two-shot triumph on Vancouver Island.
Once you know you can win, everything seems to fall into place he reasons. You get in a different frame of mind. I learned so much playing up there in Canada. The travel, the extended schedule, the world-class players you match up with every week. I see a lot of the guys out here (on the PGA Tour) that I played the Canadian Tour with. The past U.S. amateur champions, the top Canadian golfers, PGA Tour veterans, players from all over the worldwe had them all. With that competition, you learned what it took to compete week in and week out.
Hend will always hold a special spot in his heart for Canada and, in particular Victoria, for more reasons than one would think. Just four days prior to his victory at The Uplands Golf Club, Hend would marry Leanne, his longtime sweetheart, in front of the B.C. legislative buildings. Their first days as a newlywed couple were spent at the Uplands and, with his new bride caddying for him that weekend, Hend delivered a memorable wedding gift with his first championship. It was a honeymoon Hend will never forget.
'I was talking to Leanne about that, how great it would be to get to Victoria and play there again, says Hend. I dont think my schedule will allow it this season, but obviously the city means a lot to us. Victoria, Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg'I could go on and on'we loved playing everywhere in Canada. But obviously Victoria in 2002 was a pretty special week.
Should Scott Hend have his way, there will be a few more special weeks in the near future.