For now, though, Webb is in a celebratory mood, both on and off the golf course.
Despite the fact he now resides in Tampa Bay for the most part, Webb, 29, has evidently taken a defining trait of Canadiana with him to the Sunshine State. He is as hardcore a hockey fan as you are going to find and is revelling in the fact his team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, are now playing for the Stanley Cup, hockeys Holy Grail. And while he may be one of the few Canadians rooting against the Calgary Flames in this Cup championship, there is good reason. Three years ago, Webb met Lightning goaltending coach Jeff Reese out on the links, and the two have been good friends ever since. Webb has traded the blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the blue, black and white of the Lightning. He may still hold a soft spot in his heart for the Leafs, but Webb leaves no doubt as to where his loyalty lies.
Heck yeah! laughs Webb from Tampa Bay, when asked if he is relishing this moment after years of mediocrity from the Bolts. Ive been to every single playoff game that Ive been in town for. Its crazy. I went down to the (Tampa Bay) dressing room after Game 7 (of the Eastern Final vs. Philadelphia) and we ended up staying until 2:30 in the morning. What a great time. I cant wait to see all the guys out on Tour that have been giving me the gears for being a Lightning fan the past three years.
We shuffle the hockey talk aside, and turn to his golf game. Not only is Webb riding the momentum of a season-best 11th-place finish at the Corona Ixtapa Classic in Mexico a couple of weeks ago, but he recently finished second at his site in U.S. Open local qualifying, and is now just one step away from punching his ticket to golfs second major of the season. Webb will try to close out the deal June 7th in Columbus before the golf world turns its attention to the 104th U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, NY from June 17-20.
Im excited about my chances this year. Things are going well for me, and I am moving in the right direction. Im not happy with just keeping the status quo anymore. I want to see some positive changes, and I feel that happening. There are so many opportunities out here'the Nationwide events in Canada, the Bell Canadian Open, exempted into second stage of (PGA) Q-school. Now, I have a chance to make the U.S. Open. The opportunities are there. You just have to take advantage of them.
In a year that could out to be one to remember for Webb, it certainly didnt begin that way. In fact, only recently has the tide begun to turn in his favour. Webb didnt play on the weekend in five of six events to open the season, and came in 45th at the lone event he made the cut in. Frustrated with his play at a pair of California events last month, Webb sought out the tutelage of former coach Gary Gilchrist, who trains teenage sensation Michelle Wie, among others. Gilchrist worked with Webb for three solid days before back-to-back Tour stops in Mexico earlier this month. When he climbed on the plane to come home to Canada, he brought a season-high result back with him.
The start of my year was unbelievably bad, and I felt as low as Ive been about my game in a long time, he concedes. I hadnt worked with Gary since Bay Mills last year, and we worked together for a few days. Since then, things have turned around for me.
Yes, Gilchrist will take his rightful credit for Webbs newfound success, but it was a chance practice round with fellow Tour player Dirk Ayers that could end up being the catalyst for the turnaround. The day before the opening round in Ixtapa, the duo were together in the blistering heat getting a feel for Palma Real Golf Club when Ayers suggested Webb may benefit from using the same claw-grip on his putter that he had switched to. Someone skeptical, Webb played the final nine holes with the new grip and hasnt looked back since. In seven competitive rounds since the switch'four in Ixtapa, two at a 36-hole Great Lakes Tour event and the U.S. Open qualifier---Webb is 19-under par.
Yeah, I think Ill end up taking Dirk out for a beer, he says with a laugh. I wasnt sure what to think when he told me to give it a try, but it has paid off. I think I owe him one. My swing is coming around, and I havent felt this good over the putter since I was 15 years old. Now I am excited to get out to the course everyday.
It is often said that every cloud has a silver lining. Sometimes, however, the opposite is true. For all the enjoyment Webb is experiencing in recent weeks, his emotions are likely to be tested in June when the third Lewis Chitengwa Memorial Championship presented by Aventis Pasteur is staged in Virginia. The event pays tribute to 26-year-old Canadian Tour rookie Lewis Chitengwa of Zimbabwe, who passed away suddenly in Edmonton three summers ago. Webb and Chitengwa had built a friendship that is too often uncommon in professional golf, where your friend is your foe until your final putt drops on the 18th hole. On that Saturday morning in 2001, just a few hours before the third round of the TELUS Edmonton Open, it was Webb whom Chitengwa called when he fell ill. Seeing his friends condition worsening as he arrived, Webb called paramedics and rode in the ambulance to the hospital with Chitengwa, neither one of them knowing the tragedy unfolding before them. Minutes after being wheeled into Misericordia Hospital, Lewis Chitengwa was gone, a rare strain of meningitis taking him at far too young an age. As one heart stopped that morning in Edmonton, many more broke, none more so than Brennan Webbs.
Obviously, this tournament means more to me than most, says Webb, and you can hear the emotion in his voice. The things he brought out in me, and the times we had together off the course, I will always remember. No one else I have been around has ever made me want to be a better person the way Lewis did. He was an unbelievable young man. It means a lot to see his memory carried on, and I hope no one ever loses sight of what kind person he was and what he meant to all of us.
One year after his death, the first edition of the Lewis Chitengwa Memorial was held in Charlottesville, VA, just a stones throw from the University of Virginia, where Chitengwa had starred in college. Fate can be fickle at times, to be sure, but on that weekend, it smiled on Webb. No, he didnt win, but was in contention heading into the third round before struggling over the final two days to place 27th. But it was another close friend, East Tennessee State University teammate Chris Wisler, who won his first title that day. As Wisler accepted his award, with Lewis Chitengwas parents and younger brother having flown halfway around the globe to share the moment, Wisler wept in as moving a trophy presentation as you will ever see.
If I couldnt win that tournament, I am so glad Chris was able to, recalls Webb. Not only is he a great player, he knew what Lewis stood for. When he held that trophy, it was an honour for him. He respected that trophy and the name on it.
It will be bittersweet for Webb, to be sure, but he wouldnt miss it for anything. He will compete in his U.S. Open sectional qualifier in Columbus, OH on the Monday of tournament week before heading straight for Virginia. It is a bridge he will cross in week or so. For the time being, its still hockey season in Florida and for the kid from Bracebridge, his Lightning have a Cup to win.
Its funny, now there is 22,000 people in the seats every night, and another 6,000 outside the rink watching on the big screen, he says. I was on the driving range the other day (prior to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final) wearing my Lightning hat, and this guy came up to me and asked, Are you a real fan or one of those bandwagon fans? I showed him how worn my hat was and said that I had been to about 75 games in the past three seasons. If that was a bandwagon fan, I guess I am one. I told him I was also going to Game 7 that night.
He said Wow, you are a real fan. Have you got an extra ticket?..........
Should the Lightning prevail in their championship series, Webb will in all likelihood take a sip from the Stanley Cup. After all, you know Jeff Reese is going to get a little personal time with the fabled mug, and it will get passed to Webb in due time.
It sure doesnt hurt to have friends in high places. For Brennan Webb, that adage is meant in more ways than one.