THUNDER BAY -- For the past five years, some of the world’s most talented golfers flock to Whitewater Golf Course to play in the Staal Foundation Open -- one of the marquee local sporting events of the year.
Jeremy Kirk grew up just five minutes from Whitewater, and has been waiting for his chance to tee off for quite some time.
At just 21 years old, Kirk has been competing in local pro-level tournaments since a young age.
In 2015, he was recruited to play Division 1 golf at the University of North Dakota.
He spends his summers in Thunder Bay competing on the local circuit, and ever since the Staal Open first debuted in 2014, it’s been a goal of his to qualify.
“The last three years it’s been a major goal to get in. And I’ve fallen short the last two.”
On July 1 at the Keg District Open, Kirk’s chance was within reach.
He came into the second round of the two-day tournament trailing Robbie Untinen by one stroke and Brett Shewchuk by two.
The conditions on Canada Day, as most residents know, were not favourable for the outdoors. Golfers were faced with continual downpour, totalling 24 millimetres of rain for the day.
“The effort it took to try and stay dry, and keep everything dry, was probably more of a battle than actually playing the golf,” Kirk said. “In some respects it took the pressure off.”
Undeterred, Kirk got in the groove on the back nine and ended up shooting a 73. Tied for the lowest score of the day, Kirk won the Keg by two strokes and finally secured his spot in the Stall.
“It didn’t really kick in until later.”
“In years past, I never was never picked as an exemption which kind of bugged me,” Kirk said.
Of the five local golfers in this year’s tournament, three were granted by way of exemption -- Matt Simmons, Walter Keating, Jr. and Evan De Grazia.
“It feels a lot better to play your way in, than have a spot reserved for me… Looking back it feels really good I was able to achieve it on my own.”
For Kirk, the spot wasn’t just important for him, but for his family in which golf tradition runs deep.
“My Dad is always out there no matter what. My entire family is fully behind my goals, so to finally reward them… it feels good.”
One family member which the game meant the most to was his grandfather Arthur. A lifelong Fort William Country Club member, Arthur was an accomplished player who was inducted in the local golf hall of fame in 2015.
“Him not being there… that’s the one thing I wish I could have done earlier,” Kirk said about his grandfather who passed away in September of last year.
“Coming back from school and playing the local tournaments, having him not out there is different. All the locals say it’s weird not having him around.”
Kirk says the tournament will give him a chance to honour his legacy.
“I’m always thinking about him when I’m out in Thunder Bay. So I’ll be thinking about him (this week) for sure.”
As it stands, Kirk isn’t certain about the status of his golfing career when he finishes his undergraduate.
He says his pursuit of higher education in the law field is his main priority, so he’s trying to embrace what could be one of the most important tournaments he has left.
“There’s still my fourth year at school and next summer… but it could be a last hoorah in a sense. Who knows?”
Kirk will tee off on Thursday at 9 a.m. on the 10th hole.