Ex-NHLer Ray Whitney Trading in His Hockey Stick for a Bunker Rake at the Rio Olympics
RIO DE JANEIRO — When he’s asked, former NHLer Ray Whitney says he will feel perfectly comfortable reading putts for Canadian golf pro, Graham DeLaet, this week.
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RIO DE JANEIRO – He may be a much better than average golfer, but former NHLer Ray Whitney needed a quick tutorial on how to be a pro caddy on Tuesday.
On the second green at the Olympic Golf Course, Graham DeLaet taught his caddy for the week the way fellow pros expect bunkers to be raked. The two discussed how they would handle reading putts and giving yardages and other specifics of the job.
DeLaet said he will seek Whitney’s opinion when he’s looking for affirmation.
“If I’m second-guessing a little bit I’ll bring him in,” DeLaet said. “He’s a plus handicap so he knows how to read greens and stuff too. Sometimes just getting a second opinion and reassurance (is important.) I’m not going to lean on him a lot for advice.”
Whitney, who is looking forward to the challenge, will defer to the boss.
“I’m a junior hockey player so when I add the numbers up, you better check,” Whitney said. “I might have forgotten to carry the one.”
– Rob Longley
As DeLaet’s caddy when golf makes its return to the Olympic Games following a 112-year absence, Whitney will rake bunkers, replace divots, and do his best to provide accurate yardages.
But the former Stanley Cup champion believes if he can help calm what’s been going on between DeLaet’s ears this season, his golfing pal and boss this week could be in medal contention.
The two have been in the same foursome many times – at Whistle Rock Golf Club, the course both play out of in Scottsdale, Ariz. In their regular matches, they bicker about how many strokes the pro has to give the amateur and what the stakes will be.
But when the 72-hole, Olympic stroke play tournament tees off on Thursday they will be teammates. And if Whitney can lend something from his hockey past to help DeLaet with a breakthrough moment, all the better.
“I always say to him what gets you out of a slump is something great happening and that could be on the second hole Thursday morning, chipping something in or making a great sand shot,” Whitney said on Tuesday at the Rio Olympic Golf Course. “All it takes is one good shot to get you over a hump. He just has to believe in himself. I’ll be there to make sure I can fluff him up as much as I can.
“It’s no different than going five games without a goal ten it turns to six and then seven then all of a sudden one banks in off your skate and you score four in your next five. It’s no different for any athlete – the mental power capability your body has is unreal, good and bad.”
The most vexing aspect of DeLaet’s struggles is that there is nothing wrong with him physically. In fact, he’s widely been regarded as one of the more pure ball strikers on the PGA Tour, a talent in evidence during his nine-hole practice round on Tuesday.
But around the green this year, the Weyburn, Sask. native had the dreaded “yips” in his chipping game. To his credit, DeLaet was up front about the woes, something that earned big respect from his caddy, who saw a little hockey player in his approach.
DeLaet broke the news himself on Twitter back in June when he wrote that he was “dealing with incredible anxiety while chipping/pitching right now. It’s not fun.” The Tour veteran promptly took a break to figure out the head games with his short game before returning to the Tour in August.
“I think he was brave to deal with it the way that he did,” Whitney said. “A lot of guys would have chicken-shitted out and said ‘I’ve got a bad back or a sore wrist,’ both of which (Delaet) has had.
“We had a good chat (on Tuesday). He was chipping like a pro. Obviously it’s not a physical thing, it never is with golfers. That have the talent, but we’ve all gone through that in one form or another in our respective sports.”
DeLaet doesn’t sound convinced that the problems are completely behind him, but his confidence perked up somewhat as he toured the Olympic layout the past couple of days.
“It’s getting better,” DeLaet said. “The nice thing out here is if I feel any nerves or anything, I can pretty much putt from anywhere. That’s almost like a safety blanket. You’re going to see guys putting from 20, 30 feet off the green. You have a lot of options.”
From their connection in Arizoa, DeLaet, an avid hockey fan, quickly learned that Whitney had some game, a better-than-scratch golfer who didn’t mind a little action with a PGA Tour pro from his homeland. When his regular caddy, Julien Trudeau, decided not to come to Brazil because of the threat of the Zika virus, DeLaet recruited the man they called the Wizard, during his elongated NHL career.
“Obviously he’s a great athlete and he’s had a lot of experience, won a Stanley Cup so he knows what it takes to win,” DeLaet said. “I think I can lean on him for a little bit of advice here and there.
“He’s maybe the most competitive person I’ve ever met and I play on the PGA Tour where every single person is extremely competitive. He’s got no quit in him.”