Champ returns

Robert Cumming Jr. was named the Strathcona Invitational’s player of the decade for the 2010s. 

The 91st anniversary of the Strathcona Invitational presented by Teleco and Tbaytel launches this weekend.

Six-time Invitational champion and the 2010s player-of-the-decade winner Robert Cumming is looking forward to playing some golf on his home course. Winner of the last two events played, Cumming and the Thunder Bay’s longest standing tournament took a pause in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But now, “Strath” is back.

“Golf-wise I shot about 20 rounds, no tournaments,” Cumming said of last season. “I spent a lot of time inside with the family, just like everyone else. It’s not really a breather for me. My schedule is so trimmed down anyway. Since 2015 I play this and the club championship — two tournaments a year. I really didn’t need a breather from that.”

At 44, Cumming feels there is still a lot left in his tank.

“I’m early on the back nine I would guess,” he laughed, assessing his career. “It feels good. I just arrived at the tournament (Friday). Everyone who plays it every year missed it last year. It’s great that it’s back this year.”

Cumming’s first appearance in the Strathcona was in 1989 at age of 12. He secured his first win in 1996, followed by victories in 2005, 2011-12 and 2018-19 making it wins in three different decades. A win sometime in the 2020s would make it four.

“When you put it that way I’ve been playing in this tournament a long time. I’ve been pretty consistent over the years,” said Cumming.

There have been nine player-of-the-decade awards over the years at Strathcona.

Brett Shewchuk won three in a row from 2015-17 to put in a serious bid to capture the latest one.

“I probably had to win both of those, not that I was thinking of it, looking back on it. Feels good for sure,” Cumming said of his latest back-to-back crowns to at Strath to keep Shewchuk at bay.

Going in as No. 1 seed, the steady-handed Cumming is feeling no pressure.

“Same as always. Maybe a little under-prepared and under-practiced. I don’t prepare for play like I used to. I think I can still play well,” Cumming said.

A Friday sprinkle will help the course bounce back from weeks of little to no precipitation.

“The course is dry, but it’s not as dry as it was a week ago. Little rain we’ve had has made a difference,” said Cumming. “The greens are pretty receptive as of Thursday. If you get off line you can get in a bit of trouble.”

Shewchuk, 29, forged a three-peat from 2015-17.

“It’s awesome. It’s the best weekend of the year. It was cancelled last year, and it’s awesome that it’s back. Really excited,” said Shewchuk.

“It’s anybody’s tournament. Big field. Lots of guys coming out to play,” he added. “(There’s) 128 guys? That’s the biggest field I’ve ever heard of. Lots of guys itching to play. Every tournament it seems to fills up. COVID has been good for golf, honestly.”

Shewchuk plays at Centennial after work every day. He’s hoping the work will pay off.

“It’s cool to be up there on the wall with those guys,” he said.

Barry Caland has seven Strathcona Invitational titles under his belt. His last came in 2010. He had a big decision going into this year as he turned 50.

“I’m at the age where aches and pains happen every day,” said Caland. “I’ve got to work out every day to keep my distance up. . . . Had the option this year to play senior. Had the option to play regular (division). Took me about six weeks, weighing the options. My playing partners basically put the thought in my head that I’m not ready for senior.

“My game’s still close enough, I can compete, you get hot for a weekend you never know,” he added.

Caland has put in 60 rounds this year. Last year he reached his goal of 100, and he’s on pace to match that pace in 2021.

“It became a thing where I enjoyed it more because I was playing every day,” he said. “I don’t know how (age) 50 is supposed to feel. If 50 is supposed to feel this, it feels pretty good.”

Good enough for a crown this weekend to break an 11-year drought?

“It would really cap off what I’ve accomplished,” he said of possibly winning in 2021. “To win a tournament in Thunder Bay is hard to do. You got the kids coming up — (Dallas) Burgess, (Nathan) Lepore, (Jack) Moro and those guys — it’s really hard to win a tournament. To win multiple times, it becomes exponentially hard. I won a tournament last year. To get that feeling back . . . The hardest tournament to win is the next one.”

Qualifying for all three senior divisions was completed Friday.

Randy Robinson, the 1993 champion, led the senior division with a 76. Rollie Turrie had the lowest score among super seniors with a 75. Four-time champion John Valley tied Glen Fossum with a 77 score in the masters division.

Senior championship flight match starts at 7 a.m. this morning, followed by the 84 golfers in the regular division playing in the qualifying round. From there match play will whittle each flight down to two golfers.

The final in the championship flight starts at 2:30 p.m. on Monday.