Seven years ago, Darren Wallace was a wide-eyed teenager, rubbing shoulders with his golf heroes, as the youngest person to win the Canadian Amateur golf championship.
That victory earned him an automatic berth into the 2004 Canadian Open.
Starting Thursday (July 21) Wallace will once again have the opportunity to play with some of the world’s best golfers.
This time he enters the field as a professional golfer.
The 22-year-old from Langley earned the chance thanks to a sparkling 7-under 65 on Monday at Morgan Creek Golf Club.
His play earned him one of four exemptions into the RBC Canadian Open, which runs through the weekend, at Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club.
“It sure felt like (home course advantage),” Wallace said, shortly before leaving for a practice round on Tuesday at the site of the Open.
“Travelling around the last few months, I haven’t really settled down at home too much.
“(So) to be able to play a golf course that I grew up playing a lot … it really felt like I was playing a home tournament again.
“It brought back a lot of good memories.”
Wallace had a sparkling junior career, and after graduating from Walnut Grove Secondary in 2006, he joined the University of Washington Huskies golf program.
He graduated from the Seattle university in 2010 and is trying to settle into his pro career.
From January to May of this year, Wallace was on the Arizona-based Gateway Tour.
“I had a bit of success down there,” he said. “Essentially it was getting my feet wet as a pro.”
A few months ago, he began playing on the Canadian Tour.
Overall, he described his season as disappointing.
“To be honest, I haven’t really been playing up to the standards I hold for myself,” Wallace said.
Last week at a Canadian Tour event in Winnipeg, Wallace made seven birdies on the tournament’s second day.
He finished the round at even-par and missed the cut, but he gained confidence.
“The fact I was able to make those seven birdies gave me the confidence I was looking for,” he said.
“To make seven birdies, you know your game isn’t that far away from taking a step in the right direction.
“Despite missing the cut, that (round) was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.”
That confidence carried into Monday’s qualifying round.
On the first hole, a 450-yard dogleg par-four, he hit his approach shot to within 15 feet of the pin, and then sank the uphill birdie putt.
“I looked over at my caddie, a good buddy of mine (Danny Jun) and smiled and said ‘this could be a good day.’”
Wallace birdied three of the first five holes and eagles on both of the par-5s on the back nine.
Having Jun — whom he has known since their junior days — on the bag was a big thing. So was the pair’s familiarity with the course.
“It is someone who knows your game and knows you really well and can give you input,” Wallace explained.
“It makes a world of difference, having that person there that keeps you in that comfort level.”
Back at the 2004 Canadian Open, Wallace shot rounds of 82 and 83 and missed the cut.
“I was just loving the fact that I was there,” he said.
“I had no expectations of doing anything, I didn’t think I was going to make the cut as a 15-year-old.
“I was just there big-eyed, loving where I was at.”
Some of his fond memories include Phil Mickelson giving him congratulations for winning the Canadian Amateur, and sitting in the TSN booth with the commentators as Mike Weir and Vijay Singh battled for the tournament title. Singh would win in a playoff.
“Other than the way I played, it couldn’t have been a better week,” he recalled. “Meeting all the pros, being able to hang out with them, it was all great.
“(But) this time, I hold myself to a different standard.”
photo courtesy of RBC Canadian Open