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Wier looking for northern exposure on PGA Tour Canada

Thad Wier hopes the road to the PGA Tour starts in Vancouver.

That’s where Wier, a 24-year-old from East Aurora, will make his debut on the PGA Tour Canada later this month in the PC Financial Open.

Wier earned an exemption into the first six events of the PGA Tour Canada schedule by way of a tie for 16th place earlier this month in a qualifying tournament held at Crown Isle Resort and Golf Community in Courtenay, British Columbia.

He shot rounds of 74-71-74 before closing with a 5-under 67 that vaulted him 20 spots up the leader board and into the top 18 (and ties) who earned exempt status for the first six events.

“It was awesome. I played very well the last round to get in there,” Wier said. “I just remember feeling right afterward, ‘This could really jump start my career and get me to where I want to go a little bit faster.’ ”

Ultimately, of course, that would be the PGA Tour, but for now, Wier is focused on what’s in front of him. After the first six events on the schedule, PGA Tour Canada “reshuffles” based on the season’s Order of Merit for the final six events. So the better Wier plays, the better chance he has of getting into the final six events of the season, which include the Tour Championship of Canada in September.

The top five finishers in the Order of Merit earn membership on the Web.com Tour, with the money leader becoming fully exempt for the 2016 season and those finishing 2-5 earning conditional status. In addition, those finishing 6-10 in the Order of Merit earn an exemption into the final stage of the Web.com qualifying tournament, while those finishing 11-20 are exempt into the second stage. The top 60 finishers become fully exempt for the PGA Tour Canada 2016 season.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” Wier said of pursuing a professional career. “I’ve been working on it since freshman year of high school.”

The second oldest of five children in an athletic family, Wier graduated from St. John Fisher College in Pittsford last May. After playing in some local amateur events last summer, he moved to Myrtle Beach, S.C., in September and turned professional in October.

It didn’t take him long to find success, as he won in his fourth professional start on the Swingthought.com Tour. In 25 starts in the series, Wier pocketed $5,260.

Purses are significantly higher on PGA Tour Canada – between $150,000-$175,000 per event – but the competition is also enhanced. Last year, the tour average was $10,015 in winnings.

“We’re still actively searching sponsors,” Wier said. “Anything to help with the financial part of it. I try to offer them as much as I can, because it’s definitely financially straining.”

Wier is able to save some money by staying in his grandfather’s condominium in Myrtle Beach. He’s back there now after a brief stop home last week, working with his coach, Hugh Royer III.

Another perk of qualifying for PGA Tour Canada is the ability to use TPC Myrtle Beach’s facilities to practice.

“That’s awesome,” Wier said. “The confidence part has really picked up. I didn’t really drive the ball very well at the qualifying tournament, but scrapping and clawing to finish with a good round the way I did – I was very pleased with that. I can’t wait to compete against these guys.”

Wier said the strength of his game is his chipping and putting – two must-have skills for a professional.

“That’s what I like to focus on and I really take a lot of pride in being a good-short game player,” he said. “What I want to work on the most is really just consistency off the tee – more consistent contact with the ball, so when that part is a little better, I can shoot much better scores.”

Bell passes away

A man who helped the International Junior Masters grow from a tournament mostly for Western New Yorkers to one that annually attracts a field from across the globe has died.

Jim Bell, 77, passed away May 12 surrounded by family in Florida. Born in Buffalo, Bell graduated from Lancaster High School in 1956 and later the University of Florida. He moved home to Orchard Park after college and became chairman of what was then known as the Junior Golf Invitational Tournament at East Aurora Country Club. Bell’s leadership helped to attract fields that would include several future PGA Tour members.

None other than Arnold Palmer was so impressed with how Bell ran the International Junior Masters that he offered him a job as the tournament director of the Bay Hill Invitational. Bell took the job in 1978, ultimately staying in the position for 27 years as the event grew into one of the PGA Tour’s high-profile stops.

Bell is also a past member of the American Junior Golf Association’s Board of Directors. He is survived by his wife, J. Gail McCutcheon Bell, and his children, Susan, Darci, Melinda and James Jr.

Chip-ins

• The Golf Channel Amateur Tour played the third of 11 events on its Buffalo schedule over the weekend at Mill Creek in Rochester. Jerome Rappart of Baldwinsville won the Championship Flight (handicaps of 3.9 or less), carding a 5-over 77.

Amherst’s Brian Davis took first place in the Palmer Flight (4.0 to 7.9), shooting a 3-over 75. Cheektowaga’s Rick Stein won the Hogan Flight (8.0 to 11.9), shooting 83. Scott Jamieson of Whitby, Ont., took first in the Sarazen Flight (12.0 to 15.9) with an 82, while Baldwinsville’s James Bay won the Jones Flight (16.0 to 19.9) with an 87.

The tour, which is for all ages and skill levels, has more than 50 local branches across the country, with about 7,000 active members. There are more than 700 stroke-play tournaments nationwide, including about 30 majors, all of which lead to the national championships in September in La Quinta, Calif. Players earn points that go toward their eligibility for nationals each year. For more information, visit gcamtour.com.

• This is the first column of the 2015 golf season. As a reminder, The Buffalo News has an online database of all local course records available at http://data.buffalonews.com. Course managers are encouraged to send updates on any new records to the email address below. Any other local golf news of note is also welcome.

email: jskurski@buffnews.com