Kelowna’s Cole Wilson started 2021 between the pipes for the North Okanagan Knights Junior B hockey team, and before the first month of the year was up, he secured his first win as a professional golfer.
The 20-year-old has been working towards a professional golf career while playing high-level hockey for several years, and with his Knights sidelined by the pandemic for the time being, he decided there was no better time to make the leap.
“With COVID shutting down the hockey season it kind of gave me clarity that I should just turn pro now,” he said.
Wilson made his first professional start on the Vancouver Golf Tour Jan. 27, a single-round event at Northview Golf and Country Club in Surrey. Despite playing through wintry conditions, the 20-year-old shot two under par to share first place with one other golfer.
Known as the winter tour, the event lived up to its name with rain turning to snow in 2 C weather that stuck to the greens on several holes.
The elements made for some interesting putting, which Wilson likened to building a snowman.
“You have a little snowball, you roll it in the snow making it a lot bigger. It was exactly like that with the golf ball,” he said.
Wilson was the last to tee off, starting on the back nine. He said once he’d hit his first drive down the right side of the ninth fairway he felt an aura of change; a new chapter in his career was underway.
“I felt really calm,” he said.
“By the time we got to the 10th green it had started snowing and visibility got a little low,” Wilson added. “All of us were marking our tap-ins from like one foot out because who knows how it will come off.
“I took nothing for granted and that was the key.”
Off to a hot start, Wilson hopes to earn PGA Tour of Canada status this year. Up next is the PGA of Canada qualifying school, which will see him ship out to Arizona from March 29 to April 2.
The co-win is the latest in a string of golfing accomplishments Wilson has put together in a short period of time. He started playing competitively just five years ago, developing his game at Kelowna’s Okanagan Golf Club. In 2019, playing as an amateur, he was the youngest competitor and only Canadian at both the Irish Men’s Open Championship and the Southern California Open — the latter America’s second-oldest golf tournament.
After transferring back from the University of Missouri Science and Technology, Wilson led his UBC Okanagan team to their first win at the 2019 USports Canada West Alberta Invitational, laying down a record-setting individual performance for the low medalist honours. He would go on to be named the MVP of the UBC Okanagan men’s golf team and was nominated for UBCO’s Male Athlete of the Year.
Wilson won the 2020 Vancouver Open Amateur Title, following the footsteps of several Canadian PGA Tour stars. Over the course of his amateur career, he collected 13 wins, another 13 top-five finishes and was ranked as high as 2,777th in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.
Though he’s now retired from hockey, his years in the crease proved his all-round athleticism. At age 15, when was first committing to golf as his main sport, he was also playing in the Yale Hockey Academy Elite 15s.
Playing with the Knights in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League was a chance to have some fun in his 20-year-old season, enjoying the perks of a team sport he’ll leave behind as he pursues golf.
“One of the things that I missed most about being in a game of hockey was just the team atmosphere, the team bus trips… uniting as one and working together to achieve the same goals,” he said.
Wilson will play a single-round event on the Vancouver Golf Tour every Wednesday over the course of the winter season.