TORONTO — Drew Nesbitt was getting tired of swinging a hammer.
After some time away, he's back doing what he loves — swinging a golf club.
The 28-year-old local product qualified for the RBC Canadian Open last weekend and on Thursday fired a 1-over 73 at the country's national championship as he stepped back into the spotlight.
"Wasn't my best," Nesbitt said following his opening round. "Grinded pretty hard out there.
"Took six months away from the game after a rough year."
That tough stretch culminated with his failure to earn a PGA Tour Card in September, which led to him taking up construction and home renovation.
"When you put the tool belt on, it's a little bit different than the golf bag," Nesbitt said of his brief carpentry career. "You realize pretty quickly where your interests lie and what's important to you.
"Building things with a hammer is cool and all, but it's not necessarily what I want to do."
The Horseshoe Valley, Ont., native played just once between the fall and March as he worked to get his mind right.
"Not being a good person internally," Nesbitt said when asked where he found himself before his self-imposed exile. "When you're battling out here, it's really difficult. It can take a toll if you don't believe that what you're doing is going to succeed.
"I just let it consume me."
Nesbitt decided to remove himself from that world to gain perspective.
"It was realizing truly what you're interested in," he said. "And I'm still interested in this. I know I can do it."
Nesbitt, who likely needs to shoot under par Friday to make the cut at Toronto's Oakdale Golf Country Club, is among a field of 21 homegrown players looking to become the first Canadian to win the country's national title since Pat Fletcher in 1954.
Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., sat in a four-way tie for first at 5-under 67, followed by Mackenzie Hughes (69) of Dundas, Ont., Taylor Pendrith (69) of Richmond Hill, Ont., Roger Sloan (69) of Merritt, B.C., Adam Hadwin (71) of Abbotsford, B.C., Ben Silverman (71) of Thornhill, Ont., Mike Weir (72) of Bright's Grove, Ont., and Aaron Cockerill (72) of Stony Mountain, Man.
Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., Etienne Papineau of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., Johnny Travale of Stoney Creek, Ont., and Vancouver's Stuart Macdonald all shot 73.
Edmonton's Wil Bateman (74), Abbotsford's Nick Taylor (75), Michael Gligic (75) of Burlington, Ont., David Hearn (76) of Brantford, Ont., Taylor Durham (77) of North Vancouver, B.C., Myles Creighton (77) of Digby, N.S., Toronto's Sebastian Szirmak (81) and Toronto's Daniel Kim (82) rounded out the Canuck contingent.
Nesbitt, meanwhile, came back to the game following some reflection.
"This is what I am," he said. "This is what my identity has been. I know when I've got my good stuff. It's just about: How good is your bad stuff to play out here?
"You look at the best players in the world ... their B, their C-plus games are still PGA Tour-quality. That's where it's got to get for me."
Nesbitt entrusted part of that process to well-known swing instructor Jeff Leishman. The pair went back and forth during the winter before Nesbitt headed south for in-person tutelage and then returned north.
"Never really had a real golf coach, per se," Nesbitt explained. "My dad and I have always kind of ham-and-egged it.
"(Leishman's) been good for me mentally, good for me in just organizing my game, addressing some flaws."
Nesbitt has played a total of five PGA events in his career — his only made cut was the 2019 Honda Classic — apart from plying his trade on lower-tier tours.
Golf's big names will be heading to the U.S. Open in Los Angeles next week.
Nesbitt's calendar is a little different with a spot booked at an event Monday and Tuesday for both professionals and amateurs in Guelph, Ont.
"If you get four or five weeks in a row out here, it would definitely change the way you feel," he said. "But every time I play one or two (PGA tournaments) a year — that's the most I've ever played — it's the first time. You don't get that rhythm.
"As much as I'm trying to let things happen, you're always in some way forcing it, which is exactly what I'm not supposed to do."
Despite those hurdles, and the whatever ones comes next, Nesbitt feels he's back where he belongs after a sabbatical that offered a glimpse at life away from the greens and fairways.
"When you do something else that is maybe not as enjoyable, you realize how enjoyable this is," he said.
"Even on its bad days."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press