The Canadian Open
Defending Champion: Scott Piercy
There’s a certain “loser’s mentality” that accompanies being a Canadian sports fan. It’s a mindset that exists for any athletic event that doesn’t take place on a frozen surface. The Olympics truly epitomizes this. Proverbial parades should not be held for finishing fifth in the dressage. But this is what happens when you’re a tweener country in the sporting landscape.
Certain peak performances have raised both awareness and expectations in a variety of sports over the years: Steve Nash NBA MVP 2005/2006, Andrew Wiggins YouTube mixes and Larry Walker, Justin Morneau and Joey Votto MLB MVPs 1997/2006/2010. Actually that’s about it from this millennium. Save one: Mike Weir’s Masters triumph in 2003.
While continuously pumping out elite level talent in baseball and basketball didn’t seem entirely feasible based on population – a lack thereof – it did with golf. Why couldn’t Canadians dominate on the links? Everyone knows hockey skills translate to golf anyway – shout out Dan Quinn – and it’s not like the climate makes it unplayable 11 months a year, despite what you may have heard. And now there was a legitimate star to inspire a new generation. Here was the diminutive Weir being bestowed sports’ highest sartorial honor from none other than Tiger Woods. He didn’t drive the ball the farthest or putt with the most precision, but he did take down the worlds’ best anyway. It would have been a different story if he’d lapped a bunch of cronies at the Greater Hartford Open, but he didn’t. This message was clear: If a normal looking guy like Weir could do it, there was no reason superior Canadian athletes couldn’t do it too, maybe better.
But in the 10 years since that fateful Sunday at Augusta there have been heaps of hype, and a shocking lack of results. Magnified by every Canadian sports network’s compulsion to list how every Canuck, regardless of performance, is fairing in each tournament. Spoiler Alert: Not well. In fact, Weir has been the most successful Canadian golfer during this period despite – seemingly – not making a cut since 2008. Some will point to Stephen Ames and his brief period of prosperity from 2006 to 2008, but the 2006 Players champ is not a homegrown Canadian, he’s from Trinidad and Tobago. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue, but his continuous representation of T&T at the World Cup of Golf even after becoming a citizen, that didn’t go over well. This permanently made him “Calgary resident” Stephen Ames.
So excluding Ames, this is the All-Maple Leaf team from the past decade. I can’t decide whether the better way to describe this collection of flunkies is disappointing or forgettable – and that’s taking all malevolent verbiage out of play.
Glen Hnatiuk – Hnatiuk broke on the scene a few years before Weir, but gained notoriety when Weir started becoming a fixture on weekly leaderboards. He’ll be best remembered as that “other Canadian in the field, who never seems to make the cut with the name I can’t properly pronounce”.
David Morland IV – DM4 played in 120 PGA events over his career posting just three Top 10s. To forever be known from Halifax to Vancouver as the homeless man’s David Love III.
Ian Leggatt – Leggett was actually Canada’s best shot at a new star, a fact which gets increasingly more depressing as each years passes. With his win at the 2002 Touchtone Energy Tucson Open, Leggatt joined Weir, Dave Barr, Pat Fletcher and Tricky Dick Zokol on the illustrious lists of PGA winners born above the 49th parallel. Unfortunately, his career went into a tailspin after eye and wrist injuries eventually fading into oblivion – aka Sportsnet golf analyst.
Jim Rutledge – A late bloomer. How late? In 2007 he became the second oldest rookie in the history of the PGA Tour at age 47. He made five of 31 cuts that year, failing to retain his member status.
Derek Gillespie – Career Highlights: Won The Big Break: Prince Edward Island and just missed getting to the final stage of Q-School.
Wes Heffernan – I remember the name… faintly. For a while I thought he was Farva from Super Troopers but a quick Google search informed me that guy’s name is Kevin Heffernan.
Matt McQuillan – McQuillan earned a Tour card through qualifying school for 2011 only to have it revoked, finishing 137th on the money list. He did contend at the John Deere Classic that season, though. At least according to his unnecessarily detailed Wikipedia page that was definitely written by him or a family member.
Chris Baryla – Parlayed a win on the Nationwide Tour into a Tour Card in 2010, but fell victim to a torn labrum. Baryla graduated from Q-School at the end of the year however making one cut in 20 tournaments the following season. Actually played in a Major too, the 2003 Open Championship, placing CUT.
What a squad! I suppose things wouldn’t be so disheartening if the national championship still held the same prestige it did during the previous century. Back then, the Canadian Open would consistently draw the sport’s biggest names and winning the US, British and Canadian Opens all in the same season was thing in golf. No joke, it was call golf’s “Triple Crown”. Now, no one cares.
There are many reasons the event has faded into the PGA’s least relevant stop, primarily its date on the schedule. Traveling to Canada the day after a Major – in Europe – is not exactly high on any player’s “must do” list. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the RBC – Royal Bank of Canada – sponsoring Matt Kuchar, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Brandt Snedeker, Hunter Mahan and Jim Furyk; the field would consist of Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, Charl Schwartzel, a slew of Canadians and more people you couldn’t pick out of a line up of one. Case in point, this press release from Golf Canada brags about the number of players in the field that could really be something in one of those long drive competitions…
“Watson, Johnson and Daly – currently ranked 3rd, 4th and 22nd respectively among the Top-25 PGA TOUR driving distance leaders – will be joined at Glen Abbey by fellow Top-25 heavy hitters Robert Garrigus (7th), Jason Kokrak (8th), Canadian Graham DeLaet (9th), Martin Flores (11th), Eric Meierdierks (13th), 2011 RBC Canadian Open champion Sean O’Hair (14th), Jimmy Walker (15th) and defending RBC Canadian Open champion Scott Piercy (21st).”
It’s a sad province state of affairs up north. Even sadder, the most famous moment from this event’s 109-year history – Tiger’s six-iron out of the bunker, across the water on 18 – happened so long ago now it actually makes me reflect on my own morality. Not all is lost however: Graham DeLaet’s played himself up to No. 67 in the world rankings, David Hearn has already broke the $1,000,000 barrier in earnings this season and will retain his membership on Tour, Adam Hadwin made a cameo in the US Open in June, as did 22-year-old Mackenzie Hughes and 28-year-old Ryan Yip. Matt Hill won the 2009 NCAA individual title tying Tiger’s record seven wins in a season and Nick Taylor was the low amateur at the ’09 US Open and winner of the 2010 Ben Hogan award, but neither has snowballed any of that success into the professional ranks. The real hope may rest with 22-year-old Eugene Wong of Vancouver. In 2010, Wong won the Jack Nicklaus award given to the Top NCAA player while earning an NCAA First Team All-American honor at Oregon. He turned pro last summer, immediately winning two tournaments in a row on the Canadian Tour, one of which featured a glorious walkoff eagle from 133-yards out.
Do these names present a glowing future for Canadian golf? Not especially. But at least it’s no longer opaque.
Daniel Summerhays – Summerhays has a few things going for him this week: He’s coming off his best finish of the year (T2), has cracked the Top 10 in three straight events and fits recent trend of “nobody” winners at this event – Scott Piercy, Sean O’Hair, Nathan Green, Chez Reavie.
Hideki Matsuyama – Currently the best player on the planet you didn’t know existed, the 21-year-old Japanese phenom surged up to No. 34 in the world rankings after his impressive tie for sixth at the Open Championship last week. It actually would have been a T3 if not for a one-stroke slow play penalty on Saturday – an offense which cost him around $143,000. Normally I shy away from players returning from overseas at this tournament, but Matsuyama showed no signs of fatigue traveling from Toyko to Scotland last week, so what’s another quarter-way-around-the-globe voyage to him.
Matt Kuchar – Strong iron players, not long bombers have had the most recent success at Glen Abbey – Green and Reavie, and irons are basically Kuchar’s entire game.
David Lingmerth – Since his breakout at The Players Championship in May the Swede has been plotting around, posting consistent finishes. He’s managed to play the weekend in six consecutive events, notching four Top 20s during that stretch.
David Hearn – I need at least one Canadian on the squad, just for sentimental value. Normally I’d lean DeLaet, but he was on the British Isles last week and his extreme distance off the tee will actually work against him here. So I’m going with the second best Canuck in the field, the one with a more balanced skill set.
Luke Donald – Again with the solid ball strikers. Donald’s been searching for a win all season and it’s unlikely he’ll get another shot in a field this weak.
Brandt Snedeker – It seems like one terrible round at every Major costs him a title, it’s like clockwork, and The Open Championship? No exception – hello Friday 79. Although, he’s only elevated his play in strong fields lately, his game is perfectly tailored to the contours of the course. It rewards gutsy approaches and efficient putting, and that’s where Sned’s a Viking.
Chris Kirk – His strokes gained on the green total for the year suggests some elite finishes looming, eventually, so why not this week. He’s made 14 of his past 16 cuts – going a total of 28 under over his last eight rounds. And it’s going to take a low number to contend this week. No player has won at Glen Abby without going at least 13-under par since David Frost in 1993, a span of eight tournaments.