RCGA celebrates women's Open

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

The new big cheese at the Royal Canadian Golf Association has contacts from a previous life in the beer industry, so maybe he can swing a deal on suds for a soiree recognizing the presence of the two youngest people ever to win majors this week at Edmonton's Royal Mayfair.

Oakville's Sandra Post will be in town to do television coverage of the Canadian Women's Open, arguably the pinnacle of this Canadian golf season, and the abrupt change in that tournament's fortunes should put new executive director Scott Simmons and his RCGA staff in a party mood.

The way the LPGA is today, some of the players bellying up to the bar may have to sip Cokes instead of beer as youth is having its day, a perfect example being the 2007 winner of the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Morgan Pressel became the youngest person to win a major at the tender age of 18 years, 10 months and nine days, and replaced Post, who was more than a year older when she took the 1968 LPGA Championship.

"I'm going to ask Morgan what she was thinking, taking my record. I had it for 39 years and I had grown quite fond of it," joked Post, who won her major at the age of 20 years, seven days.

Pressel is just one of several marquee players visiting Edmonton, a list that also includes world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, Paula Creamer, Michelle Wie, Se Ri Pak, Cristie Kerr and Karrie Webb.

With 45 of the top 50 players on the money list in the field, the Women's Open offers a pleasant break from the gloom surrounding the sponsorless men's Canadian Open. RCGA officials are drawing strength from the positive vibes surrounding the women in their quest to breathe life back into the men's event.

At various times this decade, the Canadian women's event has also been on life support, the first crisis coming seven years ago when federal anti-smoking legislation snuffed Imperial Tobacco as title sponsor.

Meg Mallon won the final du Maurier Classic, then claimed unofficial status as a Canadian citizen and pleaded with her new adopted country to save the tournament she'd just won at Royal Ottawa.

"I feel like an honourary Canadian for sure, winning the event in Canada three times. It's been a very special event for me," Mallon said recently.

"I called everybody out because I knew what a great country (Canada) is and what a great golf country this is and it would have been such a shame not to have the greatest women golfers in the world not playing in front of some of the greatest golf fans in the world."

The Canadian LPGA event lost its major status, but it did survive when BMO came on board as sponsor. That relationship ended in 2005, when a remarkably weak field showed up in Halifax and even the RCGA was predicting the tournament's demise if a title sponsor wasn't found quickly.

The RCGA got its wish when CN came on board later that year and immediately raised overall prize money from $950,000-$1.7-million to $2.25-million US, which is where it stands today. The tournament quickly took a strong charitable component and charmed players with its hospitality.

To the delight of the RCGA and players, CN recently extended its deal to 2010.

"To have a company like CN come in six or seven years after that statement and bring the tournament to where it should be, and that's one of the premier events on tour, it's amazing," Mallon said.

PREMATURE TALK

There is even loose talk about it returning to major status. No formal discussions on the matter have been held with the tour and Stan Jablonski,.senior vice-president of sales for CN, says such talk is premature.

"I'd like to see it happen next year," Jablonski said. "I don't know when it will happen. I think that will be strictly dependent on how the LPGA sees our success. We've only got one tournament under our belt."

From a players perspective, that's all it takes. "It's a major to me. It's Canada's national championship and I think you can't take anything away from that," Mallon said.

With the future of the men's Canadian Open so uncertain, the festive atmosphere of the women's event will be short but sweet this week for the RCGA before returning to reality with renewed hope.


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