An Open and shut out case

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- It wouldn't be a Canadian Open now, would it, if there wasn't a group hand-wringing session over the future of the venerable old championship.

About this time every autumn during the run-up to our national golf championship, people start furrowing their brows and conjuring dire scenarios.

This year, some of them might even come true. The PGA Tour is believed to be contemplating some fundamental changes with respect to its schedule and when you mention the word schedule, the word "television" is never far away.

Commissioner Tim Finchem is negotiating a new TV contract and a revised, sexier schedule is the carrot he's using to entice television to fatten its offer.

The concern is that U.S. TV doesn't give a fuddle-duddle about the Canadian Open, its once-perceived status as the unofficial fifth major, or its 100-plus-year heritage.

This comes at a time when the Open has tried to spiff up its image by moving around to different parts of the country and to some of the great old golf courses, such as Shaughnessy where a field of 156 will tip it up tomorrow.

"It has exceeded expectations, and expectations were at the highest level," said Richard Zokol who will be playing in his 28th Canadian Open. "Ancaster (in 2003) was fantastic. After the players played there, they voted it the best course of 2003.

"This has exceeded it. It is Ancaster, only on steroids. Of the 27 Canadian Opens I've played, this is the best venue."

Zokol always has been a glass half-full kind of guy but he's not blind to the concerns about the future of the Open.

"The thing that I worry about most is how the PGA Tour is going to treat the Canadian Open," Zokol said. "In the past and present, it hasn't treated us very well.

"I worry that the PGA Tour looks at the Bell Canadian Open as a Canadian product that doesn't serve American interest and that they may punish it because of that."

What Zokol is saying is that if the Canadian Open doesn't get a prominent position in a revamped PGA schedule or, worse, gets shunted out of the limelight altogether, then all the goodwill that has been established by moving the Open to different parts of the country will be lost.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "The precedent that has been embedded the last 20 years is in place. But the RCGA has initiated something (a movable Open) in the last five or six years. This year's tournament will solidify it even more. It's another brick in the wall. Going back to Hamilton next year is another one.

"This tournament used to be a big deal. Years ago, when they held the World Series of Golf with the winners of the four majors, if a player had won two majors, the fourth player in the field was the winner of the Canadian Open. That's how highly regarded the Canadian Open was."

There are a few players who still think that way. Bob Tway, who won at Ancaster in 2003, is one of them. He has been playing the Open almost as long as Zokol and recalls a time when all the great players talked it up and made it clear this was a priority stop.

"Because of that, I've always felt that way," said Tway, who is playing in his 20th Open this week. "To me this isn't just another tour stop. It's a national open with a great history and it's something I'm very proud to have won."

Finchem is expected to reveal his revised schedule in November. There is talk it would include a series of tournaments at the end designed to showcase the top players leading up to a Tour Championship played earlier than the current November date.

Today's PGA already has dimmed its spotlight for the Canadian Open. It is a logical extension, especially given TV's influence, that the Open might play an even more marginal role in Tim Finchem's brave new world.


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