Canadian Open rediscovers buzz

CHRIS STEVENSON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

For a few years recently, Canada's national golf championship was looking like it was going to slip out of bounds and into obscurity.

It was walloped by the marketer’s version of the three-putt: No title sponsor, an undesirable date on the calendar and few in the way of marketable stars.

It was menaced by irrelevancy on one side and indifference on the other.

But there is a different vibe around the RBC Canadian Open now.

It was palpable Monday at Glen Abbey.

Monday at a PGA Tour event is usually quieter than a Lucas Glover press conference. Many of the big-name players are off doing corporate outings, others are grabbing a few hours at home and others are complaining about the colour of their courtesy car.

But Glen Abbey had a decent-sized crowd out Monday to check out the players and celebrities in the Mike Weir Charity Classic. Having Canada’s golfing icon have his event on Monday of Canadian Open week is a brilliant strategic move.

There were a lot of cameras on the practice tee and not just from the mainstream sports media. The infotainment outlets were there to get sound bites from Oscar-winner Kevin Costner, his Airness, Michael Jordan, and Thomas Gibson of the TV show Criminal Minds. The presence of those personalities could serve to raise awareness among casual and non-sports fans about the presence of the Open.

Hockey was represented by Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils, Luke Schenn of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Joe Thornton of the San Jose Sharks.

They are natural crossover attractions, combining golf and hockey.

The crowd following Jordan’s group was a multi-ethnic mix for which golf is not known. Many of the fans were wearing Jordan jerseys and it’s a safe bet a few had never set foot on a golf course before. Maybe they liked what they saw apart from Jordan’s liquid athleticism and will be back at Glen Abbey this week.

RBC has made a commitment to make the Canadian Open “best in class,” and kicking off the week with the Weir event is a good step. They introduced post-round concerts last year (Costner and his band Modern West will perform tonight) and there has been a decent job done of giving fans some nice add-ons for the cost of their ticket.

The health of the Canadian Open is important to Canadian golf, since profits are used for grassroots programs.

The temperature was high Monday and in this case, that’s a good thing.

Opening drive

You know you’ve made it big when you have a cigar caddy. That was one guy’s job at Monday’s pro-am: Follow Jordan around, carrying his box of cigars. It was a box of Romeo y Julietas ... Watched most of the celebrities hit some shots Monday. My ranking of the stars’ swings I saw: 1. Rocker Tom Cochrane. Definitely in the big leagues. He’s rocking Callaway blades and knows how to use them. A scratch golfer last year, he’s slipped to a handicap index of two. 2. Hall of Fame defenceman Paul Coffey. The lefty looks like the could still play. Somebody get his number for Senators GM Bryan Murray. 3. Jordan. Wasn’t having his best day, but exudes cool, puffing on his cigar and floating around in the biggest pair of cargo pants this side of Charles Barkley. 4. Damon Allen. Ex-CFL quarterback has a solid swing and wins best-dressed. Another guy who looks like he could still play. 5. Schenn. A big guy, he takes a mighty rip. He knocked it in the middle of the fairway off the third fairway. Only problem was he was playing the second hole. “Where’d that wind come from?” he said in the still conditions. 6. Brodeur. Short backswing, but a powerful release. 7. Costner. Tin Cup doesn’t play much. On the 17th hole, he flared it the right toward the trees. More like Dances with Woods.

Hear and there

These are the kind of perks PGA Tour and their pro-am partners get: Anthony Kim knocked back four shrimp stacked on crackers, grilled by a local restaurant at the back of the fourth tee. Told Kim had had four, Sean O'Hair said, "I can beat that," and ate five. Talk about competitive guys ... Speaking of national opens and sponsors, hopefully the change at the top of the LPGA management will have benefits for CN's continued support of the Canadian Women's Open.

Revelations

Brodeur wasn't hitting it his best Monday, but the fans won out. "Hey, Martin, how about a quick autograph?" asked one fan standing near Brodeur's ball after he drove it in the rough on the first hole. "If I'm going to hit it that bad," he said, "I'm going to sign some autographs." ... Glen Abbey is hosting the Canadian Open for the 25th time. The top moment in my mind: Tiger Woods' 6-iron from the fairway bunker to the 18th green, clinching his win in 2000. Unheralded moment: The fan who grasped Weir in a hug in 2004, messing up his neck, an injury that plagued him for a couple of years.

Speculations

Tom Watson's run at the British Open was fuelled by brilliant course management, so it's still hard to understand how he could let his approach on the 72nd hole get over the green. That was the shot that cost him the Open; not the putt from behind the green or his never-had-a-chance putt for par.

Just wondering

London's Andrew Parr, who had a 63 in qualifying to earn a spot at Glen Abbey this week wil have to put up with another week of people saying: "What a great name for a golfer." ... One of the best moves for this week: Making the 16th hole a par-5 again. It opens the door to a huge charge by somebody on Sunday.

Parting shot

Watson and QB Tony Romo have the same problem: Committing to curvy five-to-six footers.


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