Waiting with Open arms

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:12 PM ET

CALGARY - History has been made on the West Coast before.

The PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open returns this week to Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club, located just a couple of kilometres from the site of Pat Fletcher’s improbable victory in 1954, and the starting point of what’s now been a 56-year drought since a homegrown golfer celebrated a win at ‘our’ Open Championship.

Instead of rehashing the history, David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., figures the contending Canucks should be looking a bit further down the road — and a bit closer in the rear-view mirror — for proof the slump won’t last forever.

Like into Vancouver’s downtown core and what was briefly known as Canada Hockey Place.

Or up the scenic Sea To Sky Highway to the 2010 Winter Olympics ski venue and Whistler Sliding Centre.

“I know that a lot of Canadians would love to see a Canadian win this event — it’s been a long time,” said Hearn, one of the top-ranked hosts heading into the 2011 RBC Canadian Open at Shaughnessy.

“At the Olympics in Vancouver last year, there was all this talk that we’d never won gold (at home), and we went ahead and did that. It’s going to happen. I don’t think there is anything we can do to force it to happen, but it will happen eventually.”

It hasn’t happened in a looooonnnnggg time.

Fletcher, then employed as the head professional at the Saskatoon Golf and Country Club, claimed Canada’s national open championship at Vancouver’s Point Grey Golf & Country Club in 1954, the same year the Grey Cup game officially became an East vs. West competition and Elvis Presley cut his first commercial record.

In the 56 years that have since come and gone, only one Canadian has celebrated a PGA Tour victory on home turf, with Mike Weir claiming his first of eight (and counting?) tournament titles at the 1999 Air Canada Championship.

Five years later, Weir almost ended the Canuck Curse at the Canadian Open, too, but the beloved lefty from Bright’s Grove, Ont., missed an eight-footer for the win on Glen Abbey’s finishing hole and was clipped by Fiji’s Vijay Singh in a sudden-death playoff. For his part, Singh was the most sheepish victor in PGA Tour history.

That hasn’t been the only close call.

Dave Barr finished fourth in 1989, while Weir (2008), David Morland IV (2001) and Richard Zokol (1984) have each posted fifth-place performances.

Calgary-based Stephen Ames has also carded a couple of top-10 showings at Canada’s national open championship since scoring dual citizenship in 2003, including a seventh-place share the last time the pros played at Shaughnessy.

After equalling the course record in Saturday’s third round in 2005, the product of Trinidad and Tobago got a taste of the rock-star treatment reserved for Canada’s top contenders at the annual event.

“It’s very big. It’s like having a 15th club in the bag,” Ames said. “You see that with a lot of players when they play in their hometown — they always have thousands of people watching them, and it’s fun when you’re seeing a lot of familiar faces out there. It puts me in relaxed mode. For me, it’s fun. For other people, it might not be.”

If a Canuck has a shot on Sunday, they won’t have a choice but to accept the fanfare. Until then, though, most of the ‘locals’ competing at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open will remain relative unknowns.

Heading into Vancouver 2010, Canada’s list of contenders included several World Cup standouts and a squad of NHL superstars.

Heading into Shaughnessy 2011, the homegrown hopefuls would be best characterized as long-shots, especially against a star-studded field that includes world rankings leader Luke Donald, plus past major champions such as Singh, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

It’s been 18 months since a Canadian won any event on the PGA Tour, a drought that dates back to Ames’ triumph at the Children’s Miracle Network Classic in November 2009. And last week’s British Open marked the first major since the 1999 Masters that didn’t include any golfers from the Great White North.

Canada’s top finishes on the PGA Tour this season are a pair of third-place performances — one from Ames, who had his best week at an off-field event in Puerto Rico while the big names were duelling at Doral, and another from Matt McQuillan, whose birdie binge at the John Deere Classic ended a streak of 10 consecutive missed cuts.

In fact, the half-dozen Canucks with PGA Tour playing privileges have combined for just US$1,227,003 in season earnings. By contrast, money-leader Nick Watney has chalked up almost $4.2-million so far this year.

Officially, the winner of the 2011 RBC Canadian Open will leave Shaughnessy with US$918,000 tucked in the back pocket of his khakis. If that guy happens to have a Canadian passport, though, he’ll also score status as a national sporting star.

If that guy happens to have a Canadian passport, though, he’ll also score status as a national sporting star.

The fan favourite will likely be Weir, even though the 2003 Masters champion lost his full-time status a few months ago and has since struggled to some of the highest competitive scores of his life.

And the odds-on favourite among those playing on home soil? That mantle might suddenly belong Hearn, the Nationwide Tour graduate who has seemed more at home in his second stint on the world’s top circuit. His best finish to date is a tie for sixth at the Shell Houston Open, but there has been a long list of first-time winners on the PGA Tour this year, and he’d love to be next.

“I feel like I’m just hitting the prime of my career, and there are a lot of good Canadian players with lots of potential,” Hearn said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and just having a good week and getting a few good bounces. Winning on the PGA Tour isn’t an easy task, no matter what event it is.

“I don’t really know when it’s going to happen or who will do it, but I know it will happen eventually. It’s only a matter of time.”


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