|Ernie Els watches his approach shot on the 6th hole during the first round of the RBC Canadian Open. (Richard Lam/QMI Agency)
Only at the RBC Canadian Open could a hockey player steal the spotlight from one of the biggest names in golf.
With former Vancouver Canucks centre Dan Quinn carrying his clubs this week at Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club, Ernie Els figures his caddie might be a brighter star on Canada's West Coast than he is.
"Off 18, I think he had 12 guys around him and I had one guy around me," Els said with a chuckle. "If you're a hockey player in this country, you know ... "
Although Quinn is pretty good around the fairways and greens, the 41-year-old Els showed Thursday why he's the one swinging the sticks, making three birdies and just one bogey en route to a 2-under 68 in the opening round of the RBC Canadian Open.
Quinn was Els' full-time caddie last season, but the veteran of 870 NHL games is only planning to loop for the three-time major champion at one tournament this summer. The 46-year-old also competes in celebrity golf events, including a seventh-place showing at the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship last week, although Els hinted his schedule could soon get a bit more hectic.
"The way this week is going, maybe he'll be back again," Els said. "I like his energy. He's a competitive guy from playing hockey, so he understands professional sport and I appreciate that. And he's not a bad green-reader."
As he watched his boss smack balls on the practice range after Thursday's round, Quinn admitted it's a pretty good gig for a golf fan.
"To be with a Hall of Famer, one of the best players in the world, and get a chance to actually get your competitive juices flowing is a great thrill," Quinn said. "I've always been a fan until I met him and then became friends, and to work with him is even cooler.
"They call him the Big Easy but what I like about working for him is that he's a great competitor. To sit here and watch him hit golf balls, it's a different world. I like to tell guys that think they can play that these guys, as the commercial says, are very good.
"To be on the best tour in the world, inside the ropes, and sort of be a small part of it, it's a great thrill."
Quinn, who lives about a mile down the road from Els in Florida, admitted he's learned a lot about golf from his friend and sometimes employer. In return, he's trying to teach the smooth-swinging South African a little about the sport that made him famous.
Quinn racked up 266 goals and 419 assists in 14 NHL campaigns, including stints with the Canucks, Calgary Flames, Pittsburgh Penguins, St. Louis Blues, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars, Ottawa Senators and Los Angeles Kings.
Although Els insists his knowledge of the game is limited, he tuned into some of the action during the Vancouver Olympics and seems to be taking a shining to Canada's national sport.
"Some of the greatest fights on YouTube, we've watched those many times after a couple of beers. I haven't quite seen (Quinn) in any of those fights," Els said. "But he's teaching me, put it that way. I'm from South Africa and I'm a rugby fan, and he reckons hockey players are tougher than rugby players, so we have big arguments."