As the echoes linger from Jordan Spieth’s adventurous and spectacular final 90 minutes at Royal Birkdale, another of golf’s historical Opens prepares to take place this week back on this side of the Atlantic.
The question is how many will take more than passing notice.
Former Big Leaguer
The RBC Canadian Open is the fourth-oldest event in the game’s annals, dating back to its 1904 debut at Royal Montreal Golf Club.
That makes it just one year younger than the South Africa Open for No.3 on the longevity list.
Canada’s national Open was the site of Arnold Palmer’s first professional victory – the King’s first crown, as it were. Before him, winners included Byron Nelson, Sam Snead, Tommy Armour and Walter Hagen. In later years, it was Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Nick Price and Tiger Woods.
These days, it might be considered the Overlooked Open.
Just four of the top 40 players in the world rankings are scheduled to tee it up Thursday at Glen Abbey Golf Club outside Toronto, continuing a perplexing slide. Last year, it was five of the top 25. In 2014, it was five of the top 15.
Good thing Dustin Johnson likes the event. The current world No.1 is playing for the fourth time in the past five editions, which includes a pair of runner-up finishes.
(It probably doesn’t hurt, too, that his father-in-law-to-be is almost certainly Canada’s greatest sports ambassador. Wayne Gretzky’s boyhood home in Brantford is less than an hour from Glen Abbey.)
Matt Kuchar also is a mainstay, with Birkdale’s hard-luck runner-up making his eighth consecutive visit. After them, though, the rankings list drops sharply to Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman.
Minor League Demotion
Unfortunately, that’s what you get when you’re squeezed by a major championship on one side and a World Golf Championship – followed by another major – on the other.
“We can’t worry about the date,” Brent McLaughlin, who manages Golf Canada’s professional championships, told reporters this week. “We’ve got a great product.”
Indeed, the Canadian Open’s past 10 winners have included such fan favorites as Jim Furyk, Brandt Snedeker and Jason Day.
On the other hand, they’ve also included Chez Reavie and Nathan Green, who both count it as their only PGA Tour wins. It’s one of two for Tim Clark, one of three for Scott Piercy.
Shouldn’t more of the game’s top names – even if you excuse the European-based pros – be playing in one of its historical events? Better yet, shouldn’t Canada’s national Open have received a more palatable spot on the PGA Tour calendar?
“To be in the slot where it’s right after the British Open,” Day acknowledged two years ago, “is a very tough slot to be.”
One can make the argument that the Canadian Open was given the least desirable slot on the schedule. No other event is abutted on both sides by a major or other elite event. Not to mention that one is on the other side of an ocean.
Follow The Money
Then factor in that the FedExCup playoffs begin in four weeks, leaving the top dogs to figure in where to take some down time. The options are limited.
Call it an unintended consequence of the playoff era. After bouncing around the summer slate for decades, the Canadian Open seemed to have found a sweet spot in September – a late-summer gem for 19 years, away from the majors and less impacted by football than points south.
That’s when Woods captured his lone Canadian crown in 2000, clinched by that daring 6-iron from a fairway bunker at No.18. Other September winners included Norman, Price, Mark O’Meara and Vijay Singh.
Then the PGA Tour needed September to conduct its playoffs. The Canadian Open was scooped up and deposited into that crowded stretch between the Open Championship, PGA Championship and the playoffs.
In 2006, the final year before the playoffs, the Canadian Open’s strength of field was worth 46 ranking points to winner Jim Furyk. When he repeated as champion a year later, it was worth just 32.
This week, early projections set the field strength at 38, and if not for one player, Johnson, the number would be closer to 25 than 35.
And now the PGA Tour may be coming after the Canadian Open’s dates again. With talk growing of shifting the playoffs into August – possibly including a move of the PGA Championship to May – the landscape could change as soon as 2019.
For now, commissioner Jay Monahan downplays anything imminent. On the other hand, he was the one floating the idea back in January.
“Like any organization, we will see change,” Monahan said in a recent visit to Canada. “At this point we’re not committed to any specific change; the schedule we have is a schedule we’re quite proud of. It’s a schedule we’re going to continue forward.”
Or Chance For Promotion?
Should a revamp happen, though, it’s a chance for the tour to rectify its previous neglect toward Canada’s national Open.
Canada Day is celebrated July 1, a spot nestled comfortably between the U.S. Open and Open Championship. Moreover, the Quicken Loans National may be vulnerable with Congressional CC less interested in remaining as host.
It’s an easy switch. And it could revive the “Triple Crown” that has gone long neglected in the realm of golf’s accomplishments.
Only two men have swept the U.S. Open, Canadian Open and Open Championship in the same year – Lee Trevino in 1971 and Woods in 2000. Palmer, Armour and Hagen are the only others to have done it over a career.
Trevino, by the way, completed his triple in a four-week span – winning at Canada’s Richelieu Valley before jumping on a plane for Royal Birkdale.
Since Woods matched Trevino’s feat, though, Johnson is the only reigning U.S. Open champion to even sign up for its Canadian counterpart.
You can’t make history if you don’t show up.