ILE BIZARD, Quebec — In 1909, Ontario’s Karl Keffer became the first Canadian-born player to win the RBC Canadian Open. Five years later, he became the last one.
In 1954, Pat Fletcher claimed the Canadian Open. Although Fletcher was born in England, his family moved to British Columbia when he was four years old, and he was Canadian in all but birth. The former Golf Director at Royal Montreal, Fletcher was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame in 1976.
He remains the last Canadian player to win his country’s national championship.
This week marks the 60th anniversary of Fletcher’s win. Fittingly, Royal Montreal is once again the host course. Fletcher’s popular victory will be discussed this week – but so will the 60-year drought that has frustrated this proud country.
The question remains: Why can’t a Canadian win this tournament?
“It’s going to end at some point,” said Mike Weir, the most celebrated of Canadian golfers. “It would be a nice streak to get over so we don’t have to talk about it anymore.”
There has certainly not been a shortage of chances.
In 2004, on the heels of his Masters win the previous year that helped elevate him into the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Weir was in a playoff but lost to Vijay Singh.
Weir is back this week for his 24th start in this event, joined by other PGA Tour pros such as Graham DeLaet (pictured), David Hearn and Brad Fritsch. In all, there are 19 Canadians who will tee off in Thursday’s first round.
Some of those have shown encouraging signs.
DeLaet has six top-10 finishes this season, including a couple of runner-ups. Most of those were early, however, as he has just one top-10 since February – a tie for 7th at the HP Byron Nelson Championship in May.
Weir played even better that week in Texas, finishing second and nearly ending his seven-year victory drought. But he’s missed the cut in his last three Tour starts.
A Canadian who has won this season is Adam Hadwin, who claimed the Chile Classic on the Web.com Tour. In 2011, Hadwin tied for fourth at the RBC Canadian Open.
“It is very difficult,” Hadwin said about a Canadian winning on home soil. “It’s a much bigger week, obviously being Canadian, (there’s) a bit more exposure. Going into 2011, nobody knew who I was. You can feel a little bit more pressure being put on you.”
A reputation precedes many Canadians: they’re polite and they love their athletes.
DeLaet knows this all too well. Fans from Saskatchewan, his home province, come out in droves to events he plays around the world, all wearing green in the spirit of the Roughriders (their Canadian Football League team).
“The fans across Canada, I know that no matter how we play, they’re still going to be fans of us and they’re going to cheer us on,” said DeLaet, the highest-ranked male Canadian golfer in the world at 38th. “I don’t think we’re going to let anyone down by not winning or not playing our best golf, but all we can do is really try our best.”
Hadwin agrees. He had local fan support when he went on his magical run in 2011, as Shaughnessy Golf & Country Club is about an hour from his hometown in British Columbia.
“You can feel a bit more pressure being put on you,” Hadwin said. “They want you to win. They want you to succeed. They want you to do well.”
DeLaet and Hadwin were both members of Golf Canada’s national team – a program established by the governing body of golf in the country (akin to the United States Golf Association) that helps drives the success of young golfers – prior to turning professional.
Scott Simmons, the CEO of Golf Canada, said it’s more important than ever for young Canadians to have heroes. There’s a sparkle in his eye when he talks about what it would mean if a Canadian were to win this week.
“I think having a Canadian win the national open, on either the men’s or women’s side, would be the greatest influencer of people taking up the game and creating a passion for the game,” he said.
When asked if having a Canadian win another major championship or the Canadian Open would mean more, he pauses, before responding that it’s hard to compare.
“To have a Canadian win an event outside of Canada at that level would be incredible,” he noted. “But I think there’s something unique about winning a national open.”
The pressure lays on the shoulders of 19 golfers this week at Royal Montreal. That’s only 12 percent of the 156-man field. Compare that to last month’s U.S. Open, in which 56 percent of the field was American. The odds are tougher.
Perhaps it’s not just a Canadian thing. It’s hard to win on the PGA Tour, period.
Hunter Mahan’s done it five times, and although he said guys like DeLaet and Hearn are “plenty good enough” to win any week on TOUR, he concedes there’s more pressure this week.
“Golf is definitely a marathon through four days, a lot of things can run through your head. It’s not an easy thing,” Mahan said. “This one probably means so much for them (Canadians), there has to be a lot of almost trying too hard this week. That’s probably the greatest enemy.”
But there is hope. As Weir noted, the streak’s got to end at some point. Right?
“I think that we have as strong a group of Canadian players here this year as we’ve had in the past few years,” DeLaet said. “I guarantee every single Canadian in the field is going to give it all that they have this week.”