ANCASTER, Ont. — As soon as Mackenzie Hughes’s partners were done teeing off at No. 13 of Hamilton Golf and Country Club on Thursday, he bent down, opened up a small bag and pulled out a jersey.
It took a moment for fans to realize what he was doing, but as Hughes straightened out the familiar black and red of a Kawhi Leonard Toronto Raptors jersey, the cheers rose to a crescendo, with spectators pounding on the boards that surround the hockey-themed hole at the RBC Canadian Open known as The Rink.
“I try to have some fun with that hole. Life’s short so, whatever, I’m just going to have some fun,” said Hughes, who donned a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey at last year’s version of the Rink at Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ont. “The crowd enjoys that stuff so it’s fun for me to do.
“I love all these Toronto sports teams whether it’s Leafs, Raptors, Blue Jays. That was just a fun way to show my Toronto pride and Canada pride.”
Hughes, from nearby Dundas, Ont., walked up the fairway in the jersey to chants of “Let’s go Raptors” and went on to shoot a 4-under 66 to finish the first round in a tie for 15th. He would have been in an even better position if he hadn’t double-bogeyed the 18th hole, his only score worse than par on Thursday.
“Just spoiled it at the end there, but I was 6 under through 17 and it was pretty stress free for the most part,” said Hughes. “All in all it’s a great day score-wise, just not the way I wanted to finish.”
Hughes was one of five Canadians within three shots of first-round leader Keegan Bradley of the U.S., who fired a 7-under 63.
Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., led the Canadian contingent, shooting a 6-under 64. Taylor, who started on hole No. 10, made four birdies in a row to open his back nine.
Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford carded a 5-under 65, while David Hearn of nearby Brantford, Ont., and Drew Nesbitt of Shanty Bay, Ont., both tied Hughes.
There are 26 Canadians in the field at the national championship, and they’re all hoping to end a 65-year spell of futility. The last Canadian to win the event was Pat Fletcher in 1954 at Vancouver’s Point Grey Golf and Country Club.
“We all obviously want to be the first one to win this, but we all want each other to do well,” said Hadwin, who briefly delayed his post-round news conference so that Hughes could concentrate on teeing off nearby. “Any Canadian winner is good.”
Bradley was convinced that his clubhouse lead would not withstand the afternoon groups, but it did. Roberto Castro of the U.S., was the only player that teed off in the second wave to reach second, tying Taylor, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, Korean Sungjae Im and South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen.
“Today I was in complete control of my ball,” said Bradley. “Then when you couple that with feeling good on the greens, that’s when a 63 or a good, nice round happens.”
A three-minute pause in play starting at 12:10 p.m. ET was held as six planes from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum flew over the course to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy, France.
The group of planes included a rare Lancaster Mk 10 bomber from the Second World War and a modern CC-130 Hercules.
“It’s obviously an emotional day for a lot of people,” said Hadwin. “To kind of see the planes that were used and then a couple newer age ones, it was pretty cool to stand on the fairway and see that.”
Like many Raptors fans, Hughes hopes that Toronto wins the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors and can re-sign Leonard, who will become a free agent this summer.
“I don’t think my wearing the jersey influenced him at all, but I hope that he stays,” said Hughes.