OAKVILLE, Ont. — National opens always put pressure on the home-grown players, but the expectations are particularly high this week at Glen Abbey Golf Club.
There are 18 Canadians in the field for the 2013 RBC Canadian Open — one of the largest home-country turnouts in the modern history of the tournament — and they’re all looking to end a 59-year drought. No Canadian has won the event since Pat Fletcher of Vancouver in 1954.
If anyone can understand the high expectations it’s former Masters champion Mike Weir.
“There is that added feel and pressure, no question,” Brights Grove, Ont., native said Wednesday.
“It can be a good thing though to get the crowd behind you,” he added. “Get some momentum going, and you can feed off the crowd.”
Weir is joined by fellow Ontarians David Hearn from Brantford, Mackenzie Hughes from Dundas, Toronto’s Albin Choi, Ottawa’s Brad Fritsch, Peter Laws from Milton, Brian Hadley from Sarnia and amateur Corey Conners of Listowel.
British Columbia is also well represented at Glen Abbey with Abbotsford’s Adam Hadwin, Victoria’s Kevin Carrigan, Merritt’s Roger Sloan, Comox’s Riley Wheeldon, as well as North Vancouver’s Bryn Parry and Eugene Wong and amateur Adam Svensson from Surrey in the field.
Calgary’s Stephen Ames, Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., and Eric Banks of Truro, N.S., will also tee off Thursday on the 7,253-yard, par-72 course.
The added burden on the 18 Canadians has not gone unnoticed by others in the 156-player field. Hunter Mahan, from Dallas, feels that Canadians are under more pressure to win the Canadian Open than Americans are to win the U.S. Open, one of golf’s major tournaments.
“I don’t feel like there is a pride factor (in the U.S.) like there is in Canada . . . I mean, being an American, you want to win the U.S. Open. It’s obviously a great tournament — but I don’t think there is that same connection between the Canadian Open and Canada,” said Mahan. “You know, when you have a drought that long, I think you have to start really wanting it and start hoping. It becomes a focus of everyone this week, so I think they have a great chance.”
England’s Luke Donald compared the experience to playing in another major: the British Open, where he missed the cut last week.
“The one tournament I would love to win the most would be the Open Championship, the British Open,” said Donald. “Growing up there, having watched it, watched some of my idols throughout the years, (Nick) Faldo, and Seve (Ballesteros) win that great tournament, I’d dearly love to hold the Claret Jug one of these days, not just because it’s a major, but because it is your home event in a way.
“I think there is a little bit more pressure that comes with that. The expectation and almost the pressure you put on yourself wanting to win it. You’re thinking too much results oriented instead of just going through the process of playing each hole as it comes.”
Added Donald: “I think sometimes it can make it more difficult when it is your national open, but it’s also fun. It’s great to enjoy the home support, the crowd, the family support, all that goes along with that makes the event special.”
Mahan compared the pressure of playing in your home country to that of being one of the biggest names in golf.
“I guess you would feel like Tiger (Woods) every single week when you have so many people following you and critiquing every single shot you have,” said Mahan, laughing. “But it’s probably different because I think you can see the support that all the Canadians get when they’re here is great.”
“I remember playing on the Canadian Tour and this is pretty much the lone PGA Tour event I would play,” said Weir. “It’s a big purse, and you’re used to playing for this amount of money and all of a sudden I make the cut, I can really make some headway, so you’re thinking about all those kind of things when you’re a young man out here.”
That focus on money is something that frustrates Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, who believes that national opens are prestigious events that should be held with higher regard.
“We play for so much money around the world, events kind of lose their identity and their prestige,” said McDowell.
The purse for the Canadian Open is US$5.6 million with the winner taking home a cool million. Scott Piercy was the big winner last year.
National opens have been good to McDowell though, so he could be walking away with some cash Sunday.
“I won the Scottish Open, the Welsh Open, the Italian Open, the U.S. Open, the Korean Open, the French Open a few weeks ago,” he said. “National championships are very, very special and we should never forget the prestige . . . and history and tradition, names on a trophy. It’s great to come to a tournament like this one which has such a strong sense of identity. It’d be a great one to add your name to.”
South Africa’s Ernie Els believes national opens produce some of the best storylines in golf.
“You’ll see this week, one of the Canadian guys maybe the mainstream media hasn’t heard from will probably play well and he’ll probably be right there until Sunday,” said Els. “Those are the nice stories that normally come out of these national opens events that we play around the world and all of them are like that.
“You play the Italian Open or the Scottish, some kind of nice story comes out of it.”