WATCH ABOVE: (Jul. 22, 2014) American Jim Furyk, a two-time Canadian Open winner, has only watched the pressure increase on Canadian golfers over the last 20 years to end the drought at the Canadian Open and he’s hoping that one of them can do it soon.
Île Bizard, Que.—Adam Hadwin knows first-hand what the expectations of a nation feel like. In 2011 he found himself one shot off the lead heading into the final round of the RBC Canadian Open in Vancouver.
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At the time Hadwin was only 24 and a refreshing face for Canadian golf. Young, and walking the fine line between being confident and brash, Hadwin had a chance to do something no Canadian had done in more than 50 years at the time—win the country’s top golf tournament. He knew it.
Everyone at the course on Sunday knew it.
“It’s hard not to recognize it at least,” he says.
“You know, I think every broadcast, every media person, the first thing they write about is how we haven’t won it in 60 years. Obviously it’s very difficult not to recognize it. I mean it’s right in front of your face every day.”
Nowhere is it more evident than at Royal Montreal Golf Club, the host site of this week’s RBC Canadian Open. That’s because of the club’s connection to Pat Fletcher, the last Canadian to win the country’s national tournament.
Fletcher did it in 1954 at Point Grey Golf and Country Club in Vancouver, where he was working as a club pro at the time. He moved to Montreal in 1956 where he took the role of head professional at Royal Montreal, a position he held until 1975.
In the ensuing years Fletcher’s win has risen in prominence, especially as other Canadians crept close to taking the championship, only to falter. Most famously Mike Weir had a chance to win a decade ago at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ont. when he faced off against Vijay Singh in a playoff. He’d drop the playoff to Singh on the third hole. Since then only Hadwin has come close to matching Fletcher’s mark.
And every 12 months another year is added to the time since Fletcher’s greatest victory and the same question crops up again: When will a Canadian taste victory on his home soil?
Jim Furyk recognizes the challenge. The two-time RBC Canadian Open winner also has a U.S. Open victory on his resume. But he admits it is more challenging for a Canadian to win this country’s national open than it is for an American to take theirs.
“It is different than an American trying to win the U.S. Open because it happened so frequently,” he says.
“It doesn’t seem like that big a deal.”
But for Canadian players the pressure mounts as they do battle with Fletcher’s ghost.
“I don’t remember when I started 20 years ago that the press focused on a 40-year drought,” Furyk says.
“I know how this country loves golf, but there seems to be a bigger focus on the drought and I think it makes it that much more difficult. Because of the pressure they put on themselves, because of pressure they feel from outside, it makes it that much tougher to win the golf tournament.”
Brantford’s David Hearn says he’s not expecting more out of his game than he does on any other week. Hearn, who is having the best year of his career, says it is hard enough to win on the PGA Tour, and even harder to have that win come at home.
“I’m confident it is going to happen, but it is difficult to pick a time when a Canadian is going to win a PGA Tour tournament at all,” he says.
“I’m not worried about our chances, but it will take a special week to make it happen.”
Graham DeLaet has been pegged as the Canadian most likely to succeed at the RBC Canadian Open in recent years, especially as he’s emerged as one of the game’s great ball strikers. But DeLaet has struggled at the country’s national golf tournament, having only made the weekend twice and never having finished better than a tie for 46.
It isn’t for lack of trying, but given the pressure on many of the Canadians in the field—and the demands on their time on and off the course—perhaps DeLaet’s struggles come from trying too hard.
“I don’t think we’re going to let anyone down by not winning or not playing our best golf,” he explains.
“I guarantee that every single Canadian in the field is going to give it all that they have this week and that’s really all that you can expect or ask of them.”
But as Canadians we often undervalue ourselves.
Hadwin says he felt many expected him to fail at Shaughnessy, which led him to feel less pressure.
The pundits were right to be skeptical, he says, because he hadn’t had success at the PGA Tour level. He eventually finished in a tie for fourth.
Since then he admits to putting emphasis on the tournament and perhaps expecting too much of himself.
“I think I added pressure and thought people expected more,” he says.
“Maybe I expected more. I sometimes tried to do too much at this event. It is tough because it is a one off, the only event we play here. But at its base it is still one event. You have to get the ball in the hole.”
If Hadwin, Hearn or DeLaet can get the ball in the hole even a couple more times over four days in the coming week, perhaps they can match Fletcher’s now distant accomplishment.
And if they can pull it off, they can finally finish the endless discussion of when a Canadian will win the country’s national golf tournament.