For starters there was the 18th hole, a 446-yard crucible of a par-4 with a hazard in the landing area that took driver out of the players hand and, in many cases, forced them to hit a long-iron off a downhill lie up to a small, elevated green on their second shots. How, we wonder, could architect H.S. Colt have known all those years ago that he was building a finishing hole that would stand the test of time?
The idea that par on the 72nd hole is a meaningful score is a notion we don't see enough of at golf's top levels these days. If Tom Pernice, for example, had made four on the 72nd hole, he would have joined Tway and Brad Faxon in the playoff.
Colt's 18th at the Hamilton Golf & Country Club also went a long way towards producing the kind of winning score - 8-under par - that is just about correct. Anytime the big boys get to 20-under or better for 72 holes, the eyes tend to glaze. The word 'birdiefest' creeps into the lexicon. These guys are good. But maybe we don't want them to be THAT good. Conversely, on those rare occasions when even par or worse wins a tournament, it is usually because somebody has tricked up the layout.
Hamilton Golf & Country Club was neither tricked up or tricked down. It was a fair test with turn-of-the-century aesthetics. And the players, almost to a man, loved it. How often, by the way, does that happen?
I also liked the Bell Canadian Open because it had, in its field, a matinee idol, whose name wasn't Tiger Woods. Surely if Jesse Ventura can get himself elected governor of Minnesota, Canadian lefty Mike Weir can get himself voted in as his country's Prime Minister one day. Weir fulfilled all his obligations, on and off the golf course, every step of the way last week. And the adoring crowds loved every moment of it. The Masters champion birdied the 16th and 17th holes Sunday and almost made one of the best scrambling pars you will ever see on 18 en route to a 10th-place finish.
Then there was Hidemichi Tanaka. This diminutive Japanese player (132 pounds, size 28 waist) was the 54-hole leader. He told the Canadian media how much he loves their country and how he has been carrying a Canadian two dollar piece--a 'Toonie'--to mark his golf ball for years now. Tanaka, in his second full year on the PGA Tour, has won nine times in Japan. He almost got it done three years ago at Valderrama in the WGC-American Express Championship. Alas, he shot a final round 77 to leave the door open for...you guessed it...Mike Weir.
Tanaka grew up in Hiroshima and his boyhood idol was Tom Watson. He finished tied for 15th at this year's U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. We haven't heard the last of him yet. One of his nicknames in Japan is 'The Ant.' Figuratively, Tanaka can carry many times his own weight. At Hamilton, Tanaka, too, bogeyed the last hole and wound up tied for fourth with K.J. Choi.
Meanwhile, the principal focus of golf this week will shift to the women's side for the Solheim Cup matches that will begin Friday in Sweden.
These matches, too, are always a breath of fresh air, although it won't seem the same without Dottie Pepper playing for the Americans. This is the second straight time injuries have kept the voluble Pepper from competing. She is the heart and soul of the American team. Let's hope, at the relatively young age of 38, Pepper's Solheim Cup run has not ended.
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