International Team Full of Canadians

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MONTREAL -- With his distinct Aussie accent, Ian Baker-Finch was looking for an edge when he asked Canadians to go beyond Mike Weir in getting behind his International team at the Presidents Cup, which gets serious Thursday at Royal Montreal.
 
Just remember that we are 12 Canadians this week. This is a Canadian hockey team and I want everyone out there to come and root for us and yell as loudly for all of us as you are for Mike, said the assistant to captain Gary Player.
 
It might be kind of fun seeing K.J. Choi or Angel Cabrera on skates, perhaps sailing a pass over to Vijay Singh, but Baker-Finch had better be careful what he wishes for in this town, which can be brutal on its local shinny squad.
 
The Montreal Canadiens are the New York Yankees of hockey, winning 24 Stanley Cups, but try talking their recent fortunes with a shuttle driver on the way to the golf course and youll detect a certain amount of venom about not being anywhere near the top anymore.
 
Theres a flip side to Montreals passion for hockey and Baker-Finch may not want to go there if his International team doesnt take control early in Thursdays foursomes, which feature Weir and Singh against Phil Mickelson and Woody Austin.
 
We played together in South Africa and didnt do the best, but we played today, said Weir after his final tune-up. I think we gel well. We play the same ball and I think well be a good team.
 
The only Canadian in the Presidents Cup is the marquee name along with Tiger Woods this week in Montreal and Singh didnt do himself any favors by beating Weir in a playoff at the 2004 Canadian Open. Hes sounding a lot like Baker-Finch going into the first match.
 
Actually, this week, we are all Canadians ' only for this week though, said Singh. Obviously, (Weir) is one of the most popular sports persons in Canada. Hes a good friend of mine and Ive played a lot of golf with him. Hopefully, I can get all of the support I can.
 
Hockey may be the trademark Canadian pastime, but lacrosse is the official national game. Golf may be under-rated as a Canadian game in the eyes of the outside world, but it has one of the highest participation rates per capita in the world, according to studies conducted by the Royal Canadian Golf Association.
 
It was really amazing to hear that, said Player, adding that the awarding of the Presidents Cup to Royal Montreal can still have its benefits as was the case when it was played in his home country of South Africa in 2003.
 
It was such an exciting thing for our kids living in Soweto, watching a TV set, seeing that their dream can be fulfilled, said Player.
 
I think it was one of the most amazing statements in which I was delighted to hear is my friend Jack Nicklaus saying that the greatest moment of his golf career was the Presidents Cup in South Africa. Now, thats very significant.
 
This event, I really believe, is playing a very vital role in not being played in the same place all the time, not just between two countries. Its going to different parts of the world and fulfilling a vital role in golf.
 
The playing of the Presidents Cup in Montreal will not have the same impact as it did on South Africa, as Canada has hosted Olympics, won the World Series twice thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays and watched the Habs become a hockey dynasty, among other memorable moments.
 
Thats not meant to downplay the Presidents Cup, which is still an important event in the overall sporting history in Canada, but it has a more significant impact specifically on Canadian golf, which is why it was important to have Weir compete, even if Player had to go down the points list to make him a captains pick.
 
As enviable as Canadas participation rate is, golf faces the same challenges as in the United States, with the numbers being threatened by a number of factors, most notably affordability. A new Play Golf initiative was recently launched in order to increase participation.
 
Canadian numbers are not impressive on the PGA TOUR once you get past Weir and Stephen Ames. Jim Rutledge has been shaky in his first go-round as a 47-year-old rookie and Jon Mills is about to return through the Nationwide Tour. Unless somebody gets there through Q-school, thats it.
 
The most immediate concern in Canadian golf is the future of the Canadian Open, which still is without a title sponsor although there is a buzz in Montreal that LG Electronics is seriously considering putting its name on the tournament despite its undesirable position on the schedule, right behind the British Open.
 
It is known that company representatives have been meeting with the RCGA in Montreal and you can bet that theyll be keeping a close eye on the success of the Presidents Cup this week. The fact that the event may be oversold with 28,000 paid fans expected each day certainly wont hurt matters.
 
The impact of the Presidents Cup on Canada may not be as dramatic as South Africa, but the presence of Tiger, Weir, Phil Mickelson and Singh will be considerable when the puck drops to start the game on Thursday.
 
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    Toronto Sun Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun and senior writer for Pro Shop Magazine, a Canadian golf trade publication, and Canadian Golfer Magazine. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.