Certainly, this is a major change for those Canadian golf fans used to seeing their home grown talent take part in such a prestigious championship. This week there are but 23 Canadians participating. The majority of the 156-man field is made up of Buy.com Tour talent.
A quick read of the papers in the Toronto, Ontario area makes it perfectly clear that the Canadian touring professionals aren't too found of the change in field. Wednesday's headline in The Globe and Mail read PROS TEED OFF WITH CANADIAN PGA CHAMPIONSHIP.
For example, Stuart Hendley, who's played on the Canadian Tour for 15 years and won the 1994 Canadian PGA Championship, is not playing this week. And neither is two-time Canadian Tour winner and PGA Tour veteran Ray Stewart. Both are on the sidelines because the Buy.com Tour provides 122 of the 156 spots for its own members. 'It's a slap in the face,' Stewart said. 'They didn't do a very good job of allocating spots. I'm certainly not going to watch it on TV.'
In fact, 20 exemptions are provided to Canadians, including 3 for the top finishers in the 2000 Canadian PGA Club Professional Championship, nine exemptions for the top player in each of Canada's nine golfing zones, one exemption for the winner of the 2000 Canadian PGA Assistants' championship, two for the most recent past winners of this championship, three for the top-three Canadian players on the Canadian Tour and two special exemptions.
Is the whole thing fair? Not for me to answer. But this appears at first glance to be a 'win-win' situation for both sides. The Canadian PGA Championship gets a much larger purse ($450,000 - U.S. - $81,000 to the winner) than it would have been able to put forth otherwise and certainly much bigger exposure by being on The Golf Channel for 4 days. The Buy.Com Tour benefits by being in a major market (Toronto) and being able to showcase its talent in another country - something it has also been able to do by playing in Monterrey, Mexico each year.
14 spots were available in Monday's qualifying round and three of those were filled by Canadians making the total number of Canadians in the field at 23.
So what can we look for? Probably not a repeat win by Chad Wright of Ventura, California. The last 21 stagings of the Canadian PGA Championship have produced 21 different winners. Look out for the Buy.Com Tour's 'young guns' Jonathan Byrd, Chad Campbell and Jason Hill. These rookies are all in the field and each is sporting a position among the top-10 on the Buy.Com tour's money list.
Finally, DO NOT dismiss the historical importance of this event. Among the past champions of the Canadian PGA Championship are Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd, Lee Trevino, Lanny Wadkins, Moe Norman and modern day PGA Tour pro Steve Stricker.
So...my take is this. As you watch the 85th edition of this great event this week, take a moment to salute (from your couch) the past history of this great Championship and all that it has meant to Canada's professional golf family. But enjoy, also, the future of what promises to be a long marriage of sorts between a Tour on the rise and a Championship that just might have been in need of some bigger exposure.
See you on T.V!