I'm not about to tell you that he looked like a PGA Tour winner back then, but you could tell he was special. He was a good kid who worked hard and loved to compete. His coach, Jack Bell, used to say he thought John had a chance to make it. The now-retired Rams golf coach has to feel awfully proud after watching his former player win for the first time on the game's grandest stage.
John told us after finishing 18 Sunday that he learned a lot about his game in the final round. Shooting 65 while keeping his nerves in check was a confidence boost. Never in his wildest dreams did he think he would win the tournament in a playoff.
The putt he drained on the first playoff hole was the roll of his life. After watching Justin Leonard miss his birdie putt, John said to himself, 'I have nothing to lose so let's end this right now.' Twenty feet later John Rollins was the 2002 Bell Canadian Open champion. The Meadowbrook High School graduate from the Southside of Richmond now has something in common with Arnold Palmer. Both made the Bell Canadian Open their first PGA Tour win.
Neal Lancaster is one of the most likeable guys on tour. Not many appreciate being inside the ropes more than the North Carolina native. He is a grinder who deserved a better fate late Sunday. One bogey all week. Zero three-putts all week. Pretty flawless play for this one-time tour winner - until the 72nd hole. A bad iron from the fairway, followed by a poor chip and then the deadly three-putt brought the most unlikely of scenarios. A double bogey and a three-man playoff. Unbelievable finish!
Afterwards, Neal was candid. He said he blew the tournament. It's tough to argue with that, but Neal should be proud of the way he played all week. He won over the Canadian crowd throughout the week with his honesty, friendly nature and excellent play. When the short bogey putt on the 72nd hole missed, the crowd gasped. You could tell they wanted Neal to win.
Before we get out of here, a big 'thank you' to all the great Canadians we were fortunate to meet in our short stay in this beautiful country. All week people shouted how much they love The Golf Channel. Everywhere we went, people stopped us to say how much they enjoyed watching. The Canadian golf fans are tremendous.