F-words being used in Canada
Instead, the Open goes on this week at Glen Abbey and the issue of those brutal dates right behind the British Open has been done to death, even though nothing will change immediately.
Thats not to say the RCGA and RBC are accepting status quo for a tournament that just last year had no title sponsor and apparently no future. How times have changed.
RBC has the resources and clout to get the PGA TOUR to at least listen to complaints about those disastrous dates and that, in itself, is a step forward. Dont count on the Open falling around Canada Day, but at least more separation from a major is possible.
For now, the focus is on what can be done immediately to draw more players and fans to the Open and, ultimately, elevate its status before the TOUR rethinks its schedule down the road.
The hospitality shown to players and their families is being elevated in order to get a better field and fans havent been forgotten either. Tournament organizers now grasp the concept that professional sports are as much about entertainment as they are about competition.
This year, the Open will feature evening concerts by Blue Rodeo, 54-40 and Tom Cochrane behind the third green, a plan that surely would have been nixed by the RCGA in the past and will seem strange, assuming it continues, on the stately grounds of St. Georges in two years.
Such tactics are not exclusive to Canada. Justin Timberlake has his name on the Las Vegas TOUR stop, which is mired in the Fall Series. The four-time Grammy winner will play in a pro-am and headline a concert during the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Theres also the party of all golf parties that takes place in Arizona in early February each year.
The FBR Open has carved its own special niche with boisterous crowds and special features such as the Birds Nest, an off-site festival with bands and bars that welcomes revelers when the last putt drops each day at TPC Scottsdale. Take it from someone whos been there, golf fans should experience it.
The RCGA seems to be backing off any comparison to the FBR Open. That could be because it wants to cook up its own unique Canadian flavor, or because the Phoenix-area event is sometimes over the top.
However, there is no denying the success of the FBR Open, which has set unofficial tour records for attendance and raised millions for charities through the Thunderbirds, the local group that organizes the tournament. Its at least a good blueprint to follow in Canada.
I have fun. Some people think the (FBR Open) is too loud, its too big, but at the same time, boy does it draw the crowds and that was something I did mention to the RCGA, said Ames, who has been a regular at the FBR Open over the years. I think we need to go in that direction.
Leggatt, the winner of the 2002 Touchstone Energy Tucson Open and now playing on the Nationwide Tour, agrees. I think they promote it as the greatest party on grass. Thats what they do. Its the place to go. Its the place to be seen, said Leggatt, who received an exemption into the Canadian Open.
(The FBR Open) is about bringing in as many people as they can, raising as much money as they can for charity because people come through the gates and they drink and they eat and have a great time, he added. I think thats an avenue they should explore for this event.
Both Leggatt and Ames agree that the RCGA should look at another aspect of the FBR Open, where the par-3 16th hole is known as the rowdiest in golf. Fans will sing a players college fight song as he approaches the tee, cheer him heartily if he hits the green, but boo him loudly if he misses.
There are a lot of people there and theyre right on top of you. Once you have done it a couple of times and you come to expect whats about to happen, youre used to it. There are players who dont like it, but for the most part, a good percentage of players think its good fun, said Leggatt.
Both Leggatt and Ames are in agreement that Canadas version of the 16th could come at a par three at the end of the Abbeys valley holes. I think 15 would be a perfect opportunity to just surround that entire hole with grandstands and try to mimic that whole thing, said Leggatt.
It may not be an original idea, but just the fact that players and organizers are using F-words -- as in fun, fans and FBR Open -- is a refreshing sign as the Canadian Open enters a future it didnt seem to have a year ago.
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Editor's Note: Ian Hutchinson is golf columnist for the Toronto Sun. He is also a frequent contributor to Golf Scene and Golf Canada Magazine, the official magazine of the Royal Canadian Golf Association.
Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.
Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.
While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.
“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”
Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.
“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”
Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close
CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.
McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.
“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”
The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.
“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”
He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.
“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”
Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence
CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.
Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.
Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.
It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.
“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”
Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.
“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection
CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.
Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.
Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.
“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”
Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.
“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”
Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.
“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”