Almost a Canadian

When Jason Day jarred his brilliant birdie putt on the 72nd hole of the RBC Canadian Open to go up two strokes, the cheers from the gallery were only half as loud as they should have been.

One could almost see the optimism leave the massive throng of fans congregated around 18 as the putt dropped. You didn’t have to be a mathematician to know that David Hearn would have to make an eagle on the final hole — one that was playing directly into the wind — to force a playoff with the young Australian. Glen Abbey had only yielded two eagles on 18 that day and it was likely going to require a mini-miracle on Hearn’s part to get the job done.

Almost eleven years prior to the day, Mike Weir came within a stroke of becoming the first Canadian to win our national championship since Pat Fletcher in 1954. Weir began his final round with a three-shot lead on the field, but ultimately stumbled down the stretch and lost to Vijay Singh in a playoff.

Since then, no one has come close.

It has been 61 years since a Canuck has been victorious at the Canadian Open and many fans have been waiting their entire lives to see it.

That is a long time! It is a lengthier drought than the Toronto Maple Leafs current 48-year stretch bereft of a Stanley Cup and more than half of the Chicago Cubs 107 year span without a World Series title.

When Hearn hit his second shot on 18 into the greenside bunker and failed to hole out the subsequent chip, all hope was lost. The streak was guaranteed to continue for at least one more year.

Canadian golf fans certainly have a reason to be disappointed. But, they should not be too upset!

Hearn gave a truly valiant effort. He held his own against some of the world’s best players, despite a 60-year-old curse and the lofty expectations of millions of fans, which surely weighed heavily on him for the entire weekend.

“This one was pretty intense,” Hearn said after the tournament. “I think every Canadian wants to see it so bad and we want to do it so bad that it does make it hard.”

It would have been an incredible day for the Brantford native and the game of golf in this country if the 36-year-old had snapped the streak. Nonetheless, Hearn has been turning heads with his play recently and has certainly put Canada back on the map in recent weeks.

He may not have a PGA Tour victory yet, but he does have two Top 5 finishes this month, including a runner-up at the Greenbrier. Not only is he knocking on the door of his first win, Hearn is also making a serious case that he deserves to be on this year’s Presidents Cup squad.

Moreover, this is the second straight year that two Canadians have finished in the Top 10 at the Canadian Open. Last year, Graham DeLaet tied for 7th and Brad Fristch finished one stroke behind him, in a tie for 9th. This year, Adam Hadwin tied Charley Hoffman, Matt Kuchar and Austin Cook for 7th place, while Hearn finished solo third.

With more native talent than ever before on tour, and a contingent of promising young Canadian players coming through the pipeline, maybe this is the start of a very promising trend for our national tournament.

“It’s a matter of time [until a Canadian wins the Canadian Open],” said Jim Furyk. “ … Graham DeLaet, David [Hearn], there are a bunch of fine young players, so I’m sure it’s going to happen.”

We may not have won our national tournament in 61 years, but don’t forget, Canada is technically the reigning Olympic golf champion. George Seymour Lyon was the last person to receive a gold medal in golf — something that will change next summer — when he accomplished the feat at the Glen Echo Golf Club in 1904. That has to count for something, right?

More to the point though, if we weren’t going to have a Canadian champion at this year’s tournament, then didn’t we get the next best thing?

Jason Day may have been born halfway across the globe, but in my books, he is about as Canadian as it gets.

Canadians may not have much of a tangible national identity — most stereotypes of us are associated with beavers, maple syrup and igloos — but we are generally known for being both extremely ‘nice’ and tough-as-nails. Day embodies both of these qualities to a tee. Brought up in impoverished conditions in Australia by a widowed mother, the 2014 Accenture Match Play champion has never forgotten his upbringing and has always remained humble and grounded. He is unanimously regarded by his contemporaries as one of the nicest and most likeable players in the sport today.

But what Canadians really love about Day is his hockey player mentality. The Aussie struggled through vertigo leading up to and during the US Open at Chambers Bay, even collapsing on the 9th hole in round 2. However, like a seasoned blue-liner, Day played through the pain and discomfort and finished the week inside the Top 10.

Coming into this past week, the Australian was surely haunted by memories of the Open Championship just six days earlier. With a chance to get into a four-hole playoff, Day left his final putt of the tournament inches short of the cup. At the time, he looked heartbroken and many wondered if the 27-year-old would be able to bounce back from such a major blow.

Less than a week later at the Abbey, Day found himself in a similar situation on the final hole. He had just come off consecutive birdies on 16 and 17 and was leading the pack by one as he approached the 18th putting surface. He needed to make the double-breaking downhill birdie putt to give himself breathing room.

As soon as the putt dropped on Sunday evening in Oakville, Day let out a massive cry of relief, accompanying it with a haymaker of a fist pump.

“I was yelling,” said Day after the round. “I felt like I nearly threw my throat out. I was yelling before it went in.”

That’s the type of grit and determination that makes people want to watch sports. It was an incredible finish — arguably one of the best of the year — and it happened here, on Canadian soil!

Day, who was already a favourite among locals before the tournament began, even considers himself to be an honorary Canadian.

“[Canadians are] some of the nicest people you’ve ever met, and it goes to show the things they say about Canadians. It’s amazing,” said Day. “ … It’s great to feel like a Canadian for a week.”

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