Golf in Canada is older than the country itself. There are records of the game being played in the early 1800’s but the first official golf course was opened in Montreal in 1873, followed by Royal Quebec in 1874, then Brantford, Niagara-on-the-Lake and Toronto Golf Club in Ontario.
A lot has happened in golf over the last 150 years. Following are my top 15 memorable moments in chronological order. You can be the judge as to which one goes to the top of the list.
1904 – George S. Lyon wins the Olympic Gold Medal
With the return of golf to the Olympics last year in Rio de Janeiro, the golfing world’s attention also focused on the reigning Olympic champion, who had won his gold medal 112 years before. George S. Lyon was a 46-year old insurance salesman from Toronto, who had taken up golf just eight years prior, when he travelled to the Glen Echo Country Club outside St. Louis, Missouri to compete in the 1904 Olympics.
H. Chandler Egan was the reigning U. S. Amateur champion and less than half Lyon’s age. He was easily the prohibitive favourite to win the gold medal but Lyon upset him in the final 3&2. Legend has it that the somewhat eccentric Lyon walked on his hands through the clubhouse to celebrate the victory. Lyon also won a record 8 Canadian Amateur titles and was runner-up in the 1906 U.S. Amateur and the 1910 Canadian Open.
1914 – Karl Keffer wins the Canadian Open
Here’s a great trivia question: Who was the last Canadian born player to win the Canadian Open. Chances are most people will answer Pat Fletcher, who won in 1954, but that would be incorrect. Fletcher is the last Canadian citizen to win the Canadian Open but he was born in England and came to Canada as a young boy.
Karl Keffer was born in 1882 in Tottenham, Ontario and won our national championship in 1909 and 1914, both times at the Toronto Golf Club. He was the long time head professional (1911-1945) at the Royal Ottawa Golf Club and a founding member of the Canadian Professional Golfers Association (CPGA) in 1911.
George Cumming was the first Canadian to win the national title (1905) and Charles Murray (1906, 1911) and his brother Albert (1908, 1913) also won it twice each but all three were born in the UK making Keffer the ONLY Canadian born player to ever win the title. At least so far.
1932 – Sandy Somerville claims U.S. Amateur
For many years, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the U.S. Amateur title would be won by the great Bobby Jones. Upon Jones’ retirement from competitive golf in 1930, the competition was thrown wide open. Sandy Somerville was a renowned athlete from London, Ontario, with an impressive list of credentials in hockey, football and cricket and the eventual winner of six Canadian Amateur championships. In 1932, Somerville defeated future professional Johnny Goodman 2&1 at the Baltimore Country Club to become the first foreign player and first Canadian to win the coveted Havemayer Trophy.
1954 – Pat Fletcher wins the Canadian Open
It’s sometimes referred to as the Jinx but regardless of its name, it has bedevilled all Canadian players at the Canadian Open for the past 63 years. Pat Fletcher was a club pro, working out of the Saskatchewan Golf & Country Club in 1954, when he won the Canadian Open at Point Grey Golf Club in Vancouver.
Club pros, especially Canadian ones, aren’t supposed to win on the PGA Tour but it wasn’t a complete fluke. Fletcher had been low Canadian professional the year before and had won the CPGA Championship in 1952. Still, it was totally unexpected and as he said during the trophy presentation, “I didn’t think I would ever see the day but I can assure you I’m very happy. It’s been a real thrill for me.”
Mike Weir came closest to breaking the jinx when he lost an agonizing playoff to Vijay Singh at the 2004 championship at Glen Abbey.
1955 – Al Balding becomes first Canadian to win a PGA Tour event on US soil
Pat Fletcher’s Canadian Open victory certainly counted as a win on the PGA Tour but it wasn’t in America. Al Balding claimed the honour of being the first to win one on U.S. soil when he won the 1955 Mayfair Open in Sanford, Florida. Balding went on to win three tour events in 1957 – the Miami Beach Open, West Palm Beach Open and the Havana Invitational, which placed him sixth on the PGA’s money list. Balding also had tremendous success in Canada, winning the CPGA Championship four times and in 2000, at the age of 76, he became the CPGA Senior Champion.
1966 – Gary Cowan wins the U. S Amateur
Gary Cowan of Kitchener was voted Best Canadian Male Golfer of the 20th Century, based on a stellar resume that included titles in just about every top amateur championship: Canadian Amateur, Ontario Amateur (10 times), North & South, Canadian Junior, Ontario Junior plus countless times he represented Canada in international team events.
But it was two victories in the U.S. Amateur that cemented his legacy. The first came in 1966 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pennsylvania when Cowan defeated the favourite and future PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman to become only the second Canadian to win the Havemayer Trophy and put his name alongside Sandy Somerville, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones. Cowan won his second U.S. Amateur title in 1971.
1968 – Knudson/Balding win World Cup
In 1953, the Canada Cup was created by Canadian industrialist John Jay Hopkins to promote international goodwill through golf. Countries were invited to send two-man teams to represent them and the competition moved all over the world to showcase golf. In 1967 the name was changed to the World Cup. The following year, the Canadian team of George Knudson and Al Balding edged Americans Julius Boros and Lee Trevino in Rome, Italy to claim the first title for Canada.
Subsequently, Dan Halldorson and Jim Nelford (1980) and Halldorson and Dave Barr (1985) also etched Canadian names on the former Canada Cup.
1968 – Sandra Post wins LPGA Championship
In 1968, Sandra Post was a rookie on the LPGA Tour and the first Canadian to make it to that level. Her victory over Hall of Famer Kathy Whitworth in the LPGA Championship made her the first Canadian and the youngest winner of an LPGA major ever. The age record was eventually broken by Morgan Pressel in 2007 and then in 2016 Brooke Henderson matched Post’s major achievement by a Canadian.
1994 – Canada wins Dunhill Cup
The Alfred Dunhill Cup was a team golf tournament which ran from 1985 to 2000 and included three-man teams representing their country. In 1994, Canada sent an unheralded team of Dave Barr, Rick Gibson and Ray Stewart to contest the Cup and they ended up defeating the favoured American team that included future World Golf Hall of Fame members Fred Couples, Tom Kite and Curtis Strange in the final.
2000 – A banner year for Lorie Kane
Lorie Kane was a late bloomer on the LPGA Tour. At the age of 36, Kane got her first LPGA title at the Michelob Light Classic. She quickly followed that up with victories at the New Albany Classic and Mizuno Classic to notch three wins on the season and become just the second Canadian with a multiple win season. Sandra Post did it twice in 1978 and 1979 and subsequently Brooke Henderson in 2016.
2001 – Graham Cooke narrowly misses the amateur Triple Crown
Graham Cooke is a golf course architect, champion golfer and member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. He has dozens of trophies and awards but in 2001, he almost accomplished a feat that is incomparable in golf. That was the year Cooke turned 55. He won the Canadian Mid Amateur Championship, the Canadian Senior Championship and was runner-up to Gareth Paddison of New Zealand in the Canadian Amateur Championship at Credit Valley. It’s inconceivable that any golfer in any country has ever won all three titles given the wide disparity in age but Graham came close in 2001.
2003 – Mike Weir wins the Masters
There was no way Mike Weir should have won the Masters in 2003. The course was soaking wet from days of heavy rains and as one of the shortest hitters in the field, Weir was at a distinct disadvantage to the long bombers. But as we all remember, it was Mike’s wedge play and steady putting that garnered him a green jacket.
Entering the final round two shots behind Jeff Maggert, the lead abruptly changed hands on the 3rd hole when the Texan’s approach shot ricocheted off the bunker wall and struck him, resulting in a two shot penalty and a triple bogey. Ironically, Maggert didn’t make any bogeys or double bogeys in the final round but did record a quadruple bogey on #12 to go with his triple on #3.
Weir maintained the lead until a surging Len Mattiace, playing several groups in front, posted a score of -7. Weir needed to make a seven foot putt on the final hole for par to force a playoff. In 2003, playoffs started on the 10th hole and both players struggled but Weir’s bogey was good enough to make him the first Canadian to win a Major Championship and the first left hander to win the Masters.
2004 – Marlene Streit is inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame
There isn’t space to note all of Marlene Streit’s victories or awards. On a list of Top 10 greatest Canadian golf achievements, she could easily have half of them. However, the one achievement Marlene has that is hers alone amongst Canadians is her induction to the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004.
Marlene remained an amateur all her life and has worked tirelessly to promote amateur golf and especially the development of women’s golf programs in Canada. Amongst her notable achievements, she is the only person, male or female to win the US, Canadian, British and Australian Amateur Championships. She is also the winner of 11 Canadian Ladies Open Amateurs, nine Canadian Ladies Close Amateurs, three Canadian Ladies’ Seniors and three USGA Senior Women’s Amateurs during a period from 1953 to 2003.
Her last U.S. Senior Amateur title came in 2003, when at the age of 69, Marlene defeated her much younger American rivals in the semi-finals (24 holes) and finals (23 holes) in the blistering heat of Barton Creek CC in Austin, Texas.
2009 – Jennifer Kirby wins amateur Grand Slam
In 2009, Jennifer Kirby of Paris, Ontario became the first and only Canadian golfer to win the Ontario Junior, Ontario Ladies Amateur, Canadian Junior Girls and Canadian Women’s Amateur championships all in the same year.
2016 – Brooke Henderson wins Women’s PGA
If there’s a sweeter irony in women’s professional golf than Brooke Henderson winning the 2016 KPMG PGA Championship, we’re not sure what it could be.
Henderson started the 2015 season with no status on the LPGA. She had a stellar resume dating back several years that included amateur victories and top 10 finishes in pro events, which inevitably led to comparisons with the #1 ranked player in the world, Lydia Ko, who had also excelled as an underage player. Henderson had petitioned commissioner Mike Whan to allow her to join the LPGA as a 17-year old but she was declined. Consequently, she had to Monday qualify her way into events.
In August, Brooke Monday qualified for the Cambia Portland Classic, then went out and won it by a whopping eight shots to become the third youngest LPGA winner ever. More top finishes followed but she always seemed to be in the long shadow cast by Ko.
In the Spring of 2016, Henderson reeled off a string of top 10’s and was among the favourites when the Tour arrived at Sahalee Country Club in Seattle. Her final round 65 put her into a tie with Ko. Brooke hit a brilliant 7 iron to ten feet on the first playoff hole that led to birdie and the first Major championship by a Canadian woman in almost 50 years. And sweet victory over rival Lydia Ko.