The Round Table: the rise of Rory and the decline of the Canadian Open

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Rory McIlroy won the CJ Cup on Sunday and moved up to the #1 spot in the World Rankings. It’s the ninth time McIlroy has attained that status and his most recent paycheque also moved him to fourth in career PGA Tour earnings. Has Rory done enough to be considered one of the all-time greatest players or is there more work to be done?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I guess that depends on how many “All-Time Great Players” one believes there are.  Career money earned shouldn’t be considered, because, for example, David Toms (who isn’t an ATGP) has won more than twice as much as Nick Price (who’s a borderline ATGP).  In my view, the assessment should be made on the following criteria: tournaments won (all tours), majors won, best OWGR ranking and longevity, and overall contributions to “the game”.  In those categories, Rory’s numbers are: 43, 4, #1 (100 weeks), and off the charts positive.  So yes, I think he’s one of the greatest of all time, though certainly still outside the Top 10.  (Woods, Nicklaus, Jones, Player, Palmer, Norman, Watson, Faldo, Ballesteros, Hogan… Snead, Nelson, Langer…)

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Rory an All-Time great? Uh, not for me. Is he considered very good, yes, absolutely. For me, he lacks Majors, he needs a few more. By the end of his career, I’m sure he’ll be near Mickelson stats (40+ Tour Wins) and maybe 6 or more Majors. His Tour wins stat may go up quickly as the herd of high-quality players has been thinned due to LIV Golf. If Rory can sneak at least two more Majors in, and add to the Tour wins total, then he would rightfully move into the category of an all-time great.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: My own standard for the World Golf Hall of Fame is 20 PGA TOUR wins and one major or 17 wins and two majors. Rory is well passed that. Although he hasn’t separated himself from the pack on a lifetime career basis he does for periods. However, when he is hot, nobody has a chance. A win in April will change things a lot.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Aside from his role as spokesperson and defender of the Tour the past year, for all his absolutely amazing talent — especially with the driver, could watch that swing all day — and his (at first glance) impressive record, he’s a few majors short of the GOAT mantel. He recently told Tom Kim that it’s easier to become #1 than to remain #1, and he’s back in that rarefied state now. If he keeps hammering it home, he will deservedly be in the pantheon (only in sport does that word even come up anymore) of the greatest.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The best players of all time win the biggest events against the toughest fields and their legacy grows accordingly. McIlroy started his career like a house on fire but an eight-year drought in the majors leaves him out of the conversation for me. A few more majors and a small bucket of regular PGA Tour events in the years to come, should land him in a pretty exclusive group, not likely a GOAT candidate – that’s a Nicklaus-Woods debate exclusively – but definitely among the all-time greats.

The PGA Tour announced four more tournaments that will be designated as “elevated events” in 2023. That means much larger purses and a guarantee that the Top 20 players will participate. The RBC Canadian Open wasn’t one of the four and next year is sandwiched between the Memorial (elevated), the U.S. Open (major) and the Travelers Championship (elevated). Unless players are prepared to play four weeks in a row, it’s unlikely too many will make the trip to Canada. Our National Open also lost two marquee players that were former RBC ambassadors when Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell departed for LIV Golf. To add further concern, RBC’s agreement as title sponsor comes up for renewal after 2023 and may need to be significantly increased if they want to ever be an elevated event. Should we be concerned about the future of the Canadian Open?

Deeks: I think we’ve been concerned about the Canadian Open for decades (including 40 years ago when I was Tournament Director!).  As nearly everyone knows, the Open would never have acquired even the mediocre fields it does if the sponsors of the day (DuMaurier, Bell, RBC) hadn’t lured the bigger names to attend by holding a private Pro-Am and paying them big bucks to be there.  Much as we may want to think that winning the “national championship” of their dear neighbours to the north is prestigious and a big deal to PGA players, it isn’t.  At all. That’s partly why the event has been treated with head-patting disdain by the Tour for so many years.  I’m not sure if Canadian golf fans would care all that much if the Open was allowed to breathe its last breath one day soon.

Loughry: We’re just coming off of one of the best and most successful Canadian Opens in history (entertainment value for fans on site/at home, and commercial success and for Golf Canada and RBC). Between the talented folks at Golf Canada and RBC, I have confidence they’ll navigate these murky times and continue the successful trajectory of the RBC Canadian Open.

Schurman: Every second-tier event should be worried. Monahan has tried to turn the tables on LIV, but his pockets aren’t deep enough. So, he did the only things he could do; elevate the annual income of his best players by paying performance money and elevate a few events to super status. The PGA TOUR should have never gone to a wrap-around season. They should have reduced the number of events to a 36-week schedule (Jan 15 to Sept 15) with a week off per month, increase the purses of those events and left the balance of the year for others to offer anything they could create. The smartest move Jay M has made was to cooperate with the PGA moving to March.

Quinn: It’s almost part of our golf heritage to worry about the status of the Canadian Open, once briefly known as the 5th Major. No one cares about DJ, and even less about McDowell, but the scheduling is the thing. The elevation strategy is going to impact the fringe events, and as Eamon Lynch at Golfweek points out, help some of the season’s tail end events by attracting name players struggling for playing cards and up and comers not thinking of LIV. This is going to be a very tough spot on the schedule to get top players and top dollar from RBC or anyone else.

Mumford: By trying to go toe-to-toe with LIV Golf, the PGA Tour is playing a risky game. They’re creating a two-tiered structure with players and tournaments. The RBC Canadian Open is now a second-tier event, virtually guaranteed to attract a second-rate field. Is that a viable position for RBC moving forward? They already have one elevated event in Hilton Head. Moving our Open to elevated status would require a committed sponsor and date change and there aren’t many options where we don’t run into other strings of must-play events or weather. In the past, our National Open has been something for the PGA Tour to kick around at will and it looks like we just got punted again.

A few weeks ago, we asked if there was a time when a collapse on the final hole (a la Patrick Cantlay at The Shriners Open) caused you to lose a tournament. Is there also a time when your final hole heroics led to a great victory?

Deeks: Nope.  Never.  Choke is my middle name.

Loughry: I was once in a Fall 4-man scramble (shotgun start), we tied for first and had a shoot out from the 100-yard marker for the playoff.  We alternated shooters, and of course one of their guys stuffs one. With a shotgun start, pretty much everyone was left drinking socially watching the playoff, and we all heard the roar, cheers and jeers of every shot. The “stuffing was to about 3 feet…. I was very last to go (on both teams). I was nervous, I took a deep breath, stuck to my pre-shot routine, stared at the spot at the back of my ball like I always do (it helps me focus and parks my mind). I didn’t hole it, but it was a walk off win for our squad! I was pretty pumped about that. I’m sure the other team thought they had it in the bag, but they were good sports about it, shook our hands. Pretty cool moment.

Schurman: As they say, “even a blind squirrel finds the odd nut”. I had some OK stuff but the most memorable came in the Senior USGA Open Qualifying round at Lockport C.C in NY. The wind was howling making standing up difficult, let alone playing. The ball wouldn’t stay placed on the green. I had a decent striking day but was magic inside 10 ft. I made 11 for 12 and arrived at # 13 at +2. I hit a crummy drive and tried to hit an 8 iron down in front, but it came out like Ben Johnston and went OB. I dropped and made an 8-footer for bogie on that par 5. #16 is a 210-yard uphill par 3. I made 2. A chunked PW into #16, bogie. Over the back and up onto a severe slope on #17 (par 5) and made a par. #18 is another 210-yard par 3, uphill. A really nice 3 wood for a 2. Playoff for 1st alternate into the US Senior Open. In the morning, I hit a really good drive on #1 and a 3 wood just in front for a par 5. In the play-off, I hit a wonderful drive and only had a 6 iron to the green. On in 2, 2 putts for victory. The bad news, our site didn’t allow the 1st alternate to play. Out of 21 Qualifying Sites, 19 of the 1st alternates got ‘in’ but not me. Graham Marsh won in San Francisco.

Quinn: Indeed, it was heroic. A buddy and I played for our usual massive stroke play bet: a beer. It started on a hot Ontario August early afternoon. After 18, we were tied. Our green fee was for, well technically, 18 holes, but we managed to get lost on the way to the parking lot and ended up back on the 1st tee. After 36, we were still all square as the Euros say, and so we got lost again and ended up on the 10th tee. Both in the fairway on 18 — our third trip down this long par 5 — still even, I thought about having come up just short twice with my 3-wood. Asked my so-called buddy what he’d take for his 2-wood. He said my pitching wedge (my favourite club, at the time). Done and done. I reached the green with my new 2-wood, and two-putted for…. nada. He came up short but chipped it to a foot with MY wedge! Still tied. It was now almost dark, so we retired…to the putting green. It was dark, the clubhouse lights only on in the bar, when I finally sunk a 10-footer on the 10th putting green hole to win the match! Damn, that was a fine tasting beer!

Mumford: My golf game was never about heroics – more about grinding away and hoping my opponents made mistakes. I once made a quad on #17 in a GTA Tour Amateur event and figured game over, but somehow made par on the last and ended up in a playoff. My opponent was a nice young college player who easily hit it 30-40 yards past me off the tee. After four or five holes, my bogey beat his double. Nothing heroic there – just enough grinding to get the job done.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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