Photo Bernard Brault, Golf Canada Toronto, Quebec: Sunday June 12th, 2022 RBC CANADIAN OPEN St-George’s GCC Final Round Trophy

The Round Table: tough courses, Rose Zhang and the RBC Canadian Open

Image: Bernard Brault / Golf Canada

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.

Viktor Hovland outdueled Denny McCarthy in a playoff to capture the Memorial Tournament on Sunday for his fourth PGA Tour win. During the final round, many top players including Rory McIlroy flirted with the lead, only to fall back on the tough Muirfield Village course. As they trooped off the 18th green and were greeted by host Jack Nicklaus, many commented how hard the course played. Was it too tough?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I can’t say for sure, as I’ve been on the road in California the last few days and didn’t catch The Memorial on TV.  However, I did attend the Presidents Cup there in 2013, and despite three days of steady rain that turned the golf course into a lush waterbed, the pros were making birdies like a rifle range.  Muirfield struck me as a very difficult course, but the pros were/are clearly on a different planet.  I find it interesting that so many found it so hard this past weekend.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): It sure looked tough, but that’s by design, the host wants it that way (remember the bunker rakes, taking a tooth out to create more rails in their bunkers, etc.). I don’t believe too many players will decline playing that week should they be eligible because it plays tough. I caught most of Sunday’s round and it had lead changes, so I was interested to see who would cave or conquer.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Tournament appeal is based on the quality of the field, the challenge of the course, and historical significance. I constantly hear the blabbering about guys playing for money and not appreciating the game. Although the Memorial is a designated event with a purse dipped out of Monahan’s magic reserve fund, the other criteria remain. Some including me think The Players is a major. I also think Bay Hill and The Memorial have earned high-ranking points in this discussion. Why! Quality of the field and the challenge of the course. These tournaments identify the best player. If winning here is too difficult perhaps you aren’t a true champion.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours, (@GolfAwayTJ): I guess it’s getting the guys toughened up for their next big test…the RBC Canadian Open!  OK, maybe not many of them, but for most of the top players, it’s just preparing them for LACC next week, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  It didn’t look like the setup was that unfair, it’s just a tough golf course, especially when you miss as many greens with a wedge in your hand from the fairway as Rory did.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The Memorial is on the short list of tournaments I consider ‘must watch’ and the reason is the golf course. It’s U.S. Open tough, it’s penal and often involves the proverbial 10-car pile-up. World rankings, money lists and FedEx Cup points often claim they identify the best golfers, but the best golfers are really identified one tournament at a time – at the majors and courses with tough set-ups like Muirfield Village that demand precision, creativity and strategy.

Celebrated amateur Rose Zhang made her pro debut at the Mizuho Americas Open in New Jersey on Sunday just days after winning her second NCAA title. Zhang ultimately defeated Jennifer Kupcho on the second playoff hole to capture the tournament. Only one other LPGA player has won her pro debut and that was over 70 years ago. Zhang’s performance is drawing rave reviews and comparisons to Tiger Woods. What’s your take on Zhang, her meteoric rise and her future on the LPGA Tour?

Deeks: Sorry, I missed this one too.  I’ve been following Rose Zhang for a few weeks, and her debut win doesn’t surprise me at all.  What is surprising is Brooke Henderson’s continued faltering on weekends. Was her equipment change such a good thing after all?

Loughry: This is a major sports story, not just golf story. It is an exceptional accomplishment. It goes to show you, that top amateurs are indeed sometimes top-notch players (pro or not). I’m not ready to throw her Sorenstam or Tiger comparisons just yet, but I am willing to state with certainty (pending any catastrophe) this won’t be her only win. I saw her interviews afterwards and she is remarkably confident and comfortable, like a veteran pro, not a rookie.

Schurman: Ever since Tiger became the measuring stick, we have seen a bunch of the ‘next Tigers’. Leave the young lady alone. Let her clubs do the talking. She’s only won one tournament. How much did the role of the media play in limiting Michelle Wie’s career?

Rule: When I saw that Zhang had the lead heading into the final round, I made sure to record it so I could possibly see some history made.  I also recorded the final round of the Memorial but found myself more interested in watching the LPGA yesterday, which is great.  That tour needs a superstar, and it sure looks like this young lady has every tool necessary to be that star.  What an incredible year she’s had already, winning the ANWA, the NCAA and now her first pro tournament.  The sky is the limit for her, and I hope she can become a dominant force.  The LPGA needs an American that can get to that level.  Having said that, I don’t think she has that “je ne sais quoi” that is needed from a generational superstar.  She doesn’t bomb the ball and struggled down the stretch in both the ANWA and last week.  So, it’s not the same start that Tiger showed when he burst onto the professional scene.  We’ll have to wait and see how she does in her first major as a pro, but it’s an incredible start to her career, no debating that!

Mumford: Pretty amazing performance. It was gripping to watch. Rose obviously has the talent to compete at the professional level and seems pretty grounded in the face of all the attention. The U.S. golf media is searching for the next American superstar. They thought they had it with Nelly Korda and maybe still do. Also Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Lexi Thompson and others all the way back to Nancy Lopez. It’s not an easy role to fill and one that many golfers wouldn’t aspire to. One needs to be assertive, a bit brash, maybe even arrogant as Tiger was, always willing and wanting to be the centre of attention and obviously able to back the attitude up with her clubs. She won’t be one of the girls anymore – she’ll be living on an island with a target on her back. Other golfers will want to bring her down and everyone else will want to knock her down. Is that the goal or do you just want to compete and have fun? Tough decision for a 20-year-old.

The RBC Canadian Open kicks off this week at Oakdale Golf and Country Club with Rory McIlroy back as two-time defending champion. What’s the biggest storyline coming out of this event and who is your pick to win?

Deeks: I think it’s time a Canadian won the damn thing, so I’m going with Mackenzie Hughes.  And THAT would be the biggest storyline.

Loughry: Honestly, I really hope Rory (looking to form, even though a bad final round yesterday) takes the title this week. I feel confident in saying he’ll be right there come Sunday. I hope that’s the storyline this week, the only exception would be a Canadian winning (I like Conners or Pendrith).

Schurman: Once again, the course is the story but for a different reason. When we talked about the course being the story before it was because Oak Hill was a monster. Oakdale is an untested, really lovely private club. Even though the field is weak and there are several very long par 4s we are going to see some very low scores mostly because the par 5s aren’t too much to overcome and although the par 3s are very beautiful, they too can be ‘had’. I’m not sure there’s a 59 threat but the 72-hole score could be low.

Rule: I’m interested to see how the golf course holds up.  The course routing is interesting, trying to hand pick the best holes of the original Thompson course for the front 9, and there are a couple of different holes out there. When’s the last time the Tour had a par 5 under 500 yards?  I really like the course and hope it holds up well and the players enjoy it.  Aside from that, I’m looking forward to visiting the property on Thursday and Friday and feeling the same sense of excitement that we had last year at St George’s.  Golf Canada has done a great job in making the event an experience for everyone that comes to the property, and I expect this year will be no different. In terms of a winner, I hope for the tournament’s sake that it’s either a Canadian or one of the top five ranked guys. I’m going to go with Matt Fitzpatrick, who is rounding into form in advance of his title defence next week.

Mumford: Oakdale will be the focus of attention and I think will get mixed reviews. It’s a wonderful member’s course but hard to see how they can toughen it up enough for the pros without getting silly. The PGA Tour doesn’t want to see its members embarrassed and will curtail any attempts to reign them in. I predict some pretty low numbers. As for a winner, I also think it’s time for a Canadian to win but then I also cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Stanley Cup parade preparations are already underway for 2024). Hate to jinx a local with that same mojo but Taylor Pendrith just survived a 36-hole U.S. Open qualifying – maybe he’s ready for his first win.

Fairways Magazine

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