“The maple leaf was out in full force today,” said Jim Nantz, after Sunday’s coverage of the RBC Canadian Open. And he was right– Canadian pride was so strong, one could feel it almost tangibly.
Canada’s golf-crazed fans–moose hats on head and Tim Horton’s coffee in hand– were buzzing throughout Glen Abbey Sunday and it wasn’t because the country’s national caffeine was pumping through their veins (well, that might have been part of it). It was because of a certain man from Brampton, Ontario who was poised to be the most decorated champion in the nation’s history.
We remember back though, of course, to the 2003 Len Mattiace conquering at the hands of a savage Canadian golfer by the name of Mike Weir. Mighty left-handed lash after crushing left-handed blow, this Canadian conquistador took Augusta by the horns, having his way with the Bobby Jones layout.
It was a performance for the ages, one that later coined the term, “Weir-proofing,” where Augusta National lengthened (and strengthened) the design to protect itself against 265-yard rocket launcher tee shots and incredible 152-yard towering 8-irons.
In all seriousness though, that fateful day in the spring of 2003 was probably the greatest day in Canadian golf history. This day may have come a close second.
(Watch Mike Weir story):
David Hearn entered Sunday as the leader of the 2015 RBC Canadian Open and with the chance to be the first Canadian winner since 1954. To say there was energy in the air for the Greater Toronto Area, may be an understatement.
It has kind of been understood for the past 15 years or so, that if someone were to be the first Canadian to conquer the nation’s open, it would be their darling, Mike Weir. This hasn’t yet been the case. It’s gotten to the point (over 50 years), that Canadians will take whatever champion they can get.
Enter David Hearn.
After Graham DeLaet, the best Canadian in the world right now, withdrew early in the week with a tweaked injury, Hearn remained as one of the only formidable threats at the title (despite Adam Hadwin’s incredible run at his second top-10 of the season). The drama was heavy for Canadian golf fans.
But truthfully, all day it seemed like the 36-year old Hearn was facing two colossal giants of the game– both literally and figuratively.
Figuratively, both Jason Day and Bubba Watson (along with Jim Furyk) are titans in today’s game. Both have victories, world rankings, major championship contention (and wins) and a long-list of accolades. Both have been there.
Literally, they are two of the longest players in the sport today (Jason Day ranks 2nd in Driving Distance at 311.5 and Bubba ranks 3rd at 311.2). Aside from their clout, they are two of the sports giants– two Goliaths.
It wasn’t David versus Goliath. It was David versus two Goliaths.
I originally wanted to title this recap post, “Canada’s Effort to Seize the Day,” to get the play-on-words thing going, but in fact, Jason Day wasn’t the villain in this drama. It was everyone but Hearn. Every other player in the field was the villain to David Hearn. He was Canada’s hope this weekend.
The notion of “David vs. Two Goliaths” hit me late in the coverage on Sunday when Hearn’s tentative hold on the tournament seemed to be waning. He was holding the lead the way a child would hold a baby bird, tight enough to keep it safe, but not so tight as to kill it. Pars weren’t going to do it against the 2 and 3 ranked bombers in the game. And pars were all Hearn seemed to be able to muster.
Then, Jason Day unleashed on his tee shot on the par-4 17th after a driver 6-iron into the par-5 16th. He hit a drive (downwind) that traveled almost 400-yards. I tweeted this:
Jason, don’t even worry about that divot, not a single person will ever have a chance of being in it… #386yardbomb
— Troy Klongerbo Golf (@troy_usgolftv) July 26, 2015
Day pitched it on, made a nice putt for birdie then walked up the hill to the par-5 18th. Soon after tweeting that, Bubba unleashed on a ball with the same ferocity. Both players (Day and Watson) were within a few steps of one another, leaving Hearn some 50 yards further back, in the left rough, playing from an awkward angle.
That’s when it hit me that Hearn was completely outmatched. At the same time though, in the way Mike Weir had done it 8-times on the PGA Tour, we should never count the small man out in golf– especially if he’s Canadian.
But Hearn’s rather uninspired play coming in wasn’t enough to fend off Day and Watson’s flurry of birdies. In fact, between the two of them (Day and Watson), they made 8 birdies in their last 9 combined holes. Don’t believe me?
The two put on a display that has made them the two of the best players in the world. It was impressive to watch. Only the victim in the entire may-lay was the man wearing the hopes and aspirations of nation. David Hearn was left behind. Gracious in defeat nonetheless:
— David Hearn (@HearnDavid) July 27, 2015
But for Jason Day, the champion who would hole a series of clutch putts coming it, the win means more than it may appear in the midst of the Hearn/Canadian heartbreak. After a close call at the US Open and another a month later at St. Andrews, Day broke through.
Called one of the next great champions of our era, critics have been quick to point out Day’s lack of hardware before the age of 25. Three big wins in 17 months and contention throughout the world should quiet them down at least for a little while, until that major championship void continues to expand.
But he’ll win a major (multiple probably), almost assuredly. But’s that neither here nor there. This win was another pivotal step in Jason Day’s career. It is one, I’m sure, he’s relishing after so many close calls recently.
The putts down the stretch (which you can watch below) will be putts he reflects back on in contention down the road at Augusta and other majors. This will be one of the moments we look back on and say, “I think that’s where Jason really found that killer instinct.”
Congratulations to Jason Day and the Day family.
And one last thing– POLL: Who looks most unnatural in the photo below?
This putt on the 72nd hole, to give Day the two stroke lead: