It may be our national open but prior to this year it occupied arguably the worst spot on the PGA Tour’s summer schedule: the week after the Open Championship. Not only would players be exhausted from the gruelling task that is a major championship, they would also be dealing with the time change, jet lag, and a totally different style of golf. And then they were asked to fly straight to Canada and play a subpar golf course (sorry Glen Abbey). Those factors had solidified the event as second tier; a shell of the event once dubbed The Fifth Major in the days of Nicklaus and Trevino.
Not this year. A schedule change to the week before the US Open, and Hamilton G&CC (the seventh ranked course in the country) playing host have turned the tides and golf fans in Canada are already reaping the rewards. Four of the top six ranked players in the world will tee it up on Thursday in hopes of becoming the first player to have a chance to win national opens on back-to-back weeks when they head to Pebble Beach for the US Open.
So what do the players think about the course and schedule change? I asked those four top-ranked players just that:
DUSTIN JOHNSON: “I like the golf course. You need to hit it in the fairway. The rough’s pretty deep, but you know, it’s not overly long. Good par 3s from what I see. The par 3s are pretty tough. But yeah, I mean, it’s kind of an old school golf course. Got to hit it straight … The field is a lot stronger this year. I think RBC moving to the week before the U.S. Open is a great move for them and it’s a great week to get a lot of really good players, because they like to play the week before the U.S. Open.
Pebble is going to be a lot of the same as here. You’ve got to — it’s going to be a lot like this, because a lot of sloped greens and you’ve got to fly it to a certain point. That’s how it’s going to be next week. Obviously if your game is sharp this week, that’s a good thing going into next week.”
RORY MCILROY: “I wanted to play this week because obviously it’s the week before the U.S. Open, and I thought playing my way into that would be ideal, but also I’ve heard a lot of great things about Hamilton. I remember watching a little bit back in 2012, and then I’ve spoken to Brad Faxon a little bit, and he had a chance here back in maybe ’03 and he really raved about the golf course. It’s a very strategic golf course. You’ve got to put it in play off the tee, and I’m definitely going to have to drive it better this week than I did last week… There’s a variety of different tee shots that you need to hit, different clubs. The putting surfaces, the greens are going to be very similar, poa-type of grass… The rough’s pretty thick. You know if you miss it in the rough you’re doing well to get it up by the green, and then you know, if you do miss greens it’s going to be pretty similar in terms of the lies that you get.
I’m fully focused on this week, but knowing that if I play well here this week, and have good control of my ball and my distance control, that that will serve me well going into next week also.”
BROOKS KOEPKA:“It’s a good golf course. It’s definitely going to be a good test. The rough’s up. You’ve got to hit the fairways, and these greens are quite sloped. So you’ve really got to control your spin. I think it’s actually a perfect setup for next week.”
Justin Thomas had a bit of a different take on things, but still feels positive about the change.
JUSTIN THOMAS: “I think it’s something to where if it didn’t come when it does in the schedule, it would probably have an even better field, if that’s possible. But the fact that guys are willing to come and play the week before the U.S. Open, as far away as it is from the U.S. Open, I think speaks values, and you know, kind of takes care of itself.”
Adding to the week was a rare chance for a handful of PGA Tour players to be in attendance for the Toronto Raptors NBA Finals game on Sunday night. Rory was one of several who were able to go, and spoke at length about the experience:
RORY: “It was a great atmosphere, it was. I’ve been lucky enough to get to a couple other NBA Finals games. But they were in Miami, so it’s a different fan base… It was really loud on Sunday night. It was really cool to be there and be a part of the experience. As well, I’ve always had an appreciation for other athletes and it’s one of my favorite things to do is to go and watch other sporting events and see how other athletes handle their situations and pressures. I mean, they make that court look so small in terms of how fast they get up and down. It was a great experience. As I said, it wasn’t the result that a lot of people were hoping for, but I’ll be following it closely tonight.”