Friday, September 16, 2005

Honouring golf's best, worst in '05: The players, the courses, the whiner

Robert Thompson On Golf

Source: National Post, Friday, Sept. 16


Whether we like it or not, the Canadian golf season is winding down.
Club championships have been played, Shaughnessy showed its teeth in hosting a weak field at the Canadian Open and, in much of the country, the leaves are starting to turn. There was snow in Calgary. It is all a sign the best golf has to offer is behind us.
With that in mind, it's time to take a look back at the year, from Tiger-like highs to Weir-like lows.
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Best performance by a Canadian golfer: James Lepp and J.C. Deacon (tie) It says a lot about the state of Canadian golf that the most exciting players this year were amateurs. Lepp, who plays for the Washington Huskies, broke through this year to take the NCAA title, something no other Canadian has accomplished. And though Lepp didn't progress far at the U.S. Amateur (where he was one of seven Canadians in the field), Unionville's J.C. Deacon made it all the way to the semi-final, losing a heartbreaker on the final hole. Lepp and Deacon aren't the only Canadian golf stars this year; Jon Mills had a breakthrough season on the Nationwide Tour and will be on the PGA Tour next year.
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Worst season by a Canadian: Mike Weir Sure he's made US$1.2-million this year and will play on the Presidents Cup team, but it isn't hard to see that Weir's 2005 campaign has been a disaster. He missed six of seven cuts at one point and floundered his way around Shaughnessy at the Canadian Open, missing that cut as well. Can Weir fix his game or is his best already behind him? Let's hope it is the former.
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Best golf tournament without a sponsor: The Canadian Women's Open Like the male version of the event, the Canadian Women's Open struggles to find a field worthy of what was once a major. This year's event at Glen Arbour near Halifax appeared to be an afterthought for most in the field. With Bank of Montreal backing away once its sponsorship deal ends, the future of the event, which is supposed to be played at the Hunt Club in London next year is in doubt. Let's hope the Bell Canadian Open doesn't face the same fate if Bell decides against renewing its sponsorship deal.
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Best breakthrough on PGA Tour: Sean O'Hair and Jason Gore (tie) Though his teen years were troubled by a dominant, difficult father, O'Hair has become one of the brightest new stars on the PGA Tour. He's got all the shots and the imagination to go with them. His recovery shot to par the 18th at the John Deere Classic was remarkable and helped push him to more than US$2-million in winnings. The other feel-good golf story of the year has to be Gore. The chubby fan favourite was in over his head near the top of the leaderboard in the final round of the U.S. Open and fell apart. That should have been the last we heard of him. Instead, he reeled off three straight wins on the Nationwide Tour and gained a promotion to the big show. Gore is an everyman -- John Daly without the drinking and spousal problems. Golf needs more like him.
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Worst complaint at a golf tournament: Robert Allenby, Canadian Open Commenting on the Shaughnessy as the host site for last week's Canadian Open, Aussie Allenby said: "The front nine is just stupid. The rough is just ridiculous. I know it's a national title but it's not the U.S. Open." Too many PGA Tour pros have come to expect that any tour stop that isn't the U.S. Open to be a pushover. When the RCGA finally sets up a course so it is championship-worthy, the likes of Allenby complain. Allenby says he won't be back at Shaughnessy. Oh well.
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Best gimmick that disappeared almost immediately: Nike's black golf balls. Okay, let's get this straight -- a couple of PGA Tour pros play a black golf ball on a par three in Arizona and the golfing public goes crazy? Well, that's exactly what happened, at least for a few weeks. Now but a distant memory, let's hope the black ball has gone the way of the orange and yellow balls that were once in vogue. John Daly's failed attempt to drive Niagara Falls to promote a golf course in the area comes a close second in this category.
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Best new golf equipment: Nike Platinum ball and House of Kangaroo gloves (tie) Nike's black ball may not have lasted, but here's to its new Platinum ball, an excellent alternative to the dominant ProV1. Callaway's HX Tour 56 ball, which Phil Mickelson used to win the PGA Championship, is also super-hot and great around the greens. Looking for something altogether different? Try getting your hand in a golf glove by House of Kangaroo. Yes, as the name states, kangaroos aren't just cuddly -- they make a great golf glove. While other gloves wear in a matter of rounds, House of Kangaroo gloves are far more resilient. Worth a try.
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Best new course in Canada: Oviinbyrd and Ridge at Manitou (tie) Both courses are creations of Toronto designer Thomas McBroom. While there are similarities between the two, including their Muskoka location, the courses demonstrate McBroom's ability to create distinct, fascinating golf experiences. Oviinbyrd, created by former Waterloo tech executive Peter Schwartz, is sporty and strategic, while Manitou is majestic and beautiful. Both are outstanding golf courses. It's a shame that Oviinbyrd and Manitou's private nature means a majority of Canadian golfers will never get to see them.

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