HAMILTON, ONTARIO | For 65 years, Pat Fletcher’s Canadian Open victory has loomed over every Canadian golfer to crack the PGA Tour. Fletcher was the last Canadian to win the national championship, and like Groundhog Day, Canadian pros face the same question every year: When will a native player end the drought and win the RBC Canadian Open?
Mike Weir faced questions about it every year during his prime, and now the next generation of Canadian pros, players like Mackenzie Hughes, Adam Hadwin and Corey Conners, are under the same scrutiny. After all, an entire country is watching and hoping.
But most of today’s Canadian PGA Tour pros weren’t even born when Fletcher – a famed pro at clubs like Royal Montreal and Saskatoon Golf and Country Club – died in 1985. And the pressure to somehow set another high-water mark in Canadian golf seems to be declining with every passing year.
“I come to this tournament thinking I want to be in contention and I want to win,” said Hughes, who won the RSM Classic in his rookie season on the PGA Tour. “I don’t think about some big burden that is hanging over me. It is what it is and at some point it’ll end, but there’s not much we can do thinking about it.”
The influx of Canadians playing in the tournament has something to do with the diminished pressure, said Mike Gligic, a Canadian from nearby Cambridge, Ont., who won earlier this year on the Web.com Tour. Only a decade ago the focus was firmly on Weir, Canada’s superstar. Now there are a number of Canadians expected to be in the mix. Weir, Hughes, Hadwin, Conners and Nick Taylor have won on the PGA Tour. Others, like Roger Sloan and David Hearn, have come close.
“There’s more than 20 Canadians in the field this week,” said Gligic, warming up for a Golf Canada fundraiser to kick off the tournament. “And there’s a lot of players having great years. The odds suggest someone should be in the mix on Sunday. That shows the growth of Canadian golf.”
Allan Fletcher has had a front-row seat to view his father’s connection to Canada’s only PGA Tour event. Fletcher, from Montreal, attended the Canadian Open for 57 consecutive years but won’t make it to the tournament this year. He’ll pay attention, of course, but he will not travel to Hamilton Golf and Country Club, about an hour west of Toronto, to watch Canada’s latest stars make a run at his father’s legend.
“For all these years I’ve gone to the Canadian Open and listened as the discussion revolved around who would dethrone Pat Fletcher,” Allan said. “I think the problem is we put a lot of extra pressure on our golfers when they play in Canada. The whole country is watching.”
“What the Canadian Open did for him was elevate him above any other professional for a period of time. We were living in Saskatoon, and after he won he was always on an airplane speaking at some function, somewhere.” – Allan Fletcher, on his father, Pat Fletcher
It was a very different era in professional golf when Fletcher ventured to Point Grey Golf and Country Club in Vancouver to contest the 1954 Canadian Open. At the time, Fletcher was working as a club pro in Saskatchewan, traveling to warmer climates in the offseason to compete in professional tournaments. He wasn’t some youngster new to the game; Fletcher had competed in pro tournaments for nearly 20 years when he arrived in Vancouver. He was successful by the standards of the time, winning provincial titles and the Canadian PGA Championship in 1952, and finishing as low Canadian at the Canadian Open a year later. He was 38 when he arrived in Vancouver in July 1954, with a family and a good job as a head professional.
Fletcher shot 4-under par to win at Point Grey, earning $3,000 for his trouble. A Canadian had not won the national championship since Karl Keffer in 1914. But the victory did much more than simply pad Fletcher’s bank account. It made him a domestic sports celebrity, and placed him at the top of his profession in Canada.
“What the Canadian Open did for him was elevate him above any other professional for a period of time,” Allan Fletcher said. “We were living in Saskatoon, and after he won he was always on an airplane speaking at some function, somewhere.”
The victory also changed Fletcher’s career; in 1955, Royal Montreal (“Unquestionably the best club in Canada at the time,” Allan said) called and offered Fletcher a job as head pro. He’d be there until he retired in 1975, and as his role at Royal Montreal increased, his competitive days on the course declined. He’d play in the Canadian Open until the mid-1960s, and by then Allan was old enough to witness the interest in his father’s victory firsthand. Many of Canada’s best players contended in that period – George Knudson, Al Balding, Moe Norman and Fletcher’s close friend, Stan Leonard. Pat Fletcher later would attend as an ambassador for Imperial Tobacco, play in the pro-am and watch the tournament. But no Canadian could match his achievement.
“It was always a hot topic,” Allan Fletcher says.
In the past two decades, some Canadian pros have come close. Weir famously lost in a playoff to Vijay Singh in 2004 and Hadwin almost pulled it off in 2011, when he didn’t even have status on the PGA Tour. Since then Hearn and Jared du Toit have fallen unfortunately short on Sunday.
As another Canadian runs up the leaderboard, only to fail to hoist the trophy, the spectre of the “curse of Pat Fletcher,” as Saskatchewan’s Graham DeLaet characterized it, persists.
Winning in Canada is like catching lightning in a bottle, Weir has said repeatedly since losing to Singh. Allan Fletcher sympathizes.
“It is a lot tougher than people realize,” he said. “The pressure to perform in front of friends and family is significant. The American players come up and they don’t know a soul. They are just focused on winning.”
Regardless, Allan has stopped going to the Canadian Open in the hope of seeing it happen. He’s resigned that it could happen any summer – or it could take decades longer.
“I hope a Canadian wins, but I just don’t know,” he says. “It has been an awfully long time.”
A long time indeed.
Little did Pat Fletcher, shown here hitting balls, know when he won in 1954 that several decades would pass without another Canadian winning the Canadian Open. Photo: Courtesy Canadian Golf Hall of Fame Archives
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