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As the latest RBC Canadian Open showed, national championships are golf’s real signature events – SCOREGolf

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It is still sometimes said that the Canadian Open was once golf’s fifth major. That was never true, but it was a big tournament for many years, and it was always an important event to golfers who knew — really knew — it was a national open and more significant than a regular PGA Tour event for that reason.

The RBC Canadian Open that just concluded at the estimable Hamilton Golf and Country Club provided plenty of evidence that the championship has meaning beyond the weekly run of PGA Tour events, even so-called “signature” events with their bloated purses and limited fields. The Canadian Open started in 1904 and is still with us. That’s something in and of itself, given the way the PGA Tour has bounced it around the schedule, not to mention the changing and distressing landscape of pro golf. Need I even mention LIV?

To Robert MacIntyre, then, the determined 27-year-old from Oban in Scotland who won the championship with his dad Dougie caddying for him — for the first time on tour and perhaps the last time, by choice. It’s a strenuous and stressful job. Here is MacIntyre shortly after he holed a two-foot par putt on the final green to win in Hamilton by a shot over Ben Griffin, a fine young player in his own right, and by three shots over 2019 and 2022 champion Rory McIlroy.

“I think national opens are huge for professional golf or any kind of golf,” MacIntyre said during his post-round media conference. “I feel like national opens are elevated because it is national … I think it just raises the profile of the event, and the crowds come out and support it and, I mean, out there this week, it was incredible.”

It’s understandable that Canadian golfers would feel similarly about their national championship. Hence the coast-to-coast-to-coast rousing applause that Canadians gave Nick Taylor when he sent folks into a frenzy by holing his instantly famous 72-foot winning putt a year ago to defeat Tommy Fleetwood in a playoff. That applause has lasted 12 months and will go on.

Along the same lines, it’s not surprising that Mackenzie Hughes, the local boy from Dundas, Ont., who has won twice on the PGA Tour and is one of the game’s most thoughtful players, said he was “pretty gutted” after he came up short in Hamilton. Hughes made three straight birdies early in the final round and was briefly tied for the lead. But golf is golf and, as he said, he didn’t feel like he had his “stuff” the rest of the round. “Pretty bummed,” he said. Of course he was. This was his national championship. He finished T7, six shots behind MacIntyre.

One would expect Canadian golfers to care deeply about their national championship. But I don’t mind admitting I also care that golfers from beyond our borders feel the Canadian Open matters, that it stands apart, and proudly so. Golf has always been a global game. To win a national championship is a big, big deal, or should be.

This is the case for the major amateur events as well. I think of Marlene Streit’s win in the 1953 British Ladies Amateur and the 1956 U.S. Women’s Amateur and the 1963 Australian Women’s Amateur. I’ve seen Marlene a couple of times this spring. She turned 90 in March. I have such respect and admiration for her. How can you not love Marlene Streit?

She was 19 when she won the British Ladies Amateur at Royal Porthcawl in Wales. Toronto declared August 18, 1953, Marlene Stewart Streit Day. Fifteen thousand people attended a motorcade and parade to honour her victory. A civic reception attended by Mayor Allan Lamport attended, as did provincial premier Leslie Frost.

As MacIntyre said at Hamilton, national championships are “huge for professional golf or any kind of golf.”

So true.

And here’s McIlroy, the global star from Northern Ireland who has won an Open Championship, a U.S. Open and two PGA Championships. He’ll be one of the top favourites at next week’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. Last year, he beat MacIntyre by a shot at the Scottish Open. MacIntyre dearly wanted to win his own national open, having closed with a 64. Perhaps another time.

Of the Canadian Open, now well older than a century, McIlroy said after his round Sunday, “I think history and tradition and legacy are a really big part of the game of golf. This is one of the oldest championships in the world, as is, you know, the Scottish Open … Yeah, the Opens definitely mean something else.”

McIroy added, “It’s a pleasure to come up here and play every year, and I’m going to keep doing that until they tell me I can’t come over the border.” That’s a tune Golf Canada, RBC and golf-watchers across the country are pleased to hear.

Allow me to quote one more player, three-time major champion Nick Price, speaking about the Canadian Open. This is after he shot 66 in the final round of the 1991 championship at the Glen Abbey Golf Club to win by a shot over David Edwards.

Price, from Zimbabwe, said, “This is very, very special to me. To win a national championship of this stature is so important to me. This will give me a lot more confidence than I’ve had before — ever.”

Price went on to win the 1992 and 1994 PGA Championships and the 1994 Open Championship. He won the Canadian Open again in 1994 and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2003. It’s fair to claim his 1991 Canadian Open win was a launching pad for him. Perhaps it will do the same for MacIntyre. His triumph at Hamilton was his first PGA Tour victory. He’s won twice on the DP World Tour, one the Italian Open.

Now, given the chaos in the pro golf world, who knows how or where the Canadian Open will settle in the landscape? I hope it last another 100 and more years.

Meanwhile, it’s encouraging to know the degree to which golfers such as MacIntyre and McIlroy value this, and other, national championships. They’re special. They just are.

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