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Richmond Hill’s Taylor Pendrith teed up for Canadian Open win

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The Canadian Open, which has been adversely affected by the fissure created by LIV Golf, starts Thursday at Hamilton Golf and Country Club

The Canadian Open starts Thursday at Hamilton Golf and Country Club just outside the city of the same name. 

The 90-minute drive to get there is the longest journey local golf fans will have to travel to see the annual PGA Tour event since 2019 after the national championship was held at St. George’s and Oakdale in Toronto the past two years.

The 2020 and 2021 Canadian Open were both cancelled due to the pandemic.

Last year’s tournament was made famous by Canadian Nick Taylor breaking an almost seven-decade hex when he beat Englishman Tommy Fleetwood by jarring a long-bomb putt in a playoff on Oakdale’s 18th green.

As the crow flies, the Canadian Open will move the closest it has ever been to the Barrie/Simcoe County area next year after last week’s announcement that the tournament will be hosted by TPC Toronto.

Despite the name, TPC Toronto is located far outside the big city, in Caledon. TPC Toronto is still known colloquially as Osprey Valley, after it joined the PGA Tour-owned TPC network in 2018. The property has been completely overhauled, including a new clubhouse and massive practice area. The North course, which reopened about a month ago and is accessible to public play, has been stretched to almost 7,500 yards.

Two other courses, Heathlands and Hoot, are located on the 54-hole property.

The new North setup will play host to PGA Tour pros next season. Moving forward, the wider TPC Toronto property will be the home base for much of the Canadian golf industry in a comparable manner to how Glen Abbey in Oakville was for more than a quarter of a century. That Jack Nicklaus-designed course was once effectively the permanent home of the Canadian Open but has not hosted the tournament since Dustin Johnson won in 2018.

A year after Johnson’s victory, Rory McIlroy blitzed the field at Hamilton, the last time it was held at the course that is one of the finest in Canada. Hamilton also had to be renovated and will be hosting the pros for the first time since those changes.

McIlroy, Taylor and Fleetwood headline this year’s field. A total of 25 Canadians are slated to take part, with a qualifier set to award four more spots on Monday.

Drew Nesbitt, who grew up in Horseshoe Valley, qualified for last year’s tournament at Oakdale but missed the cut. Nesbitt, who also played at Hamilton in 2019, is set to give it another go to qualify on Monday. His results internationally have tailed off in recent years, but his career includes winning the 2019 Mexican Open and becoming one of select few players to break 60 at a sanctioned event when he carded a 59 at another tournament in Mexico a year earlier.

The strongest local connection to this year’s tournament may come from the men who carry players’ bags. Dave Markle, who grew up in Shelburne, helped Taylor win last year and was widely photographed, often in his trademark bucket hat, in the wild aftermath of the landmark victory.

Former Barrie Colt Mitchell Theoret was on the bag when Richmond Hill’s Taylor Pendrith won his first PGA Tour title three weeks ago. Theoret, a member of the last Colts team to play in the OHL final in 2013, and Pendrith have been together since the long bomber joined the PGA Tour.

Pendrith and other leading Canadian players are all looking to qualify for the international team at this year’s Presidents Cup at Royal Montreal in September.

Pendrith and Listowel’s Corey Conners were on the international team two years ago in Charlotte, N.C. Mackenzie Hughes, of Dundas, and British Columbia golfers Taylor, Adam Hadwin and Adam Svensson are also in the mix to make the side that will be captained by Mike Weir, Canada’s lone men’s professional major winner, who grew up near Sarnia.

Like the wider men’s professional golf landscape, the Canadian Open has been adversely affected by the fissure created by LIV Golf. Two years ago at St. George’s, McIlory successfully defended his title while LIV Golf was holding its inaugural event in London, England. That development led to numerous high-profile players withdrawing from the Canadian Open, highlighted by Johnson. Another, North Bay-born Jason Kokrak, failed to turn in his scorecard after his round on Friday because he was well outside the cutline and knew he was about to join LIV.

Last year at Oakdale, PGA Tour leadership dropped a bombshell on Tuesday of tournament week by announcing it had entered a “framework agreement” with the Saudi-financed upstart league. Talks continue to drag on and previous deadlines have twice been missed, but a finalized agreement has yet to be reached, with LIV now embarking on its third season.

The PGA Tour continues to play with almost two dozen golfers, about half of whom have won major championships, no longer eligible to play in tournaments such as the Canadian Open because they were suspended for joining the rebel circuit.

Weir and the PGA Tour have said international players currently competing on LIV will not be eligible for the international team in Montreal. That position, in turn, has created more potential openings for Canadian players to make the squad than the previous high of two — Conners and Pendrith — in Charlotte.

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