He has seen alpaca cardigans unbuttoned and cashmere V-necks pulled over. He has seen Arnie’s Army give way to Lee’s Fleas and everybody stand aside for Jack’s Pack. But, week after week, year after year, for the better part of 20 years, Toronto’s George Knudson has been a man without a countryman: the only Canadian consistently on the U.S. Professional Golf Association tour. Poor lonesome George.
But suddenly, this year, Knudson has some company. And it isn’t the usual one guy dropping in with a return ticket tucked into his double-knits; it’s three guys—Jim Nelford, 23, of Vancouver, Dan Halldorson, 26, of Brandon, Manitoba, and Dave Barr, 27, of Kelowna, B.C.—each with no intention of going home except for a brief visit for the
Canadian Open in Oakville, Ontario, in June. What’s more, each of the young pros has indicated he has the potential to do something no Canadian other than Knudson has done in the PGA’s modern era—win.
During the first week in February, Nelford went to the final hole challenging the leaders in the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach, California. Had he birdied that hole, he would have tied for the lead and gone on to a playoff. He hooked his tee shot into the ocean, finished tied for sixth and collected $10,425.
The next week, in Honolulu, Halldorson was tied for first place after two rounds of the Hawaiian Open. But he, like the rest of the field, watched the
next two days as Hubert Green went on an unstoppable birdie tear to the title and the $54,000 top prize. Halldorson settled for $9,675, tied for seventh.
Barr challenged the following week at the Tucson Open, cracking the top 10 finishers—he tied for ninth—and picking up $7,000.
March and April, which bring the fairway nomads to the southeast U.S., were not as kind to the Canadians as February had been. Leaving California at the end of the short month, Nelford was 32nd on the money list with $17,425, Halldorson 44th with $11,957 and Barr 58th with $9,003. Since then it has been a series of missed putts and missed cuts right through to the Magnolia tournament^ satellite of the Masters. Nelford is now 65th, Halldorson 78th and Barr 92nd in the cheque-cashing department.
But, like a good swing, the game of golf is rhythmical and the trio has happened upon a down-cycle. They’re not discouraged.
“Once you’ve been up there, seen your name on the leader board, you know you belong,” Halldorson says. “And I’ve already made enough money this year to be back next year. That in itself is an improvement.” This is Halldorson’s second crack at the big time. His first year, 1975, was a disaster. He didn’t win any money and got dropped from tour. He felt ostracized because he was a Canadian. Now, he’s not so sure it had anything to do with nationality. “I think we’re still outsiders in some ways. But things have changed quite a bit since we’ve been playing decently.”
And where has Lonesome George been while his young countrymen have been making their mark? Well, ol’ George (he’ll be 42 in June) was home nursing a sore hand, skiing white slopes rather than walking green ones, and planning his post-tour future. He negotiated a deal where he’ll become a fulltime, summertime teacher in Toronto— not at a private club instructing potbellied gentlemen but “in a full immersion course, reaching a great many people.” But that doesn’t mean he’s dropping off the tour. He’ll play in the Canadian Open and join the tour in the spring and fall.
But even if he never makes it back, if he retires with his eight championships (the last in 1972) and $500,000-plus in official earnings, Knudson feels better about the world of golf knowing there are other Canadians around to carry the flag: “For a lot of years, I’ve heard Canadian kids say, ‘What’s the big deal? I could compete on the tour if I wanted to.’ But they never got off their butts. Show me, don’t tell me—and that’s what these three kids are doing.”
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.