Some may have predicted that most of the game’s top names would not appear; few that Jack Nicklaus would fail to qualify for the last two days; most that someone would challenge the leader even if only one in the hunt had ever won a tournament; everyone that the wind would blow; and no one that the eventual winner, even after three consecutive rounds of three under par, would not expect a victory. But last week’s Peter Jackson Canadian Open quickly became a series of unexpected happenings. After accepting a cheque for $76,500 and an Inuit carving, Bruce Lietzke joked, “I still don’t expect to win this tournament.”
Throughout the week, the 31-year-old from Oklahoma spoke of avoiding “negativism” or “getting too high or too low”, subjects also on the minds of the Open’s promotors and patrons. Often, in its 73-year history, the Open has been considered the fifth most prestigious golf event—behind the U.S. and British Opens, the Masters and the PGA. But this one attracted the weakest field in 10 years. And the wind did not blow at the Glen Abbey course in Oakville, Ont., rendering Lietzke’s seven-under-par finish an Abbey Open record.
As the field teed off early Sunday morning, to accommodate CBS’s 5 p.m. telecast of a stock car race, the large gallery could be forgiven for lacking breathless anticipation. Lietzke’s brilliant first three rounds left him at nine under par and two shots ahead of Tommy Valentine, a 36-year-old veteran and non-winner, and four ahead of rookie Hal Sutton, albeit a fine young player who won the 1980 U.S. Amateur. In the pack were the likes of Vance Heafner, Pat Lindsey, Mike Nicolette and Andy Bean, who at least was a seven-time winner. “There’s an awful lot of talent out there,” Lietzke volunteered before the final round. “They just don’t have the names like Stadler, Watson or Pate.” Neither did they have the charisma, nor the charge.
As often as Lietzke said that he did not expect to win the Open, he repeated that he didn’t have a “killer instinct.” “Any goals I have set have been minor ones,” said the nine-time winner, who is now 18th on the all-time money list with $1,328,142. “I wanted to win a tournament coming from behind—I did that last year. I wanted to win one with a spectacular shot on the last hole—I did that two years ago. And I’ve always
wanted to win one going away, to walk down the final hole with a fouror fiveshot lead and a genuine smile on my face.” Despite glorious chances to walk away, the smile would not come until the 72nd hole.
On a muggy Sunday Lietzke went as low as 10 under, fell back to nine, and headed for the last nine holes with a four-shot lead. Valentine was playing steadily at five under, as Sutton, at one point minus six, dropped to minus three. Meanwhile, the 45-year-old veteran, Charles Coody, was quietly finishing up at four under, threatening but eventually tieing for third. Any chance Australian Greg Norman had exploded in a triple bogey on 17.
The tortuous valley holes, 11 through 15, exacted their dues. Lietzke emerged
at minus seven, having lost two to par. Sutton gained one while Valentine bogeyed 15. But at the straightaway 16th there was momentary excitement.
Sutton, with the shortest drive, played his second shot first, hitting a seemingly perfect seven iron half a metre from the cup. A birdie would put him two back with two to play. Up the fairway, however, Lietzke stood briefly over an eight iron and then calmly parked it inside Sutton’s ball. Both birdied, leaving the lead at three.
Again at 17, murmers ran through the gallery, “If it was Watson, if it was Stadler.” Lietzke left his drive dangerously right and hit his second into the fringe on the lower level of the twotiered green. He then chipped past the cup and bogeyed. “It put a new light on
it,” Sutton said later. “I had a 12-footer for birdie.” But the potential two-stroke swing evaporated as Sutton left the putt right of the hole, picking up but one.
The 18th at the Abbey, a 500-m par five, is too short for the pros with the slightest of trailing winds. Eagles lurk. With Lietzke leaving his drive in a fairway bunker and having to play up short, Sutton stared at the pin tucked near the water’s edge and back at his six iron. The “new light” flickered again, briefly. From short rough, his ball sailed into the sand trap left of the green. Lietzke placed his third shot within two-putt distance. Sutton, after contemplating “a ridge behind my ball,” came out of the trap past the hole. Lietzke putted first and missed, but then Sutton missed too. Faint hopes for a birdie-bogey swing were gone, and the tournament was over.
The Glen Abbey course has never been popular with many of the touring pros, and they have not hesitated to criticize the Nicklaus-designed layout. Its demand for great length off the tee and high, long, left-to-right iron play is best suited, some have said, to the game of its designer when he was golf’s dominating force. Not without reason, as the tournament approached last week, did the list of withdrawals read like the game’s who’s who—U.S. and British Open champ Tom Watson, Craig Stadler, Ray Floyd, Jerry Pate—four of the top five money winners this year. By the time the first ball was struck with purpose, eight of the top dozen money players were out. It quickly became the no-name Open. First-day galleryites were reduced to asking strangers, “Who the heck are Pancratz, Calcavecchia and Trivisonno?”
The no-shows filed their excuses, but the unspoken reason and the fact that the PGA is this week could not be discounted. The Open was left with only one truly charismatic figure, Nicklaus. He attracted the one large gallery on the first day, and as he toured his course he studied the greens for their condition as much as for his putts.
Glen Abbey’s greens suffered a blight last year, Ontario’s heavy June rainfall this year and have not fully recovered. “They were scary,” said Sutton, after his final round. “Anything slightly mishit would go past the hole by six feet.” After watching birdie putts careen past the cups at the 17th and 18th, on Friday U.S. pro Johnny Miller turned to Lietzke and said, “If I had to putt greens like this every week, I’d quit the tour.” Just getting to the greens posed horrific problems for Nicklaus.
On the opening day at number 2, he hit an open-approach shot fat, 20 m short of the green. At 13, he lofted an easy wedge left of the green into the grass bunker. At 14, he put his second
shot into the right rough. He then left a 10-m chip three metres short of the green. Quickly at four over par, Nicklaus ran off three straight birdies. “This will change things,” he told his caddy, son Jack Jr. But it didn’t. On the second day, he put his approach to nine at the water’s edge and had to don rain gear to play up. He missed a five-metre putt on 18, and the cut, by one stroke, to end an inglorious week.
As if offering a salve to the paying customers, the pins were placed in their most attractive settings for the opening round. It worked. Fifty-nine of the field finished at par or better, elevating a cluster of players from anonymity, however briefly. One was Nicklaus’ playing partner Brad Bryant. The likeable non-winner from Florida qualified on Monday as the ninth alternate. He phoned his caddy and told him to stay home and went fishing on the eve of the
tournament. But the spate of withdrawals moved his name up the list. When Bryant returned after midnight, he found a note on the door telling him that he was to tee off with Nicklaus at 8:30 a.m. He responded with a brilliantly scrambled four-under 67. He followed up with a four-over 75 to make it into the weekend’s play, and little else.
Before the second round Nicklaus declared, “The course will never play that easy again.” But Lietzke carded his second 68, as did Sutton, while Norman carelessly threw away strokes in the water and sand at 18 to make the turn at four under. With 23 players under par, the cut came at an astonishingly low 145, three over par. Six Canadians made it, including Erin Fostey, who
paired the unlikely scores of 76 and 68, and, at two under, Dave Barr. “This is the first time I’ve made the cut at Glen Abbey,” said the Kelowna, B.C., native, winner of last year’s Quad Cities Open. “I’m not fond of this course, so making the cut is quite an accomplishment.” Among those failing to accomplish even that were Tom Kite, missing the cut for the first time in 54 tournaments; 21-time winner Gary Player; and twotime Canadian Open champion Lee Trevino, who had to withdraw after nine holes due to his chronic back ailment. While Jerry Anderson, a 26-year-old from Scarborough, Ont., who plays the Asian and European tours, shot very well and finished at even par, the rest of the near-record Canadian contingent soared to mediocrity. Dan Halldorson finished at two over, Barr at six, Jim Nelford and Fostey at plus 11, and Jim Rutledge at 12 over.
Nationalists and those who bought % weekly passes well in advance could 5 take solace in $1 pops and $2 beers, | while back of the 18th hole Sutton said § he was “proud to be here” in second place. And Lietzke, after taking his second Canadian Open at the Abbey and admitting that the course perfectly suited his left-to-right game, quickly allowed that the thoughts running through his mind over the final 18 were oddly enough “about retirement. Golf is an incredibly cruel game. At one time I really liked the pressure, but it doesn’t thrill me as much as it used to.” Asked about his future and if he had ever held a job, the new champion replied: “I was a security guard at an oil refinery for six months. I had a bullet in one drawer and a gun in the other. And I didn’t have a key to either.” It was that kind of Open, too. tty
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