Low Canadian recognition of little consolation to Mackenzie Hughes

Mackenzie Hughes, of Canada, hits his tee shot on hole four during the 2017 Canadian Open at the Glen Abbey golf club, in Oakville, Ont., on Friday, July 28, 2017. (Nathan Denette/CP)

OAKVILLE, Ont. — Seconds away from signing his scorecard with a 4-under-par 68, Mackenzie Hughes made his way up the stairs of the scoring trailer at Glen Abbey Golf Club, and the PGA Tour rookie slammed the railing on his way by.

Yes, it was his second-best score of the week. Sure, it was much better than Saturday’s 2-over-par finish. And to boot, it meant—as Hughes would later find out—he was the top Canadian in the field at this country’s national open.

But Hughes had just three-putted for bogey on No. 18, and the kid who grew up a half hour away, in Dundas—the most local of the 17 hometown favourites in the field—wanted to give the fans at the RBC Canadian Open something to cheer about.

“Sour ending,” the 26-year-old Hughes said later, from beneath the brim of a white Ping hat. “[I] wanted to finish with a bang.”

That was no easy task. Hughes began this day 11 shots back of third-round leader Charley Hoffman, and when all was said and done, he finished T32, and 13 strokes behind winner Jhonattan Vegas.

“A little bit tough coming out here today with not a chance to win,” Hughes said. “But I wanted to come out here and finish strong and show some pride and try and be low Canadian.”

That he was. The only other contender for the honour, Graham DeLaet, finished 1 under on the day and with an 8-under total, two strokes back of Hughes, and T48. On No. 18, DeLaet missed a nine-footer for birdie just right, and the crowd reacted with a collective “oooh.”

A couple minutes later, Hughes was presented with the Rivermead Trophy. The presentation happened with very little ceremony, beside the scoring trailer, in the view of almost no fans. Hughes posed dutifully for cameras before handing the cup off to a woman wearing white gloves.

“Consolation prize, I would say,” Hughes said. “I wasn’t really thinking about it today. I just wanted to climb up there as far as I could. It’s a nice honour for sure, and you know, I’m beating a lot of good players that came out of Canada this week.

“I think if you asked Graham or I or David [Hearn], I think we all wanted to win. So being low Canadian is great, but next year I’m coming back for more.”

Mackenzie Hughes watches on the driving range. (Matt Slocum/AP)

He was close to being in the hunt this year, in his third appearance at the Canadian Open. Hughes, who won his first title on Tour at the RSM Classic last November, was two off the lead after the first round. He remained in striking distance through Friday, but it was Saturday—when he carded six bogeys on the same day Robert Garrigus tied the course record at 10 under—that cost him.

He bounced back, Sunday, though. Hughes got off to a strong start, posting an eagle on the par 5, 527-yard No. 2, and he also strung together three straight birdies on the back nine.

“Getting off to a great start is huge,” he said. “I had some chances to get a few more under par early and I didn’t quite make the putts that I would have liked. But again, I’m happy with shooting 4 under, and if I had done it yesterday as well, I would have been right there.”

He had a gallery of some 25 friends and family following him all week, including his wife, Jenna. Hughes loved the cheering section, but also found it was a challenge being the hometown kid.

“I think any time you play a home game it can be—it’s great, and it can also be tough. That expectation and that hope to play well for everybody, and you want to get those crowds going. I let them down yesterday. I let myself down yesterday,” he said. “I don’t think you’d want a home game every week, but having it every now and then is really nice.”

DeLaet also had a strong following Sunday, and fans yelling “Canada loves you, Graham!” despite the fact he didn’t have his best. He called his weekend play “pretty mediocre golf to say the least.” And so Pat Fletcher, back in 1954, remains the last Canadian to win his national open, still.

“We’ll be back again next year and hopefully somebody can get it done,” DeLaet said.

Neither Canadian stuck around to see what golfer did get it done, to see who won the 108th edition of Canada’s national golf championship. DeLaet had to catch a plane, and Hughes jumped in a car to head to a baby shower at his parents’ house. He and Jenna are expecting.

It’s a good distraction, to be sure, and Hughes needed it. He was still thinking about three-putting No. 18.

“I’m probably going to think about that one for a little while,” Hughes said. “I’m steaming about the bogey.”

Low Canadian, he is. Pleased overall with his performance? Not quite. But Hughes will be back next year, right here in his backyard, for another shot at his national open.