5 fun things about 1981 Canadian Open: Vin Scully steals the show

Hall of fame broadcaster Vin Scully (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Jack Nicklaus on the course. Vin Scully on the mic. The 1980s.

Need we say more?

Since this week may be the last time Glen Abbey GC plays host to the Canadian Open, we decided to revisit a memorable edition of the country’s championship at the Oakville, Ont., track.

Glen Abbey is Nicklaus’ first-ever solo design, and while it was intended to be the full-time home of the Canadian Open, the course’s owners announced plans for development last year, meaning this 2018 edition could be a Swan Song.

So, let’s head back to 1981. This was a very different time: the legendary Scully was covering not only baseball but also a fair bit of golf, the Open was a big and important tournament on Tour, and Glen Abbey played tough.

Highlighted by Vin Scully’s call, here are five highlights from the 1981 Canadian Open:

THE GOLDEN BEAR EFFECT

Heading into this tournament, Nicklaus had placed second at the Canadian Open four times but never won it. To say the crowd was pulling for him is a massive understatement, with huge galleries cheering every time his name showed up on the leaderboard.

And you had to figure maybe Nicklaus would win it at the very course he designed, even if he was honest about the conditions at Glen Abbey, where many greens were in rough shape. “It stinks,” he’d said, earlier in the week.

Still, Nicklaus was, as usual, in the hunt. And Scully and the CBS crew captured the drama beautifully.

On 15, Nicklaus sits two strokes back of the lead and needs a birdie to pull within one. As soon as he strikes his putt, you hear that roar from the gallery, and then the sad sigh as his ball stops on the lip of the cup. “Wait for the wind!” one fan yells.

“It needed one more turn,” Scully says, “And the line read perfectly.”

After Nicklaus leaves birdie putts on 16 and 17 short, Scully observes: “Those misses become very expensive.” Indeed.

Nicklaus needs an eagle at 18 to tie clubhouse leader Peter Oosterhuis. His approach shot lands some 20 feet from the hole on No. 18, keeping that chance alive.

“The man with a look at eagle, needs an eagle and he is that close to one,” Scully says. “In all honesty, it’s gonna be a very tough putt, but he’s still alive, much to the delight of the huge crowd at the 18th at Glen Abbey…

“Oh, what a precious moment here in the waning minutes of the 1981 Canadian Open… And now you talk about drama. It is centre stage, and as usual, right in the middle of the spotlight is Jack Nicklaus, he’s maybe 19 feet or thereabouts from the cup, he’s putting for eagle. If it goes in, he’s at -4, he’s caught Peter Oosterhuis. If it doesn’t and if he winds up with a birdie, it is conceivable that for the fifth time in his career he would finish second at the Canadian Open.”

Nicklaus’ putt comes up short, and he taps in for birdie.

In 1981, he was second for the fifth time at the Canadian Open. Nicklaus would never win it, finishing second seven times in all.

OH, CANADA

The narrative around this tournament hasn’t changed in the last 37 years: Pat Fletcher is still the last Canadian to win his national open.

“The Canadian Open does not really have much of a Canadian flavour to it,” Scully points out in the CBS broadcast. “They haven’t had a Canadian win their Open since back in 1954.”

And while no Canadian has yet to end the drought, there are a lot more homegrown touches in other aspects of the tournament today than there were then. Two of the headline sponsors in 1981 were American, in United Airlines and Michelob.

This year, the 7th green will be designed like a hockey rink, the title sponsor is the Royal Bank of Canada, and Toronto-brewed Steam Whistle is the headliner beer. There’s some Canadian flavour for you.

Also, homegrown players like David Hearn, Adam Hadwin and Mackenzie Hughes are just a few of the Canadians in the field who could end that drought at their national open.

FASHION FORWARD

Rickie Fowler would have had some competition for best-dressed had he played around this time, because colourful slacks were aplenty. This was the ’80s, after all.

Tom Kite, who took three weeks of vacation before this tournament, definitely wins for best cool guy look, with his glasses and visor and checkered purple and white pants. He’s basically still on vacation, yet he manages a top-10 finish.

Tom Kite at the 1981 Canadian Open.

You’ll also see purple and yellow slacks in the field, a good many other patterns, and a lot of pastels, which we hear are in these days. Everything old is new again, after all.

CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

The old school graphics are really sweet on this broadcast, and the one that really catches your eyes is the total purse and winner’s share.

Yes, this was 37 years ago, and we know all about inflation and how sports have become big business. Still, check this out:

A breakdown of the total purse at the 1981 Canadian Open.

Peter Oosterhuis took home $76,500 for the win. Last year, Jhonattan Vegas earned $1.08 million (Martin Flores, who finished T19, earned $75,300). The total purse was $425,000 in 1981, and today, it’s $6.2 million.

Told he’d earn $76,500 for the win, Oosterhuis said: “That’s quite something…That’s about four times what I won so far this year,” and then he laughed.

The other big change is the course itself, which has become a lot more forgiving over time. Oosterhuis finished at 4-under for the win, while Vegas carded a four-round score of 21-under in 2017.

THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS FOR SCULLY

Hearing Scully call this tournament, you have to wish the 90-year-old would come out of retirement. While he was known as the longtime voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Scully covered golf in the ’70s and ’80s, and contributed to Masters coverage from 1975-82.

His dulcet tones are perfection, and he’s so quotable. At one point he compares the tournament to an Agatha Christie novel, with just one golfer left to challenge for the win. And Scully has a field day with Oosterhuis, whose last name is pronounced “Ooster-House.”

“Peter Oosterhuis is in the house with a one-stroke lead,” Scully says, later commenting that Oosterhuis is “playing with house money.” Classic.

With a handful of golfers still able to tie it up, with Nicklaus on 18 looking at a shot at eagle, Scully captures it perfectly.

“Well, there comes a time in every great sporting event where if you’re fortunate enough to be there, you thank your lucky stars,” Scully says. “And we have built up to just such a moment.”

And, we can only hope that the 30th and perhaps final edition of the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey provides much of the same.

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