Lee Trevino appreciates Canadian Open, wants Canadians to follow suit

Lee Trevino, left. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

OAKVILLE, Ont. — One of the greatest golfers in history wants to remind Canadians of a little something: “You have the third-oldest golf tournament in existence.”

Lee Trevino — a three-time winner of the Canadian Open, himself — makes a good point.

On Tuesday, the 78-year-old and owner of six major championship titles, served as a special guest at an RBC Hall of Fame Ceremony, part of the festivities ahead of this country’s national open, which starts in earnest on Thursday at Glen Abbey GC. It’ll be the 109th edition of the tournament.

Trevino has been hit by lightning, served as a machine gunner in the U.S. Marines, won 29 times on the PGA Tour, and is one of the most quotable and funny athletes in history. Could you find a bigger character in golf to help drive interest in the Canadian Open? Perhaps not.

“Being Mexican,” Trevino said, he worried he wouldn’t make it to Canada from his home, in Texas. “I left a week early to make sure I was here,” he said, drawing a laugh from the crowd, which also saw the official Canadian Golf Hall of Fame inductions of former LPGA Tour player Gail Graham, and the late A.V. Macan, a golf course architect.

Trevino talked about the changes in the game that “haven’t helped with your 18 handicap” but have greatly helped players on tour (because they’re more powerful, and taller than you are). He zeroed in on how often the courses get mowed these days versus back in his day, when it was just once a week. He fired some pucks into a hockey net on the seventh hole, which is known as The Rink (it’s surrounded by hockey boards and attended to by officiants wearing referee stripes.) He weighed in on belly putters (not a fan) and confidence (the most important factor in golf, he says).

And, Trevino gave a lesson:

He clearly still has game.

The Canadian Open has no doubt waned since the last time Trevino won it, back in 1979. Now held just a week after the Open Championship, and late on the PGA Tour’s calendar, the tournament has had trouble attracting star talent like it once did, as recently as 2001, when Tiger Woods was here (and won, on this very course).

But not only does this year’s field appear to be the strongest in recent history — stars teeing it up this week include world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, four-time European Tour winner Tommy Fleetwood, big-hitting lefty Bubba Watson, and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia — the tournament next year will move to an earlier date on the PGA Tour’s calendar, a week before the U.S. Open.

The belief is the Canadian Open will draw even more top-end players next year, when it’s held June 3-9 at Hamilton G&CC. The reason for the change in course is because ClubLink, the owners of Glen Abbey, have proposed development for the site, and if it goes through, the course will be bulldozed.

Trevino, who won this tournament twice on this track, says he would be sad to see Glen Abbey go, but he also understands the business side of ClubLink’s decision.

“I can remember every hole on this golf course — I remember the ninth hole was a very difficult hole for us short hitters, ‘cause I had to hit three wood there,” Trevino said. “I’m never in favour of developing any golf course, regardless of what it is or who it affects. You have to understand, the gentleman that owns this, you gotta have a little bit of thought about what he’s thinking. I don’t know of any golf course that I have ever seen, with the exception of Shinnecock [Hills GC in New York] maybe, or Pebble Beach maybe, that are on a piece of property that’s worth $2 million an acre…

“Not a good deal either way. I’d love to see the course stay but you have to understand [the owner’s] part of it, too.”

Whether this week marks the last hurrah for the Canadian Open at Glen Abbey or not, what’s certain in Trevino’s mind is the importance of the event.

“Any time you can win a country’s open, it’s a feather in your hat,” he said. “I don’t care where it’s at, if it’s the open of that country, that means every player in that country tried to qualify to get into that tournament, so the competition’s stiff.”

It’s stiffer than we’ve seen for quite some time at the Canadian Open. And, don’t forget — only the Open Championship and the U.S. Open have been around longer.

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