Had a chance to speak with both Mark O’Meara and Nick Price for a feature I wrote on Saturday for the Post. Interesting comments from Price that are included in the piece below. He largely says the game has not been enjoyable for him for some time due to the length of courses. And he’s been pretty outspoken on the issue — blaming the USGA for failing to reign in the ball.
Oldies but goodies: Nick Price and Mark O’Meara both have fond memories of the Canadian Open as they wrap up their PGA Tour days
By Robert Thompson
ANCASTER, Ont. – On Sunday, Nick Price and Mark O’Meara will walk up their final fairway in a Canadian Open. In many ways it will be a passing of the guard, as two of golf’s most successful players over the past 20 years turn 50 and cease playing regularly on the PGA Tour. Both have had stellar careers. O’Meara has 16 PGA Tour wins, including the British Open and the Masters, as well as eight international victories. Price won 18 times on the PGA Tour, including a PGA Championship and a British Open, as well an additional 24 wins on the international scene.
Both golfers also have a lengthy history of success in Canada, including Canadian Open wins in consecutive years. Price won the title in 1994, while O’Meara took the championship a year later.
The pair are also linked this week, given their history and success at Canada’s national golf tournament.
For Price, the Canadian Open was a starting point for his success in North America. Then 26, Price received an invite to the tournament in 1982 after having a successful week at the British Open. It is something he has never forgotten.
“I have come to play regularly, except for the last few years because my kids go to school this week,” Price said. “I’ve had a lot of success here and it kind of gave me my start.”
It also contributed to one of Price’s favourite golf memories, when he hit a majestic 2-iron stiff on the 16th hole at Glen Abbey 1994 en route to claiming the championship.
“That shot is in my top three or four of all-time,” Price said yesterday following his round.
The Canadian Open is also held in high regard by O’Meara.
“It is a national championship and to me, this is one tournament I hold in really high regard,” he said. “I’m glad to see this event moving around. I wasn’t a huge fan of Glen Abbey even though I won here. But the golf course this week is great and Shaughnessy last year was great.”
Admittedly, neither Price nor O’Meara have played well in recent years. Heading into the Canadian Open, O’Meara had made only five of 15 cuts, while Price had played in the weekend of five of 12. Yesterday, O’Meara shot a tidy 1-under-par round of 69 to finish within the cut line at 2-under-par. And though he wasn’t as sharp as on Thursday when he shot 68, Price sat at even par and made it to the weekend.
Unfortunately, in a professional golf world increasingly dominated by players who hit their tee shots remarkable distances, shot makers like O’Meara and Price have quickly become relics of a bygone era.
“It has been very tough for me to be competitive out here in the last few years,” Price said. “I’ve been very vocal about this. The way the game is going — especially the USGA and Augusta — and the way it is focusing on length, they are keeping a lot of players from being able to win major championships.”
O’Meara has had difficulty transitioning his game from practice on to the course.
“I practice at home and I hit the ball good, and then I come out here and I see signs of life at times,” he said. “But I have just not played well. And if you don’t do something well, it is hard to say, ‘Man, that was a lot of fun.’ I just haven’t enjoyed it.”
O’Meara and Price are now pondering playing on the Champions Tour. O’Meara says he is financially secure (he sits on the Top 50 all-time PGA Tour money list) and doesn’t need to play. He’ll only head out if his game is solid and the urge to compete remains.
“If I enjoy myself and can win out there, I’ll compete,” O’Meara said. But if I can’t compete and win, I’ll just step aside and retire.”
Price also plans to play, largely because he’s looking forward to returning to some shorter, more manageable golf courses.
“I’m tired of playing 7,600 yard golf courses,” he said. “I’m sick of that. Golf has never been exclusively about length, but that seems like the emphasis now.”
But both golfers have different takes on why the game has changed so much in recent years. O’Meara credits it partially to equipment, but also points out that most players are far more physically fit than they were two decades ago. But Price isn’t buying that explanation.
“If you looked at Greg Norman when he was 32-years-old, he was as strong as an Olympic athlete,” Price says. “So was Faldo. I think it is a slight on them to say the current guys simply work out and that’s why they hit the ball further.”
Given his nearly three decades of professional experience, Price says he knows the solution to the distance problem.
“Simply change the equipment,” he says. “I don’t care what the average Joe plays. In fact, let him play equipment that helps his game. Can you imagine what would happen in baseball if they gave Barry Bonds a titanium baseball bat? The pitchers would go berserk. But that’s what we did in golf.”