In what clearly has become a trend, a PGA Tour event once again rewarded a player who has fought adversity. Since the beginning of June, Tour winners have included Tom Watson (wins after nine years), Steve Jones (comes back from a career-threatening injury to win the U.S. Open), John Cook (recovers from burnout after a pep talk from Ken Venturi), D.A. Weibring (overcomes Bell's palsy), Willie Wood (loses his wife to cancer) and Clarence Rose (takes care of his gravely ill son). To that list you can add Dudley Hart, who on Sunday won the rain-shortened Canadian Open.
Hart, making only his ninth start of the season after a six-month layoff due to a wrist injury, kept a cool head despite a few wayward shots during a final-round 70 at Glen Abbey in suburban Toronto. Staying in control was almost as significant as winning to the man known as Baby Volcano. If Hart was Dudley Do-Right on Sunday—and few headline writers resisted the reference to the fictional Canadian Mountie of cartoon fame—then the Snidely Whiplash he vanquished was his own Vesuvian self. But Snidely always resurfaces for the next episode, and Hart admits that by next week he could well forget the lessons in patience that helped him win for the first time in his five-year Tour career. "No one ever accused me of being smart or learning fast," he said after his 14-under-par 202 (the event was reduced to 54 holes when Saturday's round was washed out by remnants of Hurricane Fran) left him one stroke clear of David Duval.
Club snapping has deep roots in Hart, who destroyed a driver just two weeks ago in Milwaukee. His father, Chuck, a golf pro, used to expel Hart from the course and confiscate his clubs for such behavior—until the day Hart figured out a way to exercise his knee with impunity. When his father wasn't looking, Hart would sneak into the pro shop and reshaft his broken clubs himself. Years later Chuck informed his son that, owing to Dudley's ignorance of flex and other differences in shaft specifications, no shaft in his bag matched any other, which was a dead giveaway of his attempted deception.
Hart arrived at Glen Abbey, only an hour and a half from his hometown of Buffalo, with an urgent need to keep his temper in check and play well. Finishing 148th on the money list in 1995, Hart was only partially exempt this year and in danger of losing his Tour card. He had hoped that the injury to the ligaments in his right wrist—his club struck a tree root during the 1995 Greater Hartford Open—that required surgery in December and kept him from striking a ball for 16 weeks would qualify him for a medical exemption for 1997. Wrong. Hart had to get his game tournament-ready in a hurry because the Tour has toughened the requirements for medical exemptions. Under the new rules, only players who have averaged in the top 100 on the money list over the last five years are eligible. Hart's average was 102. "It was an extra incentive," he said of the rejection letter he received from the Tour.
Now he doesn't have to worry. The winner's check of $270,000 will do wonders for Hart's five-year average. More important, the victory carries a two-year exemption. "It only takes one week; this is proof of that," said Hart, who also became the 10th first-time winner on Tour this season. "You just have to give yourself a chance to play well."
That message should reassure the contingent of five International team players who used the Canadian Open as a final tune-up for this week's Presidents Cup. Only three made it to the weekend. An ailing Nick Price (sinus infection) withdrew after an opening 74, and David Frost missed his fifth cut in a row. Vijay Singh finished 15th, Ernie Els 20th and Frank Nobilo 34th.
Six U.S. team members also played in Canada, with better results. Duval's second-place finish topped the group that included Tom Lehman (tied for 7th), Mark O'Meara (20th), Corey Pavin (26th), Mark Brooks (26th) and Justin Leonard (65th). Lehman's 68 on Sunday equaled Tiger Woods's score as the best round of the day.
Duval's performance, particularly, was sweet vindication. He took a lot of heat for playing a spotty schedule this summer—he doesn't like to play in extremely hot weather—and for staying home during the week the Presidents Cup teams were finalized. (The first 10 players came off a points list and two others were captain's picks.) "I knew I'd probably fall out of the top 10," said Duval, who was ninth at the start of that week and wound up 11th in the standings, "but we'd been led to believe from the start of the year that the top 12 players would be on the team. I understand that [captain] Arnold Palmer even wondered whether to take my not playing as a lack of desire to make the team, which was not the case. I had some personal problems, and maybe people would have been less brutal to me had they known that."
Duval's finish was final proof that the U.S. team is in top form. With the exception of O'Meara, every player on the American side has had at least one top-10 finish since the British Open, and even O'Meara says he is playing well. His 65 in the second round at Glen Abbey proves it. Lehman spent some time last week totting up the assets of the U.S. team and reported that it has 17 wins on Tour this year, including two majors and the Players Championship. He came to the conclusion that, on paper, this group is superior to the Ryder Cup team he was part of last year. "The better players on our Tour are getting even better and actually widening the gap between the top players and the average players," Lehman said.
Els agreed that the U.S. will be a formidable opponent this week at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Lake Manassas, Va. "We have an uphill battle," he said. "The U.S. team is very experienced. All of our boys will have to play really well to beat them. I am a bit concerned about Nick Price, who hasn't been healthy all year, and I think his play has shown that. And Greg Norman has been struggling with his back. But I'd rather have those two, even not so healthy, than any other two players we could get."