David Hearn, of Canada, watches his tee shot on the 17th hole during the first round at the Canadian Open golf tournament at Glen Abbey in Oakville, Ontario, Thursday, July 21, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
OAKVILLE, Ontario (AP) David Hearn signed every hat, flag and ticket handed to him. He took off his sunglasses and put them behind his cap for every photo and asked the name of every young fan as he made his way off the 18th green at Glen Abbey on Wednesday at the Canadian Open pro-am.
The PGA Tour regular from nearby Brantford takes the time because he remembers what it was like to be on the other side of the ropes.
''As a young kid I used to come to Canadian Opens and I remember waiting for a lot of golfers I admired,'' said Hearn, who looked up to Fred Couples, among others. ''I would've been so disappointed if none of them stopped to speak to me.''
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Hearn finished third last year Canadian Open, two strokes behind winner Jason Day and a shot behind Bubba Watson. The Canadian caught fans' attention with a 64 in the second round and had a two-shot lead after a third-round 68.
A 72 and the solid play of Day and Watson in the fourth round put the PGA Tour win just beyond Hearn's reach. Still, he remembers the ovation he got from Canadian fans as he approached the 18th tee.
''At the time I was just in the moment,'' Hearn said. ''But looking back, I hope I inspired some young golfers, some junior players across the country.''
Hearn believes that memorable moments like his near win last year at Glen Abbey or the upcoming Rio Olympics – where he, Graham DeLaet, Brooke Henderson and Alena Sharp will represent Canada – are an opportunity to create new fans.
Mike Weir also is playing this week at Glen Abbey and has seen the impact his Canadian Golf Hall of Fame career has already had on younger players.
''I know Graham DeLaet has talked about it, that I was somewhat of an inspiration for him,'' said Weir, who has eight career PGA Tour wins, including the 2003 Masters. ''I guess when you're going along you just don't think about those kind of things but at the same time, hopefully, some of the younger guys can draw inspiration and know that you can be from a winter country a lot of the year and still make it.''
Hearn, Weir and DeLaet are the three biggest Canadian names playing at the tournament, but they'll be joined by over a dozen other players from across the country: Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor, Adam Cornelson, Corey Conners, Brad Fritsch, Dave Levesque, Branson Ferrier and amateurs Blair Hamilton, Hugo Bernanrd, Garrett Rank and Jared du Toit.
Pat Fletcher, born in England, was the last Canadian winner in 1954 at Point Grey in Vancouver, British Columbia. Carl Keffer is the only Canadian-born champion, winning in 1909 and 1914. Albert Murray, a Canadian also born in England, won in 1908 and 1913.
The top-ranked Day is in the field along with U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson and past champions Brandt Snedeker (2013), Jim Furyk (2006, 2007), Sean O'Hair (2011), Carl Pettersson (2010), Chez Reavie (2008), and Vijay Singh (2004).
Also Wednesday, the PGA Tour, Golf Canada and the Heritage Classic Foundation announced that RBC has signed six-year extensions as title sponsor of the Canadian Open and RBC Heritage, the event held in Hilton Head, South Carolina. The new agreements take effect in 2018 and run through 2023.