Canuck icon Knudson a big influence
Gary Player has seen one or two players who left indelible footprints on a game in which he has been renowned for the past 50-plus years, so it’s wise to listen to the wisdom of the ages.
“Nobody can compare a man like Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods or Ben Hogan because they all played in different eras and they all played with better equipment than the other person,” the Black Knight said. “You’ve got to compare apples with apples.”
It’s the nature of the beast to declare supremacy, which would likely go to Woods in the minds of those who haven’t spent the last 48 hours in a pub, but Player’s point is a good one. Golf has a rich history with the aforementioned names setting the bar higher for future generations.
Names such as Hogan, Nicklaus and Bobby Jones are still celebrated in the United States, just as George Knudson, Moe Norman, Stan Leonard and Al Balding, many of whom we have lost recently, should remain a big part of the game’s lore in Canada.
Knudson, who would have turned 70 this year, has been gone the longest, but his eight PGA Tour wins before his death in 1989, has been mentioned frequently after Mike Weir’s win at the Fry’s Electronics Open a week ago in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Weir tied Knudson’s record for wins by a Canadian on tour and appears certain to surpass it just as he did with his win at the 2003 Masters — a tournament where Knudson tied for second in 1969.
“George obviously set the benchmark for Canadian male players for number of wins he had on the tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to spend much time around George,” said Weir, adding that his caddie Brennan Little and other friends took clinics with Knudson.
“They told me what a nice man he was and how great he was with the juniors and all the little tidbits of information he passed along. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to get in on all that.”
Knudson’s wife Shirley says she met Weir briefly years ago at a tournament held in her late husband’s honour. Members/guests of Toronto’s Oakdale Golf and Country Club hold a fundraising event each September to help doctors train in the battle against cancer through the George Knudson Fellowship.
Shirley says she pays more attention to the Champions Tour, where several friends still play, but adds she does follow the careers of Weir and other Canadians and is happy that he broke her husband’s record.
“It’s been standing for a long, long time. He’s a very nice young man. He’s a gentle soul,” said Shirley, adding that Weir and Knudson were different in personality. They do appear to have one thing in common, considering Weir’s devotion to recent swing changes.
STRONG WORK ETHIC
“(Knudson) was determined,” Shirley recalled. “He worked so hard with his game. He loved to practice and his hands would bleed by the end of the day up at Oakdale.”
It’s little wonder then that Knudson’s sweet swing drew that admiration of someone such as legendary coach Harvey Penick.
“Obviously, to have someone like George to look up to has been great. It’s great for the history of the game in our country,” Weir said.
Jon Mills, who will be back on the PGA Tour next year, agrees. In Mills case, he recalls seeing another sweet-swinging Canadian as he was growing up.
“I had more experience seeing Moe Norman. It seemed like any kind of Canadian junior camp or anything like that, Moe would be there and he talked to us and I probably saw three or four of his little clinics,” said Mills, who could possibly be the next Canadian to set the benchmarks for future players.
Being called the greatest Canadian or the greatest ever is an honour, but it’s really a facade that is worn down by time before another person comes along and sets the standard.
Whatever Weir does now is a foundation for the future, when another Canadian comes along and sets the bar even higher.
Despite this new standard by the newcomer, Weir should not be forgotten then, just as Knudson should be remembered today.