Canadians off to great start at women’s open

Chris Zelkovich
The Eh Game

It was a pretty positive day for homegrown golfers at this year's CN Women's Canadian Open.

And the biggest day came from a rather unexpected source. Jennifer Kirby of Paris, Ont., stands among the leaders after she shot an impressive 67 at Edmonton's Royal Mayfair Golf Club.

The 22-year-old didn't look out of place at all in finishing the day at three under par. Along with Inbee Park, Na Yeon Choi and Karine Icher, she sits only two strokes behind co-leaders Lydia Ko, Angela Stanford and Christel Boeljon. Americans Paula Creamer and Cristie Kerr are one back of the leaders at -4.

Kirby wasn't the only Canadian to open with a good round. Isabelle Beisiegel and Samantha Richdale both recorded par rounds and are only five strokes off the lead. Fellow Canadians Lori Kane, Jessica Shepley, Maude Aimee-Leblanc and Stephanie Sherlock are all one over par heading into Friday's second round.

Amateurs Brooke Henderson and Anne Catherine Tanguay are two over.

While things are looking good on the course, they are also playing out a lot better for Golf Canada this time than they did during the last sponsorship go-around.

When BMO Financial Group pulled the plug on sponsoring the LPGA event after the 2005 tournament, things looked pretty bleak. No replacement stepped forward right off the bat and at one point the Royal Canadian Golf Association (Golf Canada's predecessor) said it might have to stage a cut-down version of the national championship in 2006 and pray for someone to rescue the tournament. There was even talk that the event might go into hiatus, which would likely be the beginning of the end.

It was the same kind of talk that dominated the golf news a few years before that when federal legislation meant an end to sponsorship by tobacco companies. Many believed that without Du Maurier, the Open was dead. But the Bank of Montreal came along -- it apparently had as much money as the cigarette companies -- and nothing was lost.

When BMO stepped aside, CN Rail stepped into the breach and things have gone swimmingly since -- at least until the railroad folks announced they were getting of the golf train after this year.

This time around, Golf Canada isn't even mentioning the possibility of a Canadian Open Women's Lite.

Golf Canada head Scott Simmons told reporters in a conference call earlier this week that he’s close to a new deal on sponsorship and expects to make an announcement before Labour Day.

“It’s an event that is very marketable," Golf Canada's CEO and executive director said. ``I’ve talked to 48 companies in the last nine to 12 months. We had some serious interest from quite a few parties, but we’re down now to probably two and I’m confident we’re going to get it done."

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