On the eve of the RBC Canadian Open, Adam Hadwin couldn’t help but imagine how the tournament might end.
Feeling nervous and restless, he had a thought pass through his mind as he tried to fall asleep.
“I didn’t sleep as well as I may have liked to [Wednesday] night,” the Canadian admitted. “Just kind of thinking things about the week and … picturing walking up 18 with a lead on Sunday. Maybe a little too early to think about that, but it happened.”
He needn’t be hesitant. He put himself in a good position to realize the premonition after opening the Canadian Open on Thursday with a near-effortless five-under-par 65, just a couple of shots behind first-round leader Keegan Bradley of the United States.
He wasn’t the only one in the contingent of 26 Canadian entrants to take advantage of Hamilton Golf and Country Club, softened by heavy rain earlier in the week, making all the tricky greens a dartboard.
Nick Taylor also put himself into immediate contention, shooting 64 to sit just one stroke off the lead.
That means Canada has two players in the top seven heading into Friday’s second round. If either of them can finish the Canadian Open the way they started it on Thursday, Canada might have its first homegrown winner in 65 years, ending a drought that has existed since Pat Fletcher of Montreal lifted the national championship's trophy in 1954.
That Taylor and Hadwin would be bundled together so high on the leaderboard was somehow appropriate.
They are both 31 and grew up together in Abbotsford, B.C., playing junior golf at Ledgeview Golf and Country Club. They were teammates on Canada’s national amateur squad before turning professional, shared a room while getting their pro feet wet on the second-tier Web.com Tour and joined forces last year to represent Canada at the World Cup of Golf team competition.
They also both have one PGA Tour title to their names.
Their rounds Thursday bore an uncanny resemblance, too, with birdies coming in bunches.
Taylor reeled off six birdies over a seven-hole stretch through the turn to get to six under, while Hadwin strung together three red numbers over his first four holes of the day.
“It was nice today to hit it really well, hit a bunch of fairways, hit a bunch of greens and roll some putts in in the middle of the round,” said Taylor, who missed the cut in his previous two PGA Tour starts but, between them, qualified for next week’s U.S. Open. “It was nice to show off a nice one.”
For the Canadians, classic Hamilton, designed by English maestro Harry Colt and now more than 100 years old, is the kind of layout they prefer.
In some ways, it feels to them like courses in their home province, including Ledgeview – albeit “Ledgeview on steroids,” as Taylor put it. Fairways are narrow and tree-lined, with many doglegs, greens are slopey and the rough is deep after a wet May.
“Usually you’ve got really nice aiming points off the tee – trees through the fairway,” Hadwin said. “A lot of holes you can see the shape of the hole and you know exactly where to hit it. I grew up playing on golf courses like this back in B.C.”
At the least, it’s an upgrade in their mind’s eye from Glen Abbey, the modern track in Oakville, Ont., where the Canadian Open has been played for most of the past 40 years.
“I think this course, Hamilton, suits my game more than Glen Abbey,” Taylor said. “You’ve got to hit fairways. It’s not really a bomb-and-gouge-type golf course because the rough is so high.”
Canadian Mackenzie Hughes, also a PGA Tour winner and a former amateur team member, had a chance to join Taylor and Hadwin among the leaderboard elite. But after putting up six birdies through 17 holes, including a tap-in after nearly holing his tee shot on the par-three 16th, he tripped up on the final hole with a double bogey.
(The near ace wasn’t even his day’s highlight in the minds of fans, though. Hughes of Dundas, Ont., ignited the gallery on the par-three 13th hole by donning a Toronto Raptors jersey – Kawhi Leonard’s No. 2. He made par on the hole, missing a birdie putt from three-point range.)
Hughes fell to four-under 66, the same result as two other Canadians – veteran David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., and newcomer Drew Nesbitt of Barrie, Ont.
The five Canadians in the top 15 were set against a United Nations-like front page of the leaderboard. Shane Lowry of Ireland, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Erik van Rooyen of South Africa and American Roberto Castro shared second place with Taylor.
A Colombian, New Zealander and Northern Irishman were among the knot of players tied with Hadwin.
Missing, though, from the top of the ladder were the four players ranked in the world’s top 10, who have contributed to giving the Canadian Open its strongest field in a generation. Rory McIlroy was the best of this bunch at three under. World No. 1 Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas shot 70, and are in danger of missing the cut Friday, while Dustin Johnson was a shot further back.