Austin Connelly spoke like a true Canadian after he carded a solid 2-under 70 in the first round of the Pan Am Games golf tournament at Markham’s Angus Glen.
He was hard on himself.
“I didn’t drive as well as I’d have liked to, and I bogeyed (the 13th) . . . you have to make shots here all day long, and you can’t leave shots out there like that,” said the 18-year-old Connelly, five strokes behind leader Alejandro Tosti of Argentina after the first of four rounds.
Canada’s other entry on the men’s side, Garrett Rank, who graduated to full-time status as an NHL referee this past February, came in at 7-over.
In the women’s field, popular veteran Lorie Kane is the lone Canadian and also shot 7-over 79.
“Overall, a 70 is not bad,” Connelly said. “It’s a red figure (under par) and four days of red figures could give you a chance (at a medal).”
While the British Open is golf’s main event this weekend, Connelly’s progress is also worth a look. The Canadian-American dual citizen who cut his teeth on courses near his grandparents’ home in Digby County, N.S., is poised to break on to the PGA Tour.
Connelly was born in Irving, Texas, home of the Byron Nelson Classic –– his first and only pro tournament so far. At age 4, Connelly met Nelson and still calls the golf legend his favourite athlete. He’s also friends with the hottest golfer in the world, Dallas-born Jordan Spieth, and they share a swing coach.
Connelly’s home course is Clare Golf and Country Club in Comeauville, N.S., where members gave him an emotional Pan Am sendoff. Both Connelly and Rank also have exemptions to play next weekend’s Canadian Open at Glen Abbey in Oakville.
“I’m very excited to be playing in the Canadian Open,” said Connelly. “(It’s) an experience I’ll never forget.”
Flanked by parents Bill and Bridgette, Connelly –– who has a University of Arkansas scholarship in his back pocket –– opened strongly on Thursday before slipping slightly on the back nine.
Normally dead straight off the tee, Connelly had some trouble with the driver but showed poise in salvaging a tough par on the 13th hole and following with a birdie on 14.
“I feel like I played fine,” he said. “I just need to drive better.”
Connelly was introduced to Canadian men’s team coach Derek Ingram by his dad several years ago. Since then, he has risen from 48th to 17th in the world amateur rankings, leading to hopes of earning his PGA Tour card at qualifying school next year and maybe making an Olympic team down the road. Golf returns to the Olympic menu in Rio next summer, with Graham DeLaet, David Hearn, Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor the clear frontrunners to represent Canada on the men’s side.
Rank, meanwhile, said his goal now is to “come back strong and help Austin and Lorie (for a medal) in the team event,” Rank said.
As for Kane, 11 strokes behind leader Julieta Granada of Paraguay at 4-under, she knows she has to up her game as well.
“I just got off to a slow start and kept digging a hole,” said Kane, “but I played better on the back nine (even par).”