With the year’s first major about to get underway, you’d think the four Canadians in the field would be dialed in and focusing their games on winning the PGA Championship.
Before that, however, there was another important golf event to play. It was the third edition of the Loonie Challenge and this one had a lot of bragging rights at stake.
The two B.C. boys, Adam Hadwin and Nick Taylor, took on Team Ontario comprised of Mac Hughes and Corey Conners in a practice round match. As they did in their first two meetings ahead of The Memorial and the World Golf Championship FedEx St. Jude Invitational, the guys from the centre of Canada prevailed in a furious come-from-behind victory.
"We were up at the start," admitted Hadwin. "But Nick had a bad partner. I didn’t make a birdie."
The four Canucks have played these 18-hole matches when they are all in the field, putting provincial pride on the line and sharing each other’s company. There’s also been some hockey talk, of course, now that the NHL is back in session. Conners admitted there was one eye on Tuesday’s Leafs-Blue Jackets game, which was on as the group made its way around TPC Harding Park.
"It’s nice to have four of us out here and to get a round in together," Conners added. "We all support each other out here."
There will likely be plenty more matches as the four play better and better, giving them entries into the bigger events. Two weeks ago marked the first time that four Canadians were inside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Last week they set the mark for the most Canadians in a World Golf Championship tournament.
This week it’s believed they will set the mark for the most Canadians in the PGA Championship.
All four are also trying to set another standard and become the second Canadian to win a men’s major championship. Hughes has the hottest hand with two top-six finishes in his last four starts. He was tied for 44th at last week’s event.
Taylor was the last of the four to return to play after the pandemic pause and in his three starts has shown steady improvement. He tied for 35th in his first appearance in a World Golf Championship event.
Hadwin stumbled at last week’s tournament, making what he called "inexcusable misses" along with some poor putting.
"My putting is never usually too bad so I think [last week] was a bit of an anomaly," he stated. "But I have to get back to hitting more fairways and greens."
The top-ranked Canadian is suffering with a minor cold, battling a few sniffles and a sore throat. Understandably, he thought it might be COVID-19 but a flurry of tests over the last few days has come back negative.
"A small part of me was nervous with all the travel we do, but it’s all good," he said.
Conners has been unusually inconsistent since returning to play but said his game is getting back to where he wants it. His iron play was improving after some off weeks and a minor change in his putting was also reaping benefits.
"I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks," he said. "I’ve put in the work and I feel like my game is in a pretty good spot right now."
The Listowel, Ont., also product praised the course at TPC Harding Park, stating that it fit his eye and he likes the tree-lined holes. The premium on hitting fairways to stay out of the gnarly rough plays right into his strength.
"I have high hopes for myself," Conners stated. "I’m hoping I can play well the first few days and get myself into the mix on Sunday."
Of course if they don’t prevail at the PGA Championship, they’ll all have another Loonie Challenge to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs that start in two weeks.