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PGA starts busy stretch for Canadian golfers

Corey Conners Corey Conners - The Canadian Press

Canada’s top male golfers are a tight-knit group, having risen through the PGA Tour ranks together. They are all fast friends, play practice rounds together and celebrate each other’s victories.

But over the next few weeks, they will battle each other for the two spots on the Canadian Olympic team and, later this summer, for places on the International Team at the Presidents Cup in Montreal.

A big part of who gets to represent Canada in those events comes this week at the PGA Championship, the year’s second major. A record-tying six Canadians are in the field, the same six who set the record a year ago.

They’ll take on Valhalla Golf Club, a long, demanding and currently soggy course. This week’s event also marks the start of a busy stretch for the Canadians. All six will head to Toronto for the RBC Canadian Open starting May 30th. That is followed by a signature event, the Memorial, then the U.S. Open. Canada’s Olympic golfers will be selected on June 17, the Monday after the American championship.

“It’s obviously a busy stretch, but it’s what we face this time of year, regardless of what year it is,” said Corey Conners. “We’ve got some great tournaments coming up. I just try to have fun and enjoy and play the best I can and see what happens. I feel good about my game and just trying to put some good rounds together and hopefully be in contention this week.”

“This is an important five or six weeks,” added Adam Hadwin. “It’s going to determine a lot of things.”

The selection criteria is based on the Official World Golf Ranking. Barring some significant performances over the next few weeks, Nick Taylor is likely to scoop up one of the spots. He is 28th on the list after a season that included a win at the WM Phoenix Open.

The second position is still far from decided. Conners, Hadwin and Taylor Pendrith are within five spots of each other, and MacKenzie Hughes and Adam Svensson can still have a say with a last push.

“It’s an exciting time for Canadian golf,” Conners said. “All of us are playing really well and we’re all cheering for each other.”

Conners has not missed a cut in the 10 tournaments he’s played this year, although he also hasn’t managed a top-10 finish. He is coming in off a 13th-place showing at the Wells Fargo Championship.

Hadwin has four top-10 finishes so far and while he wants to be in Paris to represent Canada, he’s trying to focus more on this week than the Olympics.

“I’ve always been of the mind if I take care of things on the golf course, it will take care of things off the golf course,” he said. “I’m going to focus on this week, getting off to a good start and get myself in contention heading into the weekend.”

Pendrith is a late addition to the Olympic battle. After finally getting healthy following a string of injuries, he won his first PGA Tour event two weeks ago at the CJ Cup Byron Nelson. That shot him up the ranking and very much in contention, showing just how much things can change in just one week. He is just three spots behind Hadwin and five back of Conners, his college roommate.

“It seemed it was out of reach for me at the start of the year, it wasn’t really on my radar,” stated Pendrith.” Now it’s a legit reality that it could happen with some good weeks coming up. It would be an honour to be on that team.”

One of the PGA Tour’s longest hitters, a course such as Valhalla would seem to be in Pendrith’s wheelhouse. He sits ninth in driving distance, averaging 311 yards off the tee and sixth in Strokes Gained: Putting.

While he stated that he is in a good mental state, he did admit to some fatigue. This is his fifth consecutive week out on tour.

He also does not have a lot of major championship experience. This will be just his fifth appearance in one of the big four. The 32-year-old made his PGA Championship debut last year, finishing tied for 29th at Oak Hill, and he’s also played in three U.S. Opens. With some more solid play in the next few weeks, he could earn entries to both the U.S. Open and Open Championship this year. Of course, his win earlier this month gives him a spot in next year’s Masters.

“I guess this is a bit cliché but good golf takes care of everything,” Pendrith stated.

Hughes is coming in off a tie for sixth at last week’s stop, the Wells Fargo Championship, where he shot a final-round 66. Svensson has made the cut in his last five starts but has not finished better than a tie for 44th.