For all the talk this week at the U.S. Open about the overall overpowering of the modern golfer on a classic course it was Canadian Taylor Pendrith who not only hung with the best of them, but out-popped them, too.
“I think being long on any golf course is an advantage, and I think the game has just changed,” said Pendrith after a tournament-closing 70. “A lot of guys are hitting it further, technology is better and people are bigger and stronger.”
Count Pendrith amongst them.
In his major championship debut Pendrith – the top Canadian on the Korn Ferry Tour this season and twice a winner on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada en route to being the top Canuck on that circuit in 2019 – finished at 10-over. Although not an ideal read at first blush, he finished T-23 and his even-par 70 was tied for the second-lowest round of the day.
His T-23 was the best finish by a Canadian at the U.S. Open since David Hearn’s T-21 in 2013. Pendrith, prior to this week, had played only two PGA Tour events as a professional.
You could say he gained a legion of fans this week, although there weren’t any to bare witness to what many in Canadian golf already knew: this guy is really good.
“I expected a good week from him. He’s been playing well for a long time now,” Corey Conners told Sportsnet. “Nice he got opportunity to play this week and prove where he belongs.”
“We know what kind of game he has, and when he’s on with his driver he’s going to play well. Super tidy short game too,” echoed Mackenzie Hughes. “Not surprising at all that he had a great week.”
Pendrith had a solid run through amateur and collegiate golf where he was a longtime part of Golf Canada’s national team program. He also played alongside PGA Tour winners Conners and Hughes at Kent State in Ohio. He played the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016 before being brought down by a myriad of injuries (including a freak one on his palm, of all places).
He battled a shoulder injury as well before recuperating in 2019 for his best season as a professional.
“Last September standing in London (Ontario) trying to win the Mackenzie Tour championship to having a tee time Sunday at Winged Foot… I’m sure a lot of people would have never thought that,” Mitchell Theoret, Pendrith’s caddie and one-time draftee of the New York Islanders, told Sportsnet.ca. “But with the way it played out this year with COVID-19 and the U.S. Open exemption… you couldn’t have asked for more. He deserves every bit of credit he gets.”
The Korn Ferry Tour had long break due to the COVID-19 pandemic this summer and Pendrith likely benefitted more than any other golfer on that Tour. He returned home and got engaged – to longtime girlfriend Meg, a nurse at the hospital in Hamilton – and didn’t touch a club for nine weeks as he rehabbed his shoulder.
He came out of the break firing on all cylinders and now sits fourth on the Korn Ferry Tour’s Points List. He hasn’t seen his fiancée, however, since the end of May. He likely won’t again until mid-October. He said as soon as the Korn Ferry Tour season is over he’ll head back to Canada until December.
The wedding is scheduled for next fall, and if it wasn’t an open bar already, Pendrith’s result at Winged Foot will likely change that plan. He’ll take home just over US$101,000 for the week – just under half what he’s earned for the whole Korn Ferry Tour season.
Pendrith admitted he felt lots of nerves on the first tee Thursday, despite the fact that there were no fans. It was a major championship – his first – but it was a major unlike any other.
“The first day I was very nervous, and then there was no spectators, so there wasn’t really anything to be nervous about, it was just kind of was in my head that I’m here at a major,” said Pendrith. “Was definitely nervous on that first tee shot. But after that I felt really comfortable. Felt really good today and basically all week.”
Theoret said their game plan all week was to keep trying to make pars – totally opposite what they normally need to do on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Pendrith ended up shooting 71-74-75-70, and saving the best for last was beneficial for both his bank account and his psyche.
“I played amazing,” Pendrith said simply of his final round. He knocked his approach on the difficult par-4 18th to just five feet and made a birdie to close out his tournament on a high note.
“He’s a hell of a player and a great person to boot so this is just the beginning for him, I think. The sky’s the limit really,” said Theoret.
Despite the grander stage Pendrith said he tried to think about why he was at the U.S. Open in the first place, and that got him into a better mindset for the balance of the week.
“I came into this week trying not to get caught up in everything. I earned my way here and there’s no reason why I couldn’t play well,” said Pendrith. “So just to make the cut was awesome, and to have a pretty good weekend, especially today’s round in the wind and the tough pins, was great.
“Overall awesome experience for my first major, and couldn’t be happier.”
BRYSON BASHES HIS WAY TO THE TOP
Bryson DeChambeau took the most unconventional path to the top of the golf world Sunday.
For all the Twitter snark and second-guessing of DeChambeau’s recent bulk-up and love of science, he proved Sunday that golf is pretty simple – the winner each week is the one who shoots the lowest score, not how they get there.
DeChambeau’s 6-under par total for the week left him as the only golfer in red figures after 72 holes.
His 67 Sunday was the lowest round of the day. He mashed it around, sure, averaging more than 325 yards off the tee – the longest ever by a U.S. Open champion – and the rough didn’t matter. But he scrambled, putted, and striped it off the fairway too.
It was a complete week.
“Whether that’s good or bad for the game, I don’t know, but it’s just — it’s not the way I saw this golf course being played or this tournament being played,” said Rory McIlroy of DeChambeau’s win.
DeChambeau came out of the COVID-19 break to finish T3-T8-T6-1 in his first four events on the PGA Tour (and 40 pounds heavier) but hit only 23 fairways this week at Winged Foot – the lowest in U.S. Open history by a winner. Still, he muscled his way past all challengers.
There was much debate on Thursday when 65 led after the opening round – when the superintendent at Winged Foot was on-the-record saying he was hoping for 8-over to be the winning score – about how ‘easy’ the historic venue was playing.
But when the last putt fell Sunday, there was just one golfer under par, and it was the one golfer who played better than everyone else. That golfer happened to be the one who did things his way – no matter how anyone else perceived him.
“I think I’m definitely changing the way people think about the game,” DeChambeau said. “I’m just trying to figure out this very complex, multivariable game, and multidimensional game as well. It’s very, very difficult. It’s a fun journey for me.”
And another stop on that journey? Major champion.