Against all odds, Canadians Maude-Aimee Leblanc and Taylor Pendrith will be competing for titles on the biggest stages of golf on Sunday.
And while they are separated by an ocean this weekend, they have much in common – most importantly a fierce competitive nature that has allowed them to be within reach of life-changing moments.
“They are,” longtime Golf Canada coach Derek Ingram said, “models of resilience and perseverance in the game of golf.”
Leblanc, 33, and Pendrith, 31, were two of the best juniors and amateurs in the country, but nothing came easy for them in early years as professionals.
Now, they both are in contention for titles on the sport’s biggest tours. Pendrith is tied for the lead with red-hot American Tony Finau at the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit, while Leblanc is one back of New Zealand star Lydia Ko and France’s Celine Boutier for top spot at the LPGA Tour’s Women’s Scottish Open.
Ingram, the current coach of Pendrith and a former coach of Leblanc on the national women’s amateur team, has every reason to be proud this weekend.
“It has not been an easy ride for Maude-Aumee Leblanc,” Ingram said. “She fell out of love with the game and had a lot of challenges. Just so happy to see her back and really enjoying it. Similar to Taylor, when Maude-Aimee Leblanc is on her game, she is a top-10 or 20 player in the game. She’s so long, it’s like cheating. She’s a great putter. She’s a great iron player. She has all the tools and skills to be one of the best 25 players in the world.
“I hate to say that to add pressure. But we knew as a 13- or 14-year-old girl in our junior program, she had superstar qualities on the LPGA Tour. It’s just taken a long time to come to fruition.”
Leblanc, in fact, retired from the playing ranks in 2019 after a rough season. The native of Sherbrooke, Que., turned her focus to getting her golf teaching certification and had thoughts of going back to school for a physical therapist assistant program.
But costs were prohibitive for the latter option because of her visa status in the U.S., where she resides, causing Leblanc to rethink her plan as the pandemic hit. Instead, she returned to the LPGA Tour’s feeder circuit late in 2020 and secured her status on the top tour with a sixth-place finish on the then-Symetra Tour in 2021.
Pendrith, meanwhile, has had pretty much every injury you can name over the last decade.
Things seemed to turn last year as he secured status on the PGA Tour through the Korn Ferry Tour – essentially triple-A or the AHL of men's golf. But after a promising start to his PGA season, the native of Richmond Hill, Ont., fractured a rib at the Players’ Championship in March – Ingram thinks it happened after a long stoppage in play and a weather change in the third round.
“You’re working so hard, you’re playing great and then boom, you have to take four months off,” Ingram said. “Thrilled he’s back, thrilled he’s playing well. Never a doubt when he’s healthy that Taylor Pendrith is one of the best players in the world. Just only him and me know it right now.”
Missing the RBC Canadian Open near home in Toronto in June was particularly tough. Pendrith wanted to give it a go, but he hadn’t hit a driver leading up to the week.
“He was like ‘I think I can do it, DI.’ I was like ‘No it’s impossible,’” Ingram said.
“You couldn’t hit your first driver in … months in a competition. It didn’t make any sense. It killed him, it absolutely killed him. He had friends and family and loved the course and wanted to play. It was really tough.”
But here he is now, coming off ties for 13th and 11th in his first tournaments back and simply not backing down against Finau – who won last week’s PGA Tour stop. Every time Finau threatened to take charge on Saturday, Pendrith had an answer.
With Canadian caddie and former OHL player Mitch Theoret riding shotgun, Pendrith has a real chance.
“Him and his caddie, they work really well together. They have a lot of fun out there,” Ingram said. He’s enjoying the challenges, showing a lot of resilience. Those are the types of things you need to play great. Nobody is playing better than Tony Finau right now and he’s got a lot of confidence as well. But it’s a great course for Taylor. When he’s playing his game, he’s as good as any.”
Brooke Henderson won an LPGA major last week at the Evian Championship in France – and she is the best Canadian golfer of all time.
The six-foot-two Pendrith, ranked 237th in the world in the men’s ranks, and the six-foot-one Leblanc, at No. 137 in women’s golf, likely will never hit Henderson’s level, but their stories are just as compelling.
Never in history have Canadians won on the same day on the LPGA and PGA Tours. Improbably, it could happen for two big hitters ranked outside the top 100 on Sunday – Leblanc tees off at 7:18 a.m. ET / 4:18 a.m. PT while Pendrith goes at 2 p.m. ET / 11 a.m. PT.
If you admire hard work and underdogs, you'll be cheering for Leblanc and Pendrith.
“I will be watching both non-stop,” Ingram said. “I’m really pumped up for both of them.”