Canadian Pendrith turning heads with big swing

Ian Leggatt talks about the future of Canadian golf, with Brad Fritsch putting in a great performance at the Wyndham Championship and the young golfers coming up through the system for the country.

Bang. Pow. Smack.

Watching Taylor Pendrith on the driving range is eerily similar to the old Batman television show, with cartoon graphics splashing across the screen with every hit. It was done to add emphasis to the action.

Pendrith, a 21-year-old golfer from Richmond Hill, doesn’t need anything to help show how hard he hits the ball. The results are out there. Way out there.

At the RBC Canadian Open in July, one of his playing partners for the first two days was fellow Canuck Adam Hadwin. He told a Canadian golf journalist Pendrith’s power was “disturbing.”

He averaged over 300 yards off the tee – the highest in the field – and his ball speed routinely hit 190 mph, comparable only to the Tour’s longest hitters like Dustin Johnson or Bubba Watson.

Pendrith attributes his power to being a multi-sport athlete growing up, playing hockey and baseball. “I was a good hitter and I threw the ball pretty hard,” Pendrith explains. “It was really late when I figured out I could be pretty good at golf. I wanted to go to the States for baseball and get a scholarship because I was way better at baseball than I was at golf at the time.”

Although he enjoyed baseball, and the success he was having, he was starting to love golf a little more, despite not starting to play until he was 12.

“My sister worked at Muskoka Lakes and I was up there hitting golf balls, driving the cart, then picking them up. I thought it was pretty fun,” he explains. His parents never played golf, but have always been supportive of Pendrith’s athletic prowess.

When Pendrith was 17, something with golf just clicked. He took his first lesson from renowned Canadian golf instructor Henry Brunton.

“I took a year off high school because nobody knew who I was and it was hard to get a scholarship,” he says.

He ended up getting recruited by Herb Page at Kent State University in Ohio. Page, a Canadian, has been the head golf coach at Kent State for almost 40 years.

“He had no junior record to speak of, but had this length that you can’t teach. It’s phenomenal. It was a gift,” Page explains.

Pendrith credits Page and assistant coach Rob Wakeling with getting his game prepared for the kind of collegiate competition he would be facing.

One of Page’s most famous pupils is 2003 British Open champion Ben Curtis.

Curtis, who still lives in the Kent State area, always asks about Pendrith.

“(Ben) said during the Canadian Open: ‘What did Taylor hit on 18 (a long par four)?’ and I had to tell him he hit driver, wedge. Meanwhile, Ben hit driver, 4-iron. He couldn’t do anything but laugh,” explains Page.

Now, Pendrith has a strong short game to with his long game. But it wasn’t always this way.

“One time, Taylor had about 176 yards to the green with a little wind. He tells me, ‘coach, I feel I can get a wedge there.’ So he hits the wedge 192 yards, flying the green. He didn’t have the distance control he has now,” explains Page.

Pendrith, a three-year member of Golf Canada’s elite amateur national team, was recruited in 2012 and has been under the tutelage of head coach Derek Ingram ever since.

“His game was pretty raw back then. He made a few mistakes in course management and he didn’t play as smart as he does now. But now, he’s more mature as a person,” says Ingram. “You can’t undervalue growing up.”

After a fine four years at Kent State, highlighted by a 2013 victory at the prestigious Porter Cup amateur golf championship, Pendrith began his final summer as an amateur in May with a couple of starts on PGA Tour Canada.

This led to Pendrith’s appearance at the Canadian Open, his first PGA Tour event. Ingram was outside the ropes following his student around Thursday, as he climbed the leaderboard. Before he knew it, Pendrith was tied for second.

“I had a feeling that was coming,” explains Ingram. “It kind of hit home when you had all those microphones in his face afterwards, but it also made me realize how prepared Taylor is for all of that. It made me very proud for him.”

After Thursday’s round, Kent State’s golf website had a picture featuring Pendrith and microphones of a dozen media outlets, including The Golf Channel, in his face. Pendrith was smiling, taking it all in.

“If you’re being interviewed, you must be doing something right. I just enjoyed it,” he reflects.

Pendrith would go on to finish T43 in the event, after rounds of 65-75-68-69 (the 10-shot difference on Friday he blames on getting a little caught up in the moment). But despite his performance, he hasn’t yet rushed to turn professional.

He had a “pretty good week” at the Canadian Men’s Amateur in Winnipeg, losing in a playoff to Australian James Beale after his five-footer to win on the second playoff hole just burned the edge.

Pendrith then made it to the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur, but lost in the first round to American Jonathan Chang and hung around to caddie for fellow Golf Canada team member (and Kent State teammate) Corey Conners.

He’s keen to take a few weeks off before setting his sights on the World Amateur Team Championship in Japan in September. Once all that is in the rearview mirror, he says he wants to “get the professional career going” at the Tour qualifying school in December.

In a very Churchill-type fashion, Pendrith speaks softly, but carries a big stick. He talks frequently about just “playing (his) own game” and understating his power: “I’m hitting it (my driver) long and I’m hitting it straight right now; a nice advantage to have.”

But underneath what seems to be a very relaxed exterior beats the heart of the future of Canadian golf.

Bang. Pow. Smack.

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