At the Memorial Tournament, Mackenzie Hughes was in the fourth-to-last group on Saturday looking for another solid result in the PGA Tour’s return to action. But his mind was otherwise occupied. His longtime friend, teammate and fellow Canadian Taylor Pendrith was tied for the lead with nine holes left on the Korn Ferry Tour.
"I was pulling for him and I wanted to see him get it done," says the one-time PGA Tour winner. "He came up short, but more than anything it spurs you on.
"I saw Nick Taylor win in February and I was sitting at home after a missed cut and I’m like, ‘Man, I want to do that. I want to feel those things he’s feeling.’ It inspires you."
Since the PGA and Korn Ferry Tours got back after three-month breaks due to COVID-19, Canadian golf fans haven’t just cheered the return of live sports – they’ve been able to see one of their own threaten for a title every week.
Corey Conners was near the top of the leaderboard at the first event back in Texas, while Adam Hadwin finished T4 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and Hughes was T3 at the Travelers Championship (he also shot 60 in the first round) and T6 at the Memorial. Pendrith, meanwhile, has gone T2-2-T3 his last three weeks on the Korn Ferry Tour and is now third in that Tour’s season-long points race.
"It’s just fun seeing the results," says Pendrith, who lives with Conners in Florida. "I feel like I’m getting very comfortable playing late on weekends and having a chance."
While the top 25 on the Korn Ferry Tour’s regular-season points list usually earn PGA Tour cards for the following season, Pendrith will not have that chance because the season will be wrapped into 2021 due to the coronavirus. However, if he remains in the top five on the points list after Aug. 9, he’ll earn a spot in the U.S. Open – marking his first major-championship appearance.
Hughes earned a spot in the U.S. Open due to his T6 at the Memorial and will join Hadwin and Conners, who are already in the field.
"I was aware of (the exemption) but I was so far back initially," says Pendrith of the U.S. Open spot. "But now I’m definitely aware of it."
"You see Corey play well, Adam play well, and Taylor too – it’s good energy," adds Hughes.
Some of the most inspiring energy the Canadian men have received over the last few years, however, hasn’t come from a fellow man.
They’ve all seen what Brooke Henderson has done on the LPGA Tour and she’s leading the Canadian charge. The guys are just trying to keep up.
"I keep tabs on the Canadian girls on the LPGA and Brooke has led the way. She’s definitely included in all of this Canadian success and she’s probably the front-runner in that," says Hughes. "She’s set the bar for all of us right now and we’re trying to get on her level."
"She’s already the winningest Canadian in professional golf and it’s amazing at such a young age. It feels like she’s in contention every week," adds Taylor. "We’re getting so deep and with Brooke leading the way and being able to watch her, she pushes us all along."
Taylor has been a bit of a beacon for Canadians as well, at least on the PGA Tour.
He won the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am in February for his second Tour title. Only six Canadian golfers in history have won more than once on the PGA Tour. The win got him into the Masters, marking the first time there will be a foursome of Canadians playing a major at Augusta National.
When the PGA Tour returned to action, Taylor took extra time at home with his young family – he was back in B.C. for a month longer than the rest of the guys who teed it up in June – but he was following along with his countrymen’s success.
"It’s good to pull for your buddies and you play with these guys all the time and we’re so comfortable with each other’s games," he says. "If they’re playing well then it pushes you to play well too. There’s no reason not to."
The leader of the Canadian group at Augusta National is, of course, the 2003 champion – Mike Weir. Weir, who turned 50 in May, will make his debut on PGA Tour Champions this week. But he’s enjoyed following the generation of Canadian golfers who all say he was one of their biggest inspirations.
"It’s always great to see the guys playing well," says Weir. "Taylor’s turned it on and is playing some great golf. Mackenzie had a good run. Adam’s playing steady. Corey has been dancing around a bit and I know he’ll put it together soon. I’m always watching with interest, all of the guys, and love seeing how they’re doing."
One person who has seen the growth of nearly all the Canadians playing on the biggest stage in the sport is Derek Ingram, the head coach of Golf Canada’s men’s national team.
Conners, Hughes, Hadwin, and Taylor were all part of the team at one point. The foursome was just recently ranked inside the top-100 in the world, marking the first time Canada has ever had that many golfers that high in the rankings (Pendrith was also part of Golf Canada’s team and is the fifth-ranked Canadian, at No. 195).
Those four will tee it up this week at the World Golf Championship-FedEx St. Jude Invitational – the first time in history there will be four Canadians in a WGC event.
There is a real ‘Team Canada’ feel among the guys on the PGA Tour, Ingram says.
Roger Sloan and David Hearn (who Taylor calls ‘The Godfather’ since he’s about a decade older than the eldest of the aforementioned group) are also in the mix most weeks for practice rounds and hockey-talk in player dining.
Ingram says it’s tough to get good finishes on Tour if you’re just a single from a particular country. But he says the current Canadian success is a direct result of hard work from a lot of different groups over the last five to 10 years, including the PGA of Canada, Golf Canada, the Mackenzie Tour, mini-tours, college programs, and, of course, players who are willing to do anything to achieve their dreams.
"The guys want another Canadian to do great and everyone is pushing each other," says Ingram. "It’s never been better."