While most of the golf world is on a chase for more speed and distance off the tee, the only thing Canadian Taylor Pendrith is hoping will go faster is these next seven months – so he can finally say he’s a member of the PGA Tour.
Pendrith averages about 185 miles per hour of ball speed with his driver – which would put him third, comfortably, on the PGA Tour – but admits he hits it plenty far enough these days despite losing a few yards due to injury the last couple of years.
"Everyone is looking for another 10 to 20 yards, but I’m fine with where I’m hitting it," Pendrith tells Sportsnet with a knowing smile, as he’s still averaging 330 yards off the tee.
The native of Richmond Hill, Ont., is taking his long-bombing efforts – which came from growing up playing elite-level hockey and baseball, a sport he nearly got a scholarship for – back to the Korn Ferry Tour this week at the LECOM Suncoast Classic in Lakeland, Fla.
It’s the first event of the 2021 portion of the Korn Ferry Tour schedule. For the first time in the tour’s history, it saw one of its seasons carry over two calendar years, due to COVID-19.
Pendrith, who in early February was named to Golf Canada’s Young Pro Squad and the first recipient of the Emerging Player of the Year Award presented by Andrew Cook (a $10,000 prize via the Golf Canada Foundation), currently sits second on the points list thanks to six top-10 finishes last year, including a stretch of events where he finished T3-2-T2-T2.
The Korn Ferry Tour, golf’s triple-A circuit, will award PGA Tour cards to the top 25 on its points list at the conclusion of its season finale in Nebraska on Aug. 15.
Given Pendrith’s position on the list at the conclusion of 2020, he earned spots in the four "opposite field" PGA Tour events for 2021 as a bonus, including next week in Puerto Rico.
A college teammate of both Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners (Pendrith even lives with Conners and his wife, Malory, in West Palm Beach, Fla.), Pendrith reached the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016 but his path to the PGA Tour was derailed as the injuries piled up.
Pendrith tells Sportsnet he’ll likely play 17 to 18 Korn Ferry Tour events and five PGA Tour events, including the RBC Canadian Open, assuming it goes ahead as scheduled in June.
While Pendrith is about 300 points behind Will Zalatoris, who is tops on the Korn Ferry Tour points list, Pendrith has something positive going for him: Zalatoris, thanks to some fabulous play on the PGA Tour at the end of 2020, has essentially already secured himself a spot on the big circuit.
Zalatoris has been one of the hottest golfers in the world the last 12 months, moving from 487th to 49th in the Official World Golf Ranking.
"After his U.S. Open performance (Zalatoris finished T6 at the major) we knew we probably would not see him on the Korn Ferry Tour again. I wouldn’t say I’m not disappointed in that," said Pendrith.
Pendrith says, with Zalatoris basically out of the running this year for top spot on the Korn Ferry Tour, he’s got two major goals. The first is to finish No. 1 on the points list, which would earn him fully exempt status on the PGA Tour next season, and the second is to finally find the winner’s circle.
That’s just on the course, however. Pendrith is also set to marry his long-time partner, Meg, later this year.
Meg is a nurse at Hamilton General Hospital, and childhood best friends with Malory Conners. She and Corey set them up. While Pendrith saw Meg from Oct. 15 to Jan. 15 while he was home during the Korn Ferry Tour’s winter break, he’s not entirely sure when they will be able to see each other again.
"It’s tough right now. With Canada being in lockdown, basically, it’s challenging for us. We’ve booked some things (for the wedding). Hopefully I can see her, but I might just see her at the wedding day and go from there," says Pendrith, laughing.
But while things are a little uncertain about when he’ll see his fiancée or be able to return home, one thing is very close to becoming a certainty: Pendrith is on track to earning a PGA Tour card.
He’s pecked away at golf’s ladder, and even if he’s not someone you’ve heard much about, get ready.
"Body’s good. I feel stronger. I feel healthy. And I have no issues right now. It’ll be nice to get back into the competitive routine where I’m not beating balls on the range all day like I have been… just competing and playing like I was doing last year and feel really fresh for the following week," says Pendrith. "I’m pumped to get going."
Fellow Canadians Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., and Albin Choi of Toronto (who Monday Qualified) will also be in the field alongside Pendrith as the 2021 portion of the Korn Ferry Tour kicks off Thursday from southeast Florida.
Svensson sits 40th on the points list while Choi is making a return to competition, having spent most of 2020 caddying – including for Sungjae Im’s PGA Tour victory at The Honda Classic.
Pendrith recently played with Choi in Florida and said Choi shot 8-under par for 18 holes, despite a triple bogey on the scorecard.
"It’s like the old Albin was back," says Pendrith. "It was sick."