Canada eyes Pan Am gold in British Open shadow

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 16, 2015 3:29 PM

By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - The focus of the golf world may be on the British Open this week but Pan American Games gold is the target for an LPGA Tour veteran, an NHL referee and an 18-year-old Canadian amateur who counts Jordan Spieth as a good friend.

Even Austin Connelly admits he will be keeping tabs on what unfolds at St. Andrews where his occasional practice partner, Masters and U.S. Open champion Spieth, seeks to add a third major to his collection while trying for his own bit of history by capturing gold in golf's Pan Am Games debut.

Born and raised in Nova Scotia but now a resident of Dallas, Connelly has developed a friendship and working relationship with Texan Spieth, the two sharing gym time and a swing coach.

But while the 21-year-old Spieth is already an established force on the PGA Tour, Connelly is preparing to embark on his professional career with plans to attend qualifying school later this year or instead take up a golf scholarship at the University of Arkansas.

"I see him (Spieth) all the time, I will be checking the (British Open) scores," Connelly told Reuters before firing an opening round two-under 70 on Thursday. "When we are at home, I see him in the gym almost five days a week. I practise with him sometimes and play with him quite often.

"I've known him for quite a while and to see where he came from is unbelievable. Not too long ago he was in my shoes right now, and all of sudden he is a two-time major champion with a chance at a grand slam."

While Connelly is focused on a professional career, fellow Canadian Garrett Rank's future is likely to be more rinks than links.

A top amateur golfer, Rank was on the fence between pursuing a golf or hockey refereeing career when the National Hockey League offered him a contract that he admits he could not refuse.

SETTING LOFTY GOALS

A former college player, Rank officiated in nine NHL games last season and his work load this year is expected to increase as he climbs the refereeing ranks but the 27-year-old has not closed the door on a golf career, setting himself some lofty goals including qualifying for the Masters.

"I'm essentially living the dream right now doing two things I really love at two really high levels," said Rank, who slumped to an opening 79 at the Pan Am Games.

"So far, 2015 has been a really cool year for me. I did my first NHL game and this week it would be great to win a medal. And next week I will be playing my first event on the PGA Tour at the Canadian Open.

"I was waiting for either golf to pan out to win something or get status on a Tour or waiting for the NHL to come calling. No regrets, I love my job and at the same time I love competing in the summer.

"I want to become the best amateur player in the world and I want to play in the Masters one day."

While Rank and Connelly have yet to make their professional debuts, Canada's Lori Kane has been competing on the LPGA Tour for 19 years, picking up four wins and nearly $7 million in career earnings.

When the opportunity to represent Canada came up, the 50-year-old seized her chance.

Kane has played only two LPGA events this year, missing the cut in both, and has not won an event in 14 years but believes she still has enough game to win Pam Am gold and qualify for a spot on the Canadian team for next year's Rio Olympics.

"I'm a very proud Canadian," Kane told Reuters. "I could have been playing this week on the LPGA Tour in Toledo but I decided at this point in my career, and this opportunity that I really wanted to come and experience this.

"My ultimate goal is Rio. I've got my work cut out, but all that means is getting in some LPGA events and putting some results on the board and I am quite capable of doing that."

(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)