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Taylor Pendrith won a U.S. Open qualifying tournament this week to gain entry into the U.S. Open.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Canadian golfer Taylor Pendrith didn’t fully realize he had a special skill until he was 18.

He was competing at the 2009 Canadian Junior Boys Championship and won the amateur tournament’s long-drive contest, an informal skills competition, with a blast of 349 yards.

It was a prodigious length by any standards but all the more remarkable given Pendrith had only taken up the game at 13 and had no formal coaching through his teen years before then.

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“I always knew that I was longer than all the guys I played with, but didn’t really think anything of it at all – until then,” he says. “That was probably the moment when I knew I could hit it far.”

Pendrith is now 30 and he’s used that length to his advantage since those junior and amateur days to establish a professional career that’s finally reaching the highest level. He has excelled in golf’s minor leagues over the past couple of seasons to earn a promotion to the PGA Tour in the fall.

The long hitter has taken the long route to get there, from early career promise and success, through a dark period in which he was derailed by a string of injuries, and then out the other side to resume his climb.

Pendrith is in fourth place on the Korn Ferry Tour’s points list in a 2020-21 season in which he has had four runner-up finishes and three other top 10s. His standing on the second-tier tour guarantees him a PGA Tour playing card for the 2021-22 season, which begins in September.

He won’t have to wait that long to compete against the world’s very best, though. He won a U.S. Open qualifying tournament this week to gain entry into the major championship that is regarded as golf’s toughest test. The U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego begins next Thursday.

“To have some success on the Korn Ferry Tour is just testament to my hard work and patience,” he said in a telephone interview this week from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., as he prepared to head to California.

“It’s taken me much longer than some of my friends to get on the PGA Tour but I’ve battled with various injuries that have set me back. It’s been a grind so I’m just super proud of myself for sticking with it, through all the years, and really embracing the journey, and whatever tour I’m on, trying to move up each year.”

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The journey began in his native Richmond Hill, Ont., when as a young baseball and hockey player he turned to golf. Pendrith said he could throw and hit a baseball hard and had a heavy slapshot, even at a young age. So he transferred those skills to golf as he fashioned a homemade swing. He said his mindset was “to hit the ball as hard as you possibly can and go find it and then do it again.”

By the time Herb Page, the legendary golf coach at Ohio’s Kent State University, discovered and recruited him, Pendrith was pounding drivers 350 or more yards and even wedges 190 yards.

“I mean this in the most positive way, he’s a freak as far as he hits it,” said Page, a Canadian who coached at Kent State for more than 40 years before retiring last year. “It’s just unbelievable. He has that extra gear.”

Length came naturally to Pendrith, which doesn’t surprise eight-time Canadian long-drive champion and golf coach Lisa Vlooswyk.

Vlooswyk, a Calgarian who goes by the handle Lisa Longball for good reason, doesn’t know Pendrith’s game well but said it’s typical that long hitters simply possess a natural gift. Swing techniques can be learned and muscle can be added in a gym to add extra yards, as U.S. star Bryson DeChambeau has clearly shown, but traits such as flexibility usually are more relevant, she said.

“For people that do hit it a long way, they naturally have that swing,” she said. “They’ve been a golfer that’s swung for the fences their whole career. Or they just have the movement for it. For instance, I was a former gymnast, and I absolutely credit my background as a gymnast for why I’m a fortysomething mom who can still bomb it over three NFL football fields.”

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The 6-foot-2 Pendrith is no gymnast, but Vlooswyk said his baseball and hockey background might be a similar factor for him. “You’re understanding how to create coil and torque,” she said, which leads to higher clubhead speed and thus distance.

Still, distance is but one part of the game and Pendrith is far from a one-trick pony. Tour players cannot survive on distance alone, even in the modern game where courses are set up longer and longer to keep pace with improving club and ball technology that promotes longer shots. As Page noted, Pendrith’s length was – and still is – matched by a precise touch on golf’s shorter shots, too.

Page recalled Pendrith practising wedge shots over and around trees and bunkers, out of the rough and from difficult lies, just for fun. A video of him and his Kent State teammates performing flop and other trick shots in the team’s indoor practice facility once went viral.

“What people did not realize about Taylor Pendrith [is his] phenomenal short game, great hands. Listen, he became a very, very good putter. So the combination of hitting it long – and I mean long – and with his hands and his short game and his putting, it is just something.”

Page said he always predicted Pendrith would make the PGA Tour and sees great things ahead for him now that he’s healthy. “He’s going to make tons of cuts and he’s going to make a lot of money. He has these championship characteristics.”

If anything, Pendrith has dialled back his length over the years, learning through university and into his professional career to work on accuracy and control of the ball flight. He said he usually swings at about 85 per cent of his maximum strength to stay in control; it’s his “cruising speed,” reserving full throttle for those rare times when he needs to carry the ball over a long hazard, for example. (That said, he brings a backup driver to each tournament, knowing he could cave in the face of his regular driver with the force of his 200-kilometre-an-hour swing speed.)

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His evolving game stood him well as he launched his pro career. He did well enough in his first season on the third-tier Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada to graduate to the Korn Ferry Tour. But then the injuries set in. Torn ligament in his wrist. Torn tendon in his forearm. Ligament issues in his shoulder. And then the most bizarre and cruel, a palm injury that meant his bruised and swollen hand couldn’t hold a club for three months.

The physical maladies not only reduced his golfing mobility or sent him to the sidelines, but they also prompted him to adjust his swing to compensate. The outcome was a stretch of poor results and by 2019 he had to return to the Mackenzie Tour to begin a comeback.

He won twice in his second Mackenzie go-round to vault himself back to the Korn Ferry Tour for 2020. It was almost a year ago when he rattled off three runner-up finishes in consecutive starts to firmly get his career back on course.

“When I’m healthy, I think I can compete with the best,” he said.

Through it all, Pendrith has maintained the length that’s become his calling card. He’s third this season in driving distance, with an average tee shot of 319.9 yards, 20 yards above the tour average. He’s also ranked fifth in birdies per round (an average of 4.46), showing the advantages of being closer to the green for approach shots, and eighth in scoring average.

It all bodes well for his week ahead at Torrey Pines, where he’ll join his former teammates from Canada’s national amateur squad and Kent State, Ontario’s Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes, both of whom are regulars on the PGA Tour and have a victory each. B.C.’s Adam Hadwin, another PGA Tour winner, is also in the field after qualifying this week, too.

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This will be Pendrith’s second U.S. Open – he earned a berth last year based on his Korn Ferry performance and placed a respectable 23rd at Winged Foot in his major debut.

Torrey Pines, perched on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is an epic course where long hitters often prevail, and this coming week is expected to be no exception, assuming they can keep their balls in the fairways that are cut narrow and lined with long, dense rough to meet U.S. Open standards.

“The U.S. Open is such a challenging week, mentally and physically,” Pendrith said. “The golf courses are super difficult and set up super tricky. That kind of suits of my game. I like the harder courses where you have to plot your way around and think a little bit and grind it out.”

And you need length, too, which he’s got.

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