Precocious talent Jeevan Sihota made the bold decision this year to turn pro at 18 rather than go to one of the 50-plus U.S. universities that offered him a full scholarship. But to the British Columbia teenager, it felt like a fairly easy call.
Sihota, of Victoria, burned up junior golf, winning world titles as far back as age 6, and was a member of Canada’s national amateur team. But after competing as a 17-year-old amateur against professionals on PGA Tour Canada last year, with a runner-up finish among his results, he thought his game was ready for the cutthroat competition of tour golf.
“It made me feel like I can be out here and compete,” he said last week from Edmonton, where he was playing in PGA Tour Canada’s ATB Classic. “I didn’t see why not.”
Sihota earned his card on the tour at one of its qualifying schools this spring and turned pro. Like all members of the third-tier circuit, he hopes to finish the season in the top five on the money list to earn a promotion to the Korn Ferry Tour – and eventually reach the PGA Tour.
In the season opener, held in his hometown, he tied for 31st place.
Sihota compiled a track record in junior golf that made him stand out as a potential generational star, but it’s his TrackMan numbers as a budding adult that catch people’s attention now. He has clocked his swing speed at more than 140 mph and ball speed at 206. His carry with a driver is at least 330 yards. “It’s definitely an advantage,” he said of his power, which puts short clubs in his hands on approach shots. “It’s just like a wedge on every hole.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he said he compares his game to that of monster hitter Bryson DeChambeau but said he is striving for Tiger Woods’ short-game magic, too. Even with his high self-belief, Sihota said he has no timetable to reach his full potential or the game’s highest levels.
“Anything to improve every day is what counts,” he said.
That’s a good approach and mindset, said Derek Ingram, coach of the men’s national amateur team, who calls Sihota a “unicorn” for his unique gifts. “He’s so long for his age and has the ability to dominate. And the other areas of his game are also strong.”
But Ingram said patience ultimately might determine whether Sihota’s career gamble pays off. For every Brooke Henderson and Rory McIlroy who has turned pro as a teenager and succeeded, there are many others, including past national amateur team members Austin Connelly and Mathieu Rivard, who stalled.
“It may take time,” the coach said. “He is very young and likely there will be growing pains, but he could be special.”
Conners reaches career high: Corey Conners rose to No. 30 in the world ranking last week, the highest position in his seven-year pro career. He set the personal milestone after placing sixth at the RBC Canadian Open and winning the tournament’s Rivermead Challenge Cup as low Canadian.
“I feel very positively about all parts of my game,” Canada’s highest-ranked male pro said after his final-round 62 in Toronto. “Disappointed to come up a little bit short here; didn’t quite get as much out of the game as I could have the first few rounds. But a lot of positive mojo going into the U.S. Open.”
Conners led a six-man Canadian contingent into the U.S. Open last week, joined at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, by fellow PGA Tour regulars Nick Taylor, Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes and Roger Sloan, as well as Ben Silverman.
For the Canadians, the major was almost a breather after an intense week at the amped-up Canadian Open, which was returning after a two-year pandemic hiatus and featured a star-studded field (including winner Rory McIlroy) on an iconic golf course at St. George’s.
“Typically you come to a major and there is a lot of hype and build-up, but we had that (in Canada),” Hughes told the Toronto Star ahead of the U.S. Open’s first round. “It seems nice to slow down this week at a major, which is weird to say, but it does seem more chill this week.”
Sharp seeks return to LPGA: Alena Sharp made her second start of the LPGA Tour season last week at the Meijer LPGA Classic after earning a spot in the field through its Monday qualifier.
Sharp, 41, a former Canadian junior champion, lost her full-time playing card last year and has been limited to one other 2022 start, earlier this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic, where she missed the cut.
RBC bides its time on sponsorships: The sudden defection of Dustin Johnson and Graeme McDowell to LIV Golf cost the popular pair their lucrative sponsorship deals with Royal Bank of Canada, but RBC is in no hurry to replace them.
Johnson had been on “Team RBC” since 2008, and McDowell for almost a decade. But after they joined the upstart Saudi-backed LIV tour and skipped this month’s RBC Canadian Open, the bank cut ties.
RBC-sponsored players Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar also missed the national championship, but their absence was related to border rules that restrict unvaccinated travellers from entering Canada.
“We’re not rushing any Team RBC decisions at this time, and will signal when we are ready,” said Mary DePaoli, RBC’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer.
The bank began endorsing international and Canadian stars after taking over as the Canadian Open’s title sponsor in 2008. The sponsorships have worked spectacularly well in unofficially assuring the RBC Canadian Open and the bank’s other PGA Tour event, the RBC Heritage, have fields stocked with high-profile players. But not every “ambassador,” as the sponsored players are called, has panned out. Anthony Kim, who disappeared from the tour after a 2012 injury, had the most notorious exit before Johnson and McDowell.
Mandur excels in pro debut: Tristan Mandur of Duncan, British Columbia, couldn’t have begun his pro career any better – he won a mini-tour event in his debut and earned a hefty bonus for making a hole-in-one in the final round.
Mandur, a former B.C. Amateur and B.C. Junior Boys champion, turned professional after graduating from the University of Utah this spring. He earned $3,000 for his six-shot victory at the Faria Mechanical Open on the Vancouver Golf Tour and pocketed another $5,000 for the ace – excellent seed money as he embarks on PGA Tour Canada. He made his pro debut on that circuit last week in Edmonton.
“It’s pretty hard to put in words,” Mandur said after the VGT win. “It means a lot to not only come out on top but to make a hole-in-one on top of it is pretty insane and makes the cheque a little bigger.”
Ewart piles up honors: A.J. Ewart has had a month to remember. The 23-year-old from Coquitlam, British Columbia, not only made his PGA Tour debut at the RBC Canadian Open but he also received the Jack Nicklaus Award as the player of the year in NCAA Division II.
Ewart attends Barry University in Florida and won seven tournaments this season, including four in a row, taking his collegiate career total to 10. Nicklaus presented him with the award at the Memorial Tournament.
Ewart, on Canada’s national amateur team, received an exemption into the Canadian Open the next week. Though he didn’t make the cut and conceded to some initial nerves, he said he embraced his big-tour debut and said it went “pretty smooth.” His father, Brad Ewart, a club pro who introduced his son to the game at 13 months, was more effusive. “I believe this is where he’s meant to be,” he said. “… If he can learn to play in the moment and learn to play against the golf course, learn to control his emotions, he’ll be fine.”
U.S. turns to Canada as a model: Canada might be a lightweight in tour golf compared with the United States, but it still has something to teach its neighbour, U.S. Golf Association CEO Mike Whan says. Canada and Mexico have “great” development programs to take promising young players to higher levels, he said.
“We’re actually spending more time with both of them to learn more about what they’re doing,” Whan said at a press conference last week before the U.S. Open.
The USGA is aiming to create a development program with a total of US$40 million in funding available to players ages 12-17, especially those without the resources to go it alone.
Canada has had a player-development program since 2003, taking the country’s most promising amateurs and giving them coaching and playing opportunities. It also assists fledgling pros with funding. The program is expanding immensely this year, to almost 50 athletes, after getting $14.5 million in donations. The goal is to have 30 graduates on the LPGA and PGA tours by 2032, up from about a dozen now.
Henderson finds her form again: Brooke Henderson, coming off her Canadian-record 11th win on the LPGA Tour, says she’s over her illness, has adjusted to using a shorter driver and is even making strides improving her nemesis: putting.
Henderson, 24, won the ShopRite LPGA Classic, a tournament that gave her a sponsor exemption in 2015 when she was a 17-year-old rookie struggling to get starts on the tour.
The victory, captured in a playoff with an eagle, ended a drought of almost a year and signaled she’s back on an even keel after a mostly quiet pandemic period and an undisclosed illness that kept her out of action during May. She has been forced to switch from her trademark 48-inch driver to a 46-incher because of rule changes, but says she is getting her distance and accuracy back after finding an ideal shaft. She also has gone to a left-hand-low putting grip, which has “definitely helped,” she told the “Tim and Friends” show on Sportsnet last week. “Everything is in a great setup for me now.”
Her 2022 season, despite the illness break and a couple of missed cuts leading into it, has been rock solid, with seven other top-15 finishes. But the victory gives her more hunger to reach a dozen titles and more, even as wins get seemingly harder to come by, she said: “Every year the talent out on tour just keeps getting better, so you have to keep pushing forward.”