A 20-year-old who required a playoff in qualifying just to get into his first major championship, the oldest of them all as a matter of fact, need not be the object of condescending pity support.
Austin Connelly, a Canadian-American dual citizen who plays out of the Claire Golf and Country Club in Church Point, N.S., actually seems quite at home on his lofty perch after the first round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Connelly, who has a couple of top-10s on the European Tour this year, says he caught the right side of the draw in Thursday’s first round and put up a three-under 67, despite taking a double bogey on the par four 16th.
That left Connelly tied for sixth, just two off the lead held by U.S. Open champ Brooke Koepka, veteran Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth, who played a practice round with Connelly earlier in the week.
Spieth has known Connelly for a couple of years through their swing coach and he said before the tournament that Connelly could surprise people who are not familiar with him this week.
Connelly lived up to that billing.
“Looked like this morning the guys that went off early, it was raining and cold and windy, but very pleased with the draw I got,” said Connelly, who admitted to some first tee jitters.
“I was pretty calm throughout the round, but it’s nice to hold it together coming down the stretch. There are some difficult tee balls, some bunkers that you don’t really want to hit it in, so it’s nice to get through and make a few birdies on the back nine,” he said.
“I’m very happy with how I played. I think it’s something that I can do again. It didn’t take anything extraordinary to do it out there. It just took solid ball-striking with a good game plan and just some good fortune with a couple of putts rolling in,” he said.
“I feel like this place suits me very well, and I think I can go around there composed throughout the week,” he added.
The Royal Birkdale that Connelly faces Friday could be a different Royal Birkdale than the one he produced the 67 on Thursday. The wind is expected to come from a different direction, with gusts as high as 30 to 35 miles per hour, with rain throughout the day.
That will present new challenges for Connelly as he surges towards playing the weekend, as well as Adam Hadwin, now getting his first taste of links golf in Europe.
Hadwin had put up three bogeys over his first eight holes on Thursday, before getting his first birdie of the day on nine. He went bogey free on the back nine with one birdie to record a one-over 71 and left him tied for 58th.
Hadwin is in the first group out Friday morning at 6:35 a.m. local time, with Connelly teeing off at 7:08 a.m. For Friday’s tee times, click here.
The leaderboard is here.