The moments provided a glimpse of what Connor McLellan is now, and hinted at his vast potential.
That a first year rookie would be so calm and composed in big moment is uncommon. But McLellan showed his worth in high pressure situations.
At the 2014 Canadian Junior Championship McLellan tackled the Legends on the Niagara – Battlefield course in Niagara Falls, ON and finished in a tie for 31st.
One month later he was in Winnipeg, playing the Elmhurst and Southwood courses in the 2014 Canadian Amateur Championship.
He made the cut and tied for 68th.
“I played against a lot of good players from the United States and I thought it was a good showing for my first time,” he said.
Those tournaments, along with playing the venerable Torrey Pines course in the summer of 2013, are personal highlights for the 19 year old.
Now he’s diving into a whole new world with UFV.
An individual competitor up till now, McLellan is trying to cement his place on the 12 man Cascades roster.
He’s also trying to stay out of the long shadow cast by soon-to-graduate golf star Aaron Pauls.
Another Sardis secondary school grad, Pauls has accomplished more than any golfer in UFV history.
He led the team to four PacWest titles and four podium finishes at CCAA nationals, including a gold medal in 2013.
In early 2014 he became the first UFV athlete to be selected to represent Canada at the World University Championship, helping Team Canada to a fifth-place finish in Switzerland.
His pending departure leaves a void to be filled, and McLellan would like to become the next great Cascade golfer.
But those are some big shoes to fill.
“I played with him a little bit when I was in high school and he was here, maybe a couple times a month,” McLellan said. “I think he has great composure and his mental game is what distinguishes him from other players, including myself, maybe.”
“He’s more consistent, playing really well and never shooting outside of 75 ever,” the teenager continued. “I mean ever, whereas I have a few more highs and lows.”
That may owe as much to style of play as anything.
Coach Chris Bertram sees McLellan as a bit more of a boom-bust gambler on the course, which leads to great scores or missed cuts, depending on the situation.
“Aaron picks his spots a little more. He’s conservative in his approach, whereas Connor tends to see birdies a lot more abundantly,” Bertram elaborated.
McLellan’s approach can work wonderfully in individual competition, but team play is a different animal.
“You’re walking down the 17th hole knowing the team probably needs two birdies,” McLellan explained. “I don’t need them because I’ve played well, but the team does and that’s different.”
“There’s a time and a place for aggression and a time and place to be conservative,” Bertram said, discussing the kid’s style. “Connor’s a guy I put near the top of our five-man lineups because he’s got the potential to go low with his score. That doesn’t mean I like blind aggression and you have to know when to pick your spots.”
McLellan said he’s come a long way maturity-wise in a short amount of time, but he’s still learning.
He doesn’t let bad shots knock him for a loop as much as he used to.
He doesn’t get as angry and frustrated.
It was Pauls’ calm zen-like demeanor that made him the great university golfer he was, and Bertram’s trying to hone McLellan’s mental game.
“Coming into this season as a rookie, he came out of the gates really well, but then got into a funk as he felt some of the pressure of the team environment,” Bertram noted. “Now I see him starting to evolve and recognizing his role.”
“He’s understanding that when things aren’t going your way, you can’t throw away your round because it will hurt the team,” the coach continued. “More and more, Connor’s less susceptible to his emotions, going into grind mode and finding a way to get a score.”
McLellan could have gone elsewhere coming out of high school. He had moderately tempting options at NAIA National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) schools in Texas and Oregon.
“Going to the United States is an awful lot of money if you don’t find the perfect fit,” McLellan said. “You don’t get a lot of scholarship help. There’s eight players on a team and four scholarships, not all of them divided equally.”
“There’s international fees too, so it came down to finances, being able to stay home and improve as a player the same amount you would down there,” he added.
The program’s history played a big part as well.
Pauls helped forge something great at UFV, and McLellan feels ready to take the torch.
“National championships!” he said, smiling. “I look forward to winning another one in about six months or so.”
— The Cascades men and women both won national gold in 2013. Those are the only CCAA national titles in the history of the program.
The UFV men have six CCAA national medals in total, all since 2007.
The UFV men have won three straight PacWest titles, and women have won two PacWest titles in a row. See ufvcascades.ca