SOUTHPORT, England – When Austin Connelly decided to forego college at the University of Arkansas and turn pro two years ago, he turned some heads. Some questioned if he was ready. Some even looked at his slender frame – the 5-foot-7 Connelly weighs just north of 150 pounds – and wrote him off immediately.
In Connelly’s mind, there was no doubt; it was the right thing to do.
Since that decision, Connelly, now 20, has played golf all over the world – and more importantly, he has found success. Last year, he competed on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, where his father, Bill, was born. (Connelly, born in Irving, Texas, is a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S.) He finished seventh on the tour’s Order of Merit, two spots shy of earning his Web.com Tour card.
After failing to earn full status via Web.com Tour Q-School last winter, Connelly, who had previously earned his European Tour playing privileges via its Q-School, turned his focus to playing golf outside of North America. In six months, Connelly has teed it up in four different continents between starts on the European and Challenge tours, notched a pair of top 10s in European Tour events, and this week will play in his first major, the British Open at Royal Birkdale.
“It’s been incredible; each different country has a different culture, and then all the different golf courses,” Connelly said. “It’s been a pretty cool experience for me so far. I’ve played reasonably well. It’s a bit of an adjustment coming over here with some of the golf courses, but I’ve been happy with how I’ve played on the main tour. I’ve held my own and I’ve been learning each week.”
Austin and Bill Connelly left Dallas in February to begin Austin’s global golf journey. The first stop was Perth, Australia, for Austin’s European Tour debut, at the ISPS Handa World Super 6. He finished T-9. Then they headed to India, for the Hero Indian Open. This time, Connelly missed the cut.
The globetrotting was just beginning. Next was a vacation in Abu Dhabi, and then a plane ride to Kenya for the Challenge Tour’s Barclays Kenya Open. For Bill, staying in Nairobi and taking a safari in the Nairobi National Park was a major highlight.
“Unbelievable,” Bill said. “It’s almost a 120-square-kilometer park, and it’s right up against the city. They put one wall next to the city and the rest of it’s wide open, so lions and elephants and everything, they can get around it. Big cats can actually jump the wall.”
After a return trip to Dallas, the Connellys – mom, Bridget, included – headed back to Europe. The first event was in Portugal, then Italy, Sweden (Austin tied for eighth there, at the Nordea Masters), Austria, France, Denmark, Scotland, Italy again, and now England, for Austin’s first Open, which he qualified for after holing a 15-foot birdie putt to win a 3-for-1 playoff and nab the final Open ticket out of Royal Cinque Ports.
Austin called that accomplishment his best memory so far this year.
“I had my girlfriend (Evelyn Arguelles, who plays college golf for Dallas Baptist), her cousin and both my parents here,” Connelly said. “That was just a really neat thing.”
Of course, playing in one’s first Open Championship is no small feat.
“As a dad, it’s fantastic to follow your young man’s dream, watch him as he pursues his goals and accomplishes them,” Bill said. “Royal Birkdale is quite an achievement.”
Growing up in the Dallas area, Connelly has grown comfortable in the wind. In fact, his game, on paper, appears nearly perfect for links play – he doesn’t hit it very far, but he’s extraordinarily accurate with his woods and long irons. Amateur Maverick McNealy once said of Connelly: “He hits the ball on a string.”
“Links golf fits my game very well,” Connelly said. “I haven’t played a ton of it. … This course, it’s a good test and really good for me. You have to drive it straight. You have to really make sure you have the right shot shape on the ball.”
Jordan Spieth, who has known Connelly for years through their instructor, Cameron McCormick, and plays occasionally with Connelly during the winter in Dallas, agrees.
“This is the type of golf where he can really, really make a move and prevail,” Spieth said. “He really works the ball extremely well. He hits his long clubs dead straight. And he’s got kind of a killer instinct on the greens, like nothing really fazes him.
“I’ve played with him where we’ve had good matches and I’ve gotten beat by four or five shots in Dallas. He can go off. And he’s not afraid to go low.”
No, Connelly isn’t afraid of much. This is why he skipped college, because he knew he was ready for big moments, like this one at the Open. In less than 48 hours, he’ll get another chance to prove it.