Confident Austin Connelly comes up big at British Open

AP Photo/Dave Thompson

Confident Austin Connelly comes up big at British Open

Professional

Confident Austin Connelly comes up big at British Open

SOUTHPORT, England – What Austin Connelly lacks in stature, he more than makes up for in belief.

Call him Little Big Man.

The 5-foot-7 professional weighing all of 150 pounds certainly stood among the giants of the game at Royal Birkdale in the 146th British Open. Playing in his first major championship, Connelly finished tied for 14th after rounds of 67-72-66-73 for a 2-under 278 total to earn $128,917.

Connelly scraped into the biggest tournament of his life by coming through final qualifying in a four-man playoff at Royal Cinque Ports. He took advantage of that good fortune with one of the performances of his life. 

Deep down he knew he was destined for greatness.

“I believed when I turned professional that I was going to rise and be able to play with the best in the world,” Connelly said. “And it’s just nice to have that confirmed.”

Connelly played in the third-to-last group out Saturday, just five shots off the lead. He teed off just before Jordan Spieth, Matt Kuchar, Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter. Rory McIlroy was in the group just in front. It wasn’t really where the world No. 524 belonged. Yet the Dallas native started with a birdie, eagled the par-4 second when he holed a 145-yard 9-iron and suddenly found himself in the mix, and completely at home.

“I never felt nerves from the first tee on,” he said. “I was very calm.”

He finished with birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 to move into third place from joint sixth at the start of the day. Most 20-year-old so-called “nobodies” would have been happy to shoot 4 under in the third round of the game’s oldest championship. Not Connelly.

“I wouldn’t say it’s surprised me the way I’ve played. I would say more than anything it’s surprised me that the numbers haven’t been a little bit lower.”

That sort of confidence will take Connelly a long way.

Connelly has dual Canadian and American citizenship. He was born in Dallas, lives in nearby Irving and spent his summers in Nova Scotia, Canada, where his father, Bill, is from. He turned professional in 2015, deciding not to attend Arkansas, which he had signed with the previous November. His amateur accomplishments include winning the prestigious 2015 Jones Cup Invitational, a result that enabled him to reach 4th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Last year saw him play fulltime on the PGA Tour’s Canadian Mackenzie Tour, where he had four top-10s including a second and a third. After missing out on a card at the Web.Com Tour Qualifying School, he packed his bags and headed for Europe. He just missed getting a full card there for this season by one shot. He has spent this year floating between the European Challenge Tour and main European Tour. He’s performed well in limited starts on the European Tour, racking up top-10 finishes in the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth and the Nordea Masters.

Nothing suggested he’d get into contention in the game’s oldest championship. However, friend and new Champion Golfer of the Year Jordan Spieth knew Connelly had it in him to perform on the game’s biggest stages.

“He’s got a great head,” Spieth said. “He’s got a killer instinct. He’s a guy that’s not afraid of the moment.”

He wasn’t. In fact, according to the coach he shares with Spieth, he revels under pressure.

“Austin has incredible belief in himself and his abilities,” Cameron McCormick said. “He has always been a great kid who can take a little bit of wind in his sails and ride it a long way. Clearly this is more than a little wind. This is a huge gust.” 

Connelly lay 167th on the European money list with $86,000 in earnings before he arrived in Southport. He left with about $217,000 in his European Tour bank account. He moved to 112th on the money list, needing to earn around another $133,000 to finish inside the top 100 on the European money list and retain his playing rights for 2018.

After his performance among the giants of world golf, Little Big Man should have no problem achieving that.

 

 

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