Cameron McCormick's star stable, Austin Connelly's learning experience and a caddie meant for a 62
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At 7:30 on Sunday morning, Cameron McCormick was on the range at Royal Birkdale, working with one of his players. It wasn’t Jordan Spieth, who was leading The Open. And it wasn’t Austin Connelly, the fiery kid who was playing in the next-to-last group with U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka. It was a player most people haven’t heard of, Laurie Canter of England. Turns out, Canter was one of McCormick’s success stories on Sunday, shooting two-under 68 to finish T-37 along with Masters champion Sergio Garcia and former No. 1 Jason Day. Canter joined not only Spieth and Connelly on the list of McCormick’s recent triumphs but also Noah Goodwin, who came from 4 down with eight holes to play to win the U.S. Junior on Saturday. And going back last month, there’s So Yeon Ryu taking over the top spot in the Rolex Rankings. With all of these top players, McCormick remained his humble and introspective self. It wasn’t about him. It was about his players and their parents—starting with Shawn and Chris Spieth. “It’s an amazing thing to see all the hard work the players put in, following your guidance, that yields results,” McCormick told me by the 18th green at Birkdale after Spieth’s historic victory. “The foundation of the support the parents provide these kids as they are pursuing their dreams is inspirational, it really is.”
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Austin Connelly weighed 117 pounds when he started working with Cameron McCormick as a teenager, and according to McCormick, he couldn’t weigh more than that today—even with the whiskers. After playing in his junior series, Butch Harmon described the 20-year-old from Canada now living the Dallas suburbs as a 1-iron without a grip. But since grit isn’t weighable, McCormick made the case that Connelly wasn’t going to become unhinged in his next-to-last group Sunday pairing for the Open Championship with U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who would be 100 yards by him off the tee. Jordan Speith had to agree, recalling when the then 13-year-old “trounced” him with a 63 at Brook Hollow in Dallas. “Watch the way he walks after he makes a putt,” Spieth noted with some envy. “It’s like he’s saying, I know I just did what I’m supposed to do. I didn’t expect anything else mentally.” After holing his second shot on the second hole for eagle on Saturday, and finishing with a birdie for 66, Connelly showed his inexperience more than his lack of power in Sunday’s final-round 73 for a T-14 finish. Don’t judge his PGA Tour future by that, or his lack of size. As McCormick said. “if there’s 10 dogs in a fight for one piece of meat, he’s the one that’s going to get it.”
When Bones Mackay was caddieing for Phil Mickelson in the opening round of last year’s Open Championship at Troon, the left-hander held what Mackay described as “a team meeting,” coming up the 18th fairway, knowing the 18-footer he faced was for 62 and a major-championship record. That wasn’t the case with Zack Rasego and Brandon Grace on Saturday at Royal Birkdale. From experience, Rasego knew Grace wasn’t a scoreboard watcher, so telling him that par on the 18th during Saturday’s third round would mean a historic 62 might be a big mistake. “It would be like telling a pitcher that he was pitching a no-hitter,” Mackay told me in his debut for NBC Sports. Growing up during apartheid South Africa, Rasego lived in military tents of Soweto. The veteran caddie carried Gary Player’s bag in Sun City when he was 10. “When I first met Zack, I saw he was a very quick learner who had a great eye for the job,” Player has been quoted as saying. Rasego was on Louis Oosthuizen’s bag when his countryman coasted to a seven-shot victory in the 2010 Open at St. Andrews, and in 2012 he was voted the European Tour’s caddie of the year. Eventually he and Oosthuizen split, and Rasego returned to South Africa before Grace brought him back, winning the RBC Heritage last year. Sure enough, Rasego’s instincts were spot on; Grace two-putted from behind the 18th green to make history and nobody believed that he didn’t know—except Rasego.