2016 ATB Financial Classic

Words: Barry Strader
​Photos: Neil Zeller and Barry Strader

Final round cancelled—Charlie Bull declared winner

No matter how stiff the competition, you can’t beat Mother Nature.

She won again at the ATB Financial Classic at Country Hills in Calgary, dropping more than 50 mm of rain Saturday night, making the golf course unplayable for the fourth round on Sunday. Several bridges on the course were washed out, leaving some holes inaccessible. At noon local time, Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada officials made the tough decision to cancel the final round, making it a 54-hole event.

Country Hills Sunday morning

That made England’s Charlie Bull, the third-round leader at 16-under par, the ATB Financial Classic Champion—his first win as a pro.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” said Bull after collecting his first-place cheque for $31,500. “It’s so cool to win your first tournament. It’s just bizarre how it’s all panned out.”

Bull had some inclinations that the tournament might be shortened, especially when he drove his rental pickup truck through downtown Calgary Saturday evening.

“I’ve never seen floods like that. Then the hail came,” he said. “I’m not going to lie. I did have a dream that it was going to turn into a 54-hole event. My roommate was supposed to tee off early this morning and he walked in about 6:30 and went back to bed. At that point, I knew it had to be pretty bad, knowing how well this course drains, for them to delay it.”

Charlie Bull

While he and the rest of the field would have preferred to play Sunday, Bull deserves full marks for the win, shooting an impressive 7-under 65 in the third round, including two eagles in the first five holes.

“Am I upset that we didn’t play? Not really. Would it have been nice to play? Yes. Would it have been nice to play and win? Absolutely. That would have been the best way to finish it,” said Bull. “But with the way I finished yesterday, I’m just as proud of that as if I had done that on Sunday. It doesn’t tarnish anything in my mind. The pressure was the same the entire round. I’ve never led a Mackenzie Tour event. I’ve been around it, but I’ve never had the lead. To hold the lead for pretty much the entire round was exciting.”

Bull’s win gives him a realistic shot to finish among the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada's top five money earners, all of whom will earn full status on the Web.com Tour next season. No matter what tour he’s playing in 2017, Calgary will always have a prominent place in Bull’s heart.

“It’s a very special place, with the history of the Olympics and the English at the Olympics, it’s obviously kinda cool.”

Big win for Hockey Alberta

Bull wasn’t the only winner at Country Hills this week. Following the tournament, a cheque for $117,500 was presented to Hockey Alberta to go towards its Every Kid, Every Community program, which is designed to get more kids involved in the game. Raising money for charity has always been a priority for PGA Tour events at every level.

“It’s a testament to our tournaments and tournament directors, who have really embraced the PGA Tour model,” said Scott Pritchard, director of business affairs for the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada. “The PGA Tour has raised over $2.4 billion for charity since its inception and for our tour to play a small part in that is great. Last year, our tour raised $567,000 for charity and through eight events this year we’re well over $800,000. It’s not unforeseeable that we could get to $1 million, which would be a great milestone for us.”

ATB has been the title sponsor of the Calgary event for nine years. The Classic just keeps getting bigger and better, attracting some of the world’s top up-and-coming golfers and making a big impact in the community.

“ATB is very proud to be involved in this tournament,” said John Windwick, ATB’s vice-president, community initiatives. “Every year we see how low these golfers can go. Charlie Bull and the rest of the field, you can tell they’re moving up. It’s amazing, the calibre of golf on this tour. Charlie will remember this week forever and he’ll remember us.”

See you at the ATB Financial Classic in 2017.

Round 3: Edmonton's Wil Bateman renews love for the game

He’s just 23 and already in his fifth year on the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada. But a year ago, Wil Bateman came very close to quitting the game of golf.

“I kind of lost the love for it at the time,” said the left-hander from Edmonton.

“Everything was geared towards, not playing, but the business side of it. I was in a bad state of mind. I was pretty close to giving it up but luckily I have good people around me to keep me grounded. I just lost sight of why I play.”

Bateman recommitted himself to the game and prepared for the PGA Tour Latinoamerica in a better frame of mind. After some solid finishes to open the season, he won in his fourth start, taking top spot in the Hyundai-BBVA 89 Abierto de Chile finishing at an impressive 24 under par.

“That was the feeling I want to have,” said Bateman. “That’s what I work towards. There’s nothing like it. Now I’m way more motivated.”

Wil Bateman

Bateman finished the PGA Tour Latinoamerica 14th on the money list and with a renewed love for the game after going through the roughest patch of his young career.

“You’re always going to struggle with your game if you’re struggling mentally,” he said. “That’s just golf. They say 95 per cent of golf is mental. The other five per cent is... mental. I completely agree with that. If you’re in a bad state of mind, how can you play well?”

Now in a better frame of mind, Bateman has had a solid start to the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada season. He hasn’t missed a cut in six starts, and after a 2-under 70 on Saturday, stands at 6-under through three rounds of the ATB Financial Classic at Country Hills. For the Florida-based Bateman, playing for the second straight week in Alberta has been a treat, including a 33rd-place finish in the Syncrude Oil Country Championship in his hometown.

“Last week, it was nice to stay in my own bed,” said Bateman. “I was unpacking my things in my bedroom and I thought, I don’t remember the last time I spent a week here. I’ve been all over the place but it’s always nice to come back home and spend time with the family.”

Bateman on the practice tee

With a short golf season, it’s tough for Alberta-born players to develop their games to be able to compete at the professional level. Bateman recognized that an early age and, with the support of his parents, moved to the southern US at 16 years old. He’s been there ever since.

“Every month you’re missing, they’re playing and they’re getting better than you are,” he said. “It’s tough. If you don’t go down south, you’re behind the curve for sure.”

With his rediscovered love for the game and some solid play, Bateman is feeling good about where he’s at and where he’s going.

“I’m still learning the ropes a little bit,” Bateman said. “You just have to keep progressing. I think everything is headed where I want to go. I just have to keep my head up and keep going.”

England’s Charlie Bull takes the lead with third round 65

Two eagles in the first five holes lifted 24-year-old Londoner Charlie Bull into the lead after 54 holes of the ATB Financial Classic. Bull sits at 16-under par, two strokes ahead of a group of four golfers, including 19-year-old Canadian Austin Connelly.

“It was a really weird day,” said Bull. “I had a four-footer for birdie on nine and missed that one. Back on hole number five, a 330-yard par four, I hit my tee shot to two feet. That’s just pure luck. I hit a nice shot, but that’s still pure luck to hit it that close and make eagle. No complaints about the round.”

Bull entered the week in 94th place on the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour money list. Earlier in the week, he checked out the ski jump at Canada Olympic Park where fellow Brit Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards became famous at the 1988 Olympics. Bull just saw the movie and couldn’t help but feel inspired.

“It would be nice to have a bit of Eddie the Eagle on my shoulder tomorrow,” he said. “I’m probably that guy right now. I’m way back on the money list. I haven’t played particularly well all season. I’m definitely the underdog, which is really nice. Everybody wants the Canadian to win. I’ll just go out tomorrow and have a good time and see what happens.”

Round 2: Visits with Riley Fleming and Austin Connelly

Airdrie touring pro Riley Fleming is now in his second year of a partnership with ATB Financial. The third-year pro is one of six local area golfers competing in the ATB Financial Classic at Country Hills, where he is a former member.

19-year-old Austin Connelly tied for the lead

He’s only 19 years old and he’s already played five PGA Tour events, making the cut in three of them. Yeah, you could say Austin Connelly is a phenom.

Connelly is also a regular on the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada, and is tied for the lead going into the weekend at the ATB Financial Classic. After a second-round 68, Connelly is at 11-under par, tied with American Carlos Sainz. Here’s the full leaderboard.

“I came in with the same mindset I had going into the first day, which was to give myself as many good looks for birdie as possible,” said Connelly. “Out here, it’s really important to keep it below the hole because you can find yourself in some difficult situations even 15 feet from the hole.”

Austin Connelly

The learning curve for a first-year pro is always steep, but Connelly seems to be handling it quite well, thanks.

“This is the fourth event that I’ve been at or near the lead through the second round,” he said.

“I’m starting to get more comfortable. It’s all about commitment and execution. Sometimes when you get a little nervy, you make swings you wouldn’t normally make. So basically just getting settled down, committing and using your brain instead of emotions.”

Connelly has played three PGA Tour events this season, including the AT&T National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach where he made the cut. Immediately following the ATB Financial Classic, he’ll head to Illinois to compete in the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic.

“It’s been an unbelievable experience to play on the PGA Tour,” said Connelly. “I would say I’ve learned equally as much here as I have on the PGA Tour. This is really my first year of playing week in and week out. In amateur golf, you play a lot but you don’t play the amount of golf we play as pros. You finish Sunday, Monday is a travel day, Tuesday’s the pro-am, nine holes Wednesday and right back into it so the weeks are long and I feel like I’ve really learned a lot from these experiences out here playing with some really unbelievable players.”

You might remember another 19 year old who had his coming out party at the John Deere Classic. Three years ago, it was the site of Jordan Spieth’s first PGA Tour victory, a few weeks before his 20th birthday. It just so happens, Spieth and Connelly are pals.

“We had a few conversations before I turned pro, just talking about different scenarios and situations,” said Connelly.

“He’s been a very positive influence on my golf game and my life. He’s really a first-class guy.”

Despite being born and raised near Dallas in Irving, Texas, (hence the friendship with Spieth), Connelly is a dual citizen. His father grew up in Toronto and he has family in Nova Scotia, where Connelly spent all of his summers growing up. When he competes as a pro or in international tournaments, there’s a Maple Leaf beside Connelly’s name.  

“It’s been unbelievable,” he said. “I had an awesome experience last year at the Pan-Am Games and at the Canadian Open representing Canada. I’ve had a lot of support from Golf Canada. It means a lot. Canadians love their golf and it’s really nice to have their support and have people rooting for me.”

And they’ll be rooting for him this weekend at the ATB Financial Classic.

Round 1: Scott Secord sizzles with 67

If there’s a golf course Scott Secord knows like the back of his hand, it’sCountry Hills. The 23-year-old Calgarian grew up on these links, first joining as a junior member at the tender age of eight.

He’s played hundreds, maybe thousands of rounds here. So when the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada’s ATB Financial Classic named Country Hills as its host course for 2016, Secord jumped at the chance to play on a sponsor’s exemption.

“It’s pretty lucky. The timing is perfect for me,” said Secord, who opened the tournament with a sizzling five-under 67. See the full leaderboardhere.

Secord, still an amateur for a few more weeks, played with fellow Albertans Sang Lee—a touring pro also out of Country Hills—and Grande Prairie’s Tyson Beaupre, a friend of Secord via the Alberta junior circuit.

“We felt very comfortable out there,” smiled Secord. “We didn’t think of it as a tournament. It was just another round where we went out and had fun.”

Scott Secord

Secord started his opening round on the back nine. After missing a short birdie putt on the opening hole, he quickly started putting up red numbers, including three straight birdies on holes five through seven, getting his name on the leaderboard early.

“I hit 17 greens today so I was striking the ball well, which I was happy about,” Secord said. “Then on the front nine, which was my back nine, I started to make some putts and started to get it going a little bit.”

Playing on his home course has its advantages. Secord knows every nook and cranny on the lot. He’s been in every spot and can read the breaks on every green. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have some friendly faces in the gallery.

“The support here has been amazing,” he said after enjoying lunch with his parents, also Country Hills members.

“And to come out here and see what the pros can do on the course is eye opening, too, to see the level I’ll have to get to in the next couple of years.”

Secord will play one more tournament as an amateur, the Canadian Men’s Amateur in Ottawa next week, and will turn pro the week after. He hopes to play in the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada event in the nation’s capital to make his professional debut. This after winning his second Canadian University men’s golf title in three years to finish his CIS golf career at the University of British Columbia, where he recently graduated with a degree in Economics.

That’s correct. He played his university golf north of the border.

“It was between golf and basketball, honestly,” said Secord of his high school athletic career. “When I was in grade 12, I chose golf because it’s more of a lifelong sport. By that time, all the US schools were taken up, because they recruit pretty deep by grade 10 or 11 so I missed out on pretty much every good opportunity. I didn’t have the best junior career. UBC was a great fit because it has a great education program as well, which my parents put a big emphasis on. We also travelled down the states and played in some NCAA events so it was a perfect mesh.”

Secord’s ultimate goal is to play on the PGA Tour. To get ready for that, he’ll travel to Arizona this winter to work on his game and bulk up. (“I’m one of the smaller guys out here,” he laughed.) Next year, he’ll try to qualify for both the Mackenzie Tour PGA Tour Canada and the European Tour. But before all of that, he has the ATB Financial Classic to finish. And he’s in contention.

“If I can match what I did today, great. If I can do better, even better,” he said. “I’ll just try to shoot under par every day and keep going lower and lower and climbing the leaderboard as much as I can.”

August 7th, 2016

England's Charlie Bull earns his first pro win at Country Hills.

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