HUTCHINSON, Kansas -- Before senior Taylor Pendrith arrived at Kent State, comparisons to the star of a certain golf-comedy from the mid-90s might've been unavoidable.
He grew up playing hockey; after trying golf, he discovered his natural ability to crush shots off the tee but struggled away from the tee; a mentor that recognized his raw potential, and, he admits, his mental composure on the course had room to improve.
Before Kent State, he grew up in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada. The year before he left for Ohio, he won the Canadian Junior Long Drive Championship with a 349-yard drive. Equally impressive, his ball speed was tracked at 190 miles per hour, 10 faster than Tiger Woods. Most impressive, Pendrith spent nearly all of his golfing youth teaching himself the sport."I didn't have a [golf] lesson until I was 17," he said. "So everything's just all natural."
His power at the tee isn't just a golf thing. The power translated from the two other sports he learned independently: hockey and baseball.
"I was always kind of a power hitter in baseball and always had a hard slap shot in hockey," he said.
He started playing golf at the age of 12, when he went to visit his sister for a couple days, a superintendent at a local golf course. While she was busy at work, he entertained himself by playing golf for the first time.
"I started hitting golf balls and driving the cart when I was young and thought it was kind of fun," he said. "Ever since then, I developed an interest."
He began playing tournaments at the age of 15, but didn't realize until the year after that he had a future in golf. That year, he won his first event and said he ripped off a few more wins that season. At that point, he dropped other sports in favor to pursue golf.
"That's when i kind of realized 'What do i need to do to play at the next level?'" he said.
The next year, he finally started getting one-on-one coaching. His coach, Henry Brown, began refining Pendrith's short game and teaching him the mental aspect of golf. After all, hockey players aren't exactly known for their cool heads.
Perhaps most importantly to Pendrith's career, Brown was connected with Kent State coach Herb Page. After Brown contacted him about Pendrith, it was a done deal. Taylor was going to Kent State.
"I went on a visit and it was awesome, everything was the way I imagined it. And better, even," he said.
Kent State was a natural fit because its within driving distance of his hometown, and the program's Canadian-heavy roster, he said. Kent State's head coach of 36 years, Herb Page, is from Canada. The team also features three other Canadians from Ontario. Pendrith said the combination made for a steady transition from Canada to America.
"It was a little awkward at first to get used some of the different things. But since there's so many Canadians around, it felt normal and I got used to it really quickly."
Not that he couldn't have done it on his own. After all, he dropped two team-intensive sports around the time he realized golf meant he didn't have to rely on others for success.
"I liked it more because its an individual sport and you don't have to rely on anybody. You can just do your own thing," he said.
So it seems fitting that he's in the individuals tournament at the NCAA Men's Golf Championships. This year is the first without his team joining him. For the first time in Pendrith's four years, his team failed to qualify at the Sugar Grove Regional last week. He nabbed the region's single individuals' spot in the process. And while he wishes his team was here to share the success, its something he's alright with.
"I'm very comfortable coming here by myself, there's no problem," he said.
Yet, as comfortable as he is being an individual, he wishes his team was here like they had been the past three years. Especially today, when more than 8-hours of rain delay plagued the tournament's opening day.
"Days like this, you're at a rain delay and you're with your team and having fun and, you know, now its just me," he said. About an hour before, the Texas A&M golfers played cards to pass the time at this same table.
Its something he'll get used to. He plans on spending the summer playing various amateur events, then turning professional later in the year. After this tournament, his days playing on a team won't be nearly as often as they have been the past four years.
Which might not be a bad thing. After all, there might not be anybody else at this tournament who is a more strong-willed individualist.