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Locals get to test golf skills at NextGen Prairie Championship

Event will be held from June 6 to June 9 at Whitewater Golf Course and will feature some of the top junior golfers from across the country.

THUNDER BAY — Corey Conners, Nick Taylor and Taylor Pendrith all got their starts in the Canadian junior ranks.

All three went on to make it big on the PGA Tour.

Conners, a runner-up at the former Staal Foundation Open, has two wins under his belt. Taylor has four and Pendrith became the most recent Canadian to join the winner’s circle, capturing the CJ Cup Byron Nelson tournament earlier this month.

Organizers of the NextGen Prairie Championship, being held from June 6 to 9 at Whitewater Golf Course, say it wouldn’t surprise them if a future PGA Tour or LPGA Tour winner is in the field next month, an event that’s bringing together some of the best young golfing talent the nation has to offer to the Thunder Bay area.

“That’s exactly what we’re hoping for,” said tournament chair Chris Gardner.

“That’s exactly the title of the tournament, the NextGen. We’re definitely crossing our fingers that we have one or two of those players, those gems, in the field that can definitely elevate our championship and motivate our guys as well.”

Gardner expects at least 90 golfers to take part in the event, with a spot at the Canadian junior boys’ and girls’ championships on the line.

At last year’s event, the top six finishers in each gender advanced to nationals.

It’s a great opportunity for local golfers in the field, Gardner said.

“It’s all a part of development. Having these championships, having these showcases, definitely spark some enthusiasm and some passion into our local Thunder Bay juniors.

"It sparks interest, it sparks people to play, it turns people’s eyes over here to Whitewater and to what our juniors are doing,” Gardner said.

“We can’t be any more thrilled to be hosting this championship.”

Nicolas Pavletic, an 18-year-old St. Ignatius High School student, will be one of those locals in the field and can’t wait for the opening round to arrive.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity for all of us local boys, and anyone else coming from out of town. It’s going to be a great event and I’m looking forward to it, really,” Pavletic said.

“It’s huge. It’s going to give us a lot of exposure toward colleges and maybe give us better opportunities where we can go with this game.”

Matthew Lysak, an 18-year-old student at Seventh Fire Secondary School, said playing an event of this magnitude at a local track is a confidence booster.

“I’ve played this course since I was 10 or 11 years old. The fact that we get to show our skills off in front of a huge crowd, it’s going to be really nice and I’m excited to do it,” Lysak said.

“For all the local boys, it’s pretty cool because all the other events are in southern Ontario and Manitoba, so it’s nice we get to be in our homes, getting home-cooked meals for the week, and just coming out to our course and playing golf that we know. We can put up good scores out here and we’re ready to do that.”

A third local golfer in the field is St. Ignatius teen Jonah Lahtinen. Like Lysak and Pavletic, he’s excited about the opportunity to test his golf skills against some of Canada’s finest.

“We don’t get to experience it often, and to be able to have a home-field advantage over some of the best players in Canada is definitely an exciting feeling for us,” Lahtinen said.

Alberta’s Kye Fisher took last year’s NextGen boys title, shooting a 5-under 67 in the final round to edge out fellow Albertan Seth Mottershead-Yee. Manitoba’s Cala Korman won the girls' crown, a three-shot win over Regina’s Hallie Crozier.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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