BY BRAD ZIEMER
KELOWNA — That old Cyndi Lauper song about girls just wanting to have fun was released long before Jacqueline Bendrick was born.
But having fun is Bendrick’s main goal as the 19-year-old collegiate player from Mercer Island, Wash., prepares to tee it up alongside the boys in this week’s inaugural GolfBC Championship at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club.
Bendrick insists she is more excited than nervous about playing on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada circuit on a sponsor’s exemption. She is determined not to be overwhelmed by the experience.
“I am really trying to have fun, I know that sounds cliche, but I am trying not to have super-high expectations for myself,” Bendrick said Tuesday after a practice session on the Gallagher’s Canyon driving range. “I want to just go out there and enjoy it. I know I play my best golf when I am relaxed and just going out there and trying to do my best on every shot.”
Bendrick recently completed her sophomore season with Furman University in South Carolina. Furman is a small liberal arts school that has produced the likes of LPGA Tour winners Betsy King, Beth Daniel and Dottie Pepper.
Bendrick knows she is stepping up in weight class playing alongside some of the top up-and-coming male pros. Her stroke average this past season was 74.9 and she registered four top-15 finishes. She tied her career low round with a 68 at the Yale Intercollegiate tourney.
“I am very excited to be here,” she said. “It is an honour to play. Being the only woman here is a little intimidating, but I am excited about the challenge. The course isn’t playing too long so I think it will be very playable for me.”
Gallagher’s Canyon is set up to play just over 6,700 yards. While that is a tad short by male pro standards, it is the longest course Bendrick has faced in competition.
“The longest I played collegiately was I think 6,500 yards, so it is about 300 yards longer, but I think the narrowness makes it a lot more difficult.
“The shorter length for the guys kind of prevents them from hitting some of the longer drives and I think that will help equalize the field for me.”
The 5-foot-11 Bendrick is no slouch off the tee. She is the big hitter on her Furman team, which advanced to last month’s NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore.
“I usually carry it about 260,” she said. “Down at school where it is drier, it will roll out to 280 or 290. Up here, yesterday I was going about 270 yards.
“The holes here are pretty long and a lot of the longer holes are also pretty narrow. I think that will be a challenge for me, whereas some of the guys can pull a 2-iron, I will be forced hit a driver to make sure I don’t have a 3-wood going into the green. So I think it will be a big challenge, but I have been spending a bit of time working on hybrids and long irons, so I think that will pay off.”
Bendrick got the exemption after Samantha Richdale, a Kelowna native who plays on the LPGA and Symetra Tours, had to turn down an offer to play here when she drew into the field of this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Sahalee Golf Club near Seattle.
Inspired by the barrier-breaking rise of star player and family friend Michelle Wie, GolfBC’s founder Caleb Chan felt compelled to offer another promising young female talent a showcase opportunity at the inaugural GolfBC Championship. Bendrick was offered an exemption spot after Caleb learned of her professional aspirations from her father Terry, a close colleague of Chan’s.
“I was a little worried, I was like, am I best person to have it,” Bendrick said. “But I talked to everyone and they were really excited to have me here and they needed someone to hit a long ball and I am the longest hitter on my college team, so that helps me out. But it is really an honour.”
Bendrick, who turns 20 on Friday, said she has been welcomed by the players she has met so far this week.
“I have met a few people and everyone has been super friendly. . .There has been a little confusion. At (player) registration, they were like, ‘what are you doing here?’ And I’m like, ‘I am that one woman’ and they are like, ‘okay, cool.’ Everyone has been great.”
Bendrick, who will have her dad on her bag as caddie this week, will be the first woman to play in a Mackenzie Tour event since the Canadian Tour was taken over by PGA Tour Canada in 2013. Two other women did play events on the former Canadian Tour.
Michelle Wie, then 13, played in the Bay Mills Open in 2003. She shot rounds of 74 and 79 and missed the cut. Quebec native Isabelle Beisiegel earned conditional status at the Canadian Tour’s 2011 qualifying school. Beisiegel played in six events that year, but failed to make a cut.
“I think it is great,” said Langley’s Adam Cornelson. who won last week’s Mackenzie Tour event in Victoria. “It is growing the game. There are so many good female players on the LPGA Tour and Symetra Tour and college golf, and if it brings exposure to the tour I think it is phenomenal. I wish her the best of luck.”
Bendrick said the fact the B.C. Cancer Foundation is the main charitable beneficiary of the GolfBC Championship helped convince her to accept the sponsor’s exemption. She lost both of her grandmothers to cancer and has an interest in medical research. Bendrick is a biology major at Furman.
“I am hoping to go into medical research,” she said. “I have had Type 1 diabetes since I was about a year old. I grew up surrounded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and I went to all the research conventions in Seattle. It really sparked my interest in wanting to take a career path in the sciences. I hoping to go into immunology for grad school. We’’ll what happens.”
A lot will depend on her golf game. Bendrick has pro aspirations and may take a gap year after she graduates from Furman and begins graduate school to give pro golf a try.
But that is the future. This week, she is focused on the opportunity she has had Gallagher’s Canyon.
“I am just hoping to earn my spot through play and just show everyone that women golfers can compere at this level as well,” she said. “I think I have the skills. I just need to relax and go out there and not think about everyone else and just play my own game.”
And, of course, have some fun.