BY BRAD ZIEMER
Tournament golf is an individual sport, but this week John Mlikotic, Conner Kozak and Chris Trunzer also feel like they are playing on a team.
That would be Team GolfBC.
Mlikotic, Kozak and Trunzer are all part of the GolfBC family and proud to be representing the title sponsor at this week’s inaugural $175,000 GolfBC Championship at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club.
“Maybe we will get a little side action going here,” laughs Kozak, an assistant professional at Okanagan Golf Club in Kelowna.
Kozak, a 23-year-old University of B.C. graduate, earned his spot into the new Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada event by winning a qualifier held early last week for several GolfBC pros at Gallagher’s Canyon. Kozak prevailed in a playoff after he and Trunzer, a teaching pro at Gallagher’s, each shot four-under 68s.
Trunzer and Mlikotic, who finished third in that qualifier, subsequently were awarded two sponsor’s exemptions that went back to the tournament organizer after Golf Canada was not able to use them.
Kozak, a Vernon native, is pumped about the Mackenzie Tour coming to the Okanagan. He’s even more excited about getting a chance to play in the tournament.
“It means a lot, actually,” Kozak said. “It is a pretty big event and it’s going to be kind of cool. I think the coolest part about it is that it is so close to home and it is my first pro event and it’s right here in my backyard. And then just getting to tee it up with all the pros is kind of a dream come true. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Kozak had a solid collegiate golf career at UBC, where he recently earned a degree in kinesiology. He is trying not to weigh himself down with expectations, but it’s clear he expects to play well.
“You know what, I just think I have to stick with what I have been doing, to be honest with you,” he said. “It sounds very cliche, but when I put a lot expectations on myself I feel like I kind of under-perform. I love playing competitive golf. That is what gets me going. So I don’t really have to do too much to get myself going. I know I am going to be ready.”
While Kozak was competing for UBC, Mlikotic was playing across town for Simon Fraser University. He just graduated in April and is now working as an assistant pro at Gallagher’s. He is no stranger to the course, having worked there the past few summers.
Like Kozak, Mlikotic is an Okanagan native who grew up in Kelowna and went to Immaculata High School. He has lost count how many times he has played Gallagher’s Canyon over the years and hopes to put that home-course advantage to use this week.
“It’s my first PGA Tour Canada start and I’m debuting at my home course,” Mlikotic said. “It’s hard to explain what this means to me, but I am super-excited. I am ready to play and the support from the members and staff and my family and friends has just been tremendous already. I can’t wait.”
Mlikotic obviously hopes to make the cut, which would make for a nice birthday present. He turns 23 on Saturday and can’t think of a better way to celebrate his birthday than by playing in the third round.
“At the end of the day I look at it as just another tournament,” he said. “It’s golf, right, but being my first PGA Tour Canada start there is definitely more preparation and more emotions that are going into it. But I think after that first tee shot it will just be normal golf, like a normal round with my buddies. That’s the way I look at it. I am excited.”
Trunzer has travelled much farther to get to Gallagher’s Canyon. The 32-year-old is from Germany and joined Gallagher’s as a teaching pro this spring.
Unlike his two GolfBC colleagues, Trunzer has considerable pro tournament experience. He played last year on the Mackenzie Tour and tied for fourth at the Syncrude Boreal Open in Fort McMurray.
“I still feel today I gave that one away,” Trunzer said. “ I played really well on the back nine but couldn’t drop a putt and lost by two shots. Who knows, maybe I would still be playing today, with $30,000 more in my bank account and more status. That is how fine the line is between pro golf and teaching.”
He is delighted that three GolfBC pros are teeing it up this week.
“It is fantastic for us and we very lucky to have such good golfers on our team,” Trunzer said. “It is not normal that a golf teacher shoots under par on a regular basis and those kids (Kozak and Mlikotic) do. We have really good golfers as teachers.”
Trunzer has high expectations heading into the event and thinks his knowledge of the course will allow him to be more aggressive than most of the rest of the field.
“I feel like I can hit a lot of fairways because I know the lines really well,” he said. “I am excited, but I am trying to stay very level-headed. I know if my game is on, I can do something special this week.”