Conner Kozak surprised himself by claiming his first win as a UBC Thunderbird in his sophomore season.
After all, he didn’t play any tournament golf all summer as he “grinded it out in the classroom” at UBC Okanagan with human kinetics courses. And his game wasn’t exactly Rory McIlroy sharp.
The break must have worked for Kozak, who was the only player under par in a field of 55 as he won the NAIA Fall Preview men’s golf tournament in Salem, Ore. Tuesday.
Kozak, 19, finished at three-under with rounds of 70-71. He made up a one-stroke deficit over the final 18 holes to take home medalist honours, three strokes ahead of Blake Vinson of Texas Wesleyan Rams in Fort Worth.
“It was pretty steady,” Kozak told The Morning Star. “I made some putts; that was the main thing, and I kept it in play. I didn’t make any real long putts. They were more mid-range. I was hitting it close to the pins and giving myself that chance.”
Kozak, a 5-foot-11 multi-sport star (helped Seaton Sonics win the B.C. senior AA boys volleyball title), went birdie-birdie to start his opening round.
“The last couple of weeks were a struggle, but I put in some time in practice on the range. I slowly figured things out and made things feel normal again.”
Said UBC head coach Chris MacDonald, on the T-Birds’ website: “We are really happy for Conner. He’s been putting in extra practice time at the Shaughnessy range and was rewarded. Conner has power off the tee and he controls his iron distances well. This week he played a disciplined game and took advantage of the par fives.”
Kozak was playing the event as an individual so his scores didn’t count towards the UBC total in the team competition. Still, the Thunderbirds placed second. UBC finished at 22-over 598 (292-306), 19 strokes behind the winning school, Texas Wesleyan.
“The five team representatives this week had a solid opening round, but the final round showed that we have room for improvement which is important to see in the fall,” said MacDonald. “Hats off to Texas Wesleyan, they are the best team in the NAIA right now and we have work to do to close that gap”.
A total of 10 teams took part in the tournament, which was held at the Creekside Golf Club.
TWU’s Nathan Anderson (76-69-145) posted the low score on Tuesday with a 3-under 69 to finish tied for third along Concordia’s Jed Dalton (70-75-145), while Texas Wesleyan’s Dylan Anthony (74-72-146) rounded out the top-five individuals.
Three other T-Birds – Scott Malo (Calgary), Conrado Paderes (Vancouver) and Josh Zhang (Vancouver) – were all part of a group of golfers who tied for eighth at 6-over, 150.
First round leader Kieran Standen (Edmonton) was another shot back of the trio, tied for 12th place, at 151 (69-82).
The Thunderbirds hope to return to Salem in the spring, as Creekside will host the NAIA national championships, May 14-17.
The next event for the UBC men’s golf team will be in California at the Sonoma State Invitational, Oct. 14-16 in Santa Rosa.
Kozak said the T-Birds have a large enough roster to hold intra-squad Ryder Cup matches for the rest of the winter.
He finished in a three-way tie for second place at the Association of Independent Institutions (AII) Conference Men’s Golf Championships last April in Prescott, Ariz.
Kozak then tied for 34th in the Canadian University/College Championships in Cordova Bay (Victoria) in late May.