When Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners were selected to represent Canada in men's golf at the Tokyo Olympics, they didn't really become teammates — the close friends have been working together for years.
In fact, the pair have been teammates at every level of golf, even functioning as pseudo-teammates on the PGA Tour, practising together with a revolving roster of Canadians every week. Conners said that the familiarity between him and Hughes will be a benefit in the 60-player, no-cut field at the Tokyo Olympics.
"We know each other's game really well, we're really comfortable around one another," said Conners. "I think that's going to be really helpful. You know as much as golf an individual sport, you know we're cheering for one another."
The pair first met as adolescents, playing in a tournament at Conners's home course in Listowel, Ont. They were then teammates on Golf Canada's men's young pro squad in 2015 and 2016, before playing together again at Kent State University.
"Neither of us, I'm sure at that moment when we first battled it out against one another, would have ever thought we'd be Olympians or, you know, PGA Tour winners and continuing to be great friends," said Conners of first meeting Hughes when they were 12 and 13, respectively. "Our journeys have been pretty awesome, and it's been fun to share a lot of the steps with Mac."
Although golf is ultimately an individual sport, the Canadians on the PGA Tour have a strong sense of camaraderie.
At each PGA Tour stop Hughes and Conners practise with a rotating cast of Canadians including Nick Taylor and Adam Hadwin (who grew up together in Abbotsford, B.C.), Taylor Pendrith (who played with Conners and Hughes at Kent State) and Mike Weir. That bond deepened in 2020, when the Tour's COVID-19 restrictions meant they spent a lot of time bubbled up together in hotels and AirBnBs throughout the United States.
"We all are very familiar with each other and comfortable around each other, whether it's dinner or practice rounds or sharing houses," said Hughes of the PGA Tour's Canadian clique. "We do a lot of things together.
"We're a very tight-knit group so it wouldn't matter who the two Olympians were that were going to Tokyo. All the Canadians would have been behind them."
Conners and Hughes are primed for success at Kasumigaseki Country Club, the host course for men's and women's golf at the Tokyo Olympics, after strong performances at the British Open.
After tying for 15th at the British Open on July 18, Conners moved up to 36th in the world rankings. Hughes is 53rd in the world heading into the Olympics after he tied for sixth at the Open.
Because of the qualifying format at the Olympics, the 60-player, no-cut field is missing out on many of the PGA Tour's biggest names. Only one country — the United States — has the maximum of four players in the men's tournament. Every other country is sending one or two players. On top of that, some of the world's best players like No. 2 Dustin Johnson of the U.S., and No. 12 Tyrrell Hatton of Britain are not playing.
That makes Conners and Hughes two of the more highly ranked players competing at Tokyo with dozens of players from other nations not qualified.
Hughes said that as long as he qualified to represent Canada and it was safe in terms of COVID-19, he was going to play.
"I never questioned not going," said Hughes. "I thought it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'd like to think that in four years I'll have a chance again, but you never know. So I wanted to be a part of that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2021.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly stated Rory McIlroy is not playing at the Olympics. He is representing Ireland.