Matt Hopley couldn’t have conceived of a better birthday gift.
The Kelowna teenager, who turned 15 this week, was granted a sponsor’s exemption into the GolfBC Championship on his home track at Gallagher’s Canyon.
Hopley, a Grade 9 student at Immaculata Regional High School, was among 156 players who teed it up Thursday morning for the third event of the season on Canada’s Mackenzie Tour.
To be surrounded by professionals, most of whom are at least five years his senior, is an experience Hopley plans to absorb to the fullest.
“It’s definitely the best birthday present I’ve ever got,” Hopley said following a practise round on Wednesday. “It’s so exciting to come out here and play with these guys, some of the best players in Canada…I think it’s really going to improve my game and it’ll just be a great experience.”
Despite his relative youth and inexperience, Hopley hasn’t shown any apprehension in his young career to date in competing against older players.
This season on the Zone 2 Junior Golf Tour, competing against players as much as four years his senior, Hopley won two events and placed second on the Order of Merit.
The son of Gallagher’s Canyon director of golf, Peter Hopley, Matt grew up in what could be considered the ideal golf environment. But according to his coach, it’s more than his surroundings, natural abilities and hard work that sets Hopley apart from most players his age.
“He’s a fantastic kid who is mature beyond his years,” said Chris Trunzer, director of instruction at Gallagher’s. “His dad did the perfect job giving him the basics, now we’re just fine tuning.
“I always talk to him like I’m talking to an adult,” added Trunzer. “He reminds of when Jordan Spieth came up, very mature and years beyond his age.”
When he’s not studying and keeping his grades up, Matt eats, breathes and sleeps golf. He may only be 15, but Hopley is already dreaming big.
“My goal would be to play on the PGA Tour and be one of the best players in the world, that’s my goal,” said Hopley. “This is another stepping stone for me. I love the game, everything about it and it’s what I want to do with my life.”
Still, Hopley, and his dad, Peter, are all acutely aware of the challenges facing young golfers and that the road traveled to a pro career isn’t always a smooth one.
“I’m so proud of him and his work ethic, it’s far beyond what I ever had as a player,” said Peter Hopley. “He’s an older soul who has matured quicker than most and that’s allowed him to have so much success at a young age.
“It can be a tough go,” Peter continued, referring to the journey to a pro career. “There are challenges and hardship, so in that way I’m torn. But right now, I want him to go out there, learn and enjoy the game and experience all the good things that come with it.”
Following the GolfBC Championship, Matt will take a trip to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where he’ll try to qualify for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship next month in Andover, Kansas.
For more information on the GolfBC Championship, go to golfbcchampionship.com
WORLD LONG DRIVE CHAMP…
For more than a decade, Jamie Sadlowski’s golf career consisted of driving a ball as high and far as his body could muster, with no need for a short game.
Now the former two-time world long drive champion is in the process of refining his entire skill set for a run at a career on tour.
A 28-year-old native of St. Paul Alta., Sadlowksi is making his debut on Canada’s Mackenzie Tour this week in Kelowna at the GolfBC Championship.
“It’s obviously a career change since being in long drive since 2003,” said Sadlowski, who won the 2008 and 2009 world long drive titles. “It’s a different challenge but I was ready to try, the Mackenzie Tour is a great start, a great stepping stone in hopefully getting where I want to get to.”
Sadlowski had his first taste of the big time last month when he made his PGA Tour debut at the Dean and Deluca Invitational in Texas.
He didn’t make the cut but was happy to get his foot in the door in a pro tournament environment.
“It was something that was very exciting for me, I was inside the cut line the first day, didn’t have it going the second day,” Sadlowski said. “Overall, it was a great experience, to get your feet wet in your first event, stepping up to that first tee and striping it felt good, they can’t take that away, it was an awesome experience.
Among other first-timers to watch this week at the GolfBC Championship is Jared du Toit, formerly ranked the No. 1 amateur in Canada. du Toit caught the imagination of golf fans last summer with a surprise ninth-place showing at the Canadian Open.