Credit: Dane Heverin, Golf Australia
Top West Australian prospects Connor McKinney and Hayden Hopewell have taken the professional plunge and will start their new journeys at the Fortinet Australian PGA Championship at Royal Queensland from Thursday.
The pair will also tee it up at the ISPS HANDA Australian Open at Victoria and Kingston Heath golf clubs next week to begin their professional careers with the two marquee events in the Australian summer of golf.
McKinney and Hopewell represented Australia together at the World Amateur Team Championship and the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship this year, as well as their home state at the Australian Interstate Teams Matches where they shared the top seed throughout the tournament.
Individually, McKinney has produced a stellar year in winning the Australian Amateur, the St Andrews Links Trophy and a First Stage of DP World Tour Qualifying School event in Portugal.
“Having a pretty solid amateur year this year made the decision a bit easier,” McKinney said.
“To kick off your pro career at the two best events in Australia is very exciting. You’ve got a chance at big events to kick things off.
“It’s pretty exciting. You have a good season and you can do what Jed Morgan did and be playing in the majors. You’re on your way then.”
The Joondalup member was unable to earn a DP World Tour card after bowing out in the second stage of Q-School, but he believes the combination of matching it against the professionals and his amateur experiences can help fuel his hunger for immediate success.
“You go into the tournament trying to win it. That’s the goal. Whether or not it happens, we’ll find out, but I’m going to put all my time and effort into that,” McKinney said.
“I’ve definitely played in all conditions. I was in Thailand a few weeks ago, I’ve played in Scotland and England where the wind just blows the whole time and obviously here in Australia where it’s nice and warm. I think I’m pretty ready for what conditions I face.
“(At DP World Tour Q School) I didn’t feel out of place at all. I hit the ball well. I didn’t hole too many but obviously that one bad round where I had a few bad holes really cost me. I wasn’t too shook by it though. It was just a bad little stretch.”
Hopewell did not gain a DP World Tour card either but did manage to progress to the final stage of Q-School.
Performing well against the professionals was a constant theme of the Royal Fremantle product’s amateur career.
Hopewell won the WA Open in 2020 and was runner-up at the 2021 version – which was played earlier this year – of the same event, and he also came second at TPS Murray River last season too.
Now, he is thrilled to compete against Australia’s biggest stars who have come home for the summer of golf.
“I’m super excited. The field is definitely strong and it’s pretty cool to see some big names in the field,” Hopewell said.
“Royal Queensland is a nice spot and a brilliant course. This is where my coach Ritchie Smith (who also coaches Minjee and Min Woo Lee and Hannah Green) debuted and he was on the range with Greg Norman. There was a similar thing yesterday because I was on the range and Cam Smith popped onto the range too.
“I’ve been practising and I’ve been putting things in place to be ready for this. I am pro now but it is another week. I’ve got a good game plan and I’ll stick to that.”