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Canada's Katie Cranston to make NCAA tournament debut at Nexus Collegiate event

Canada's Katie Cranston tucks her tee back under her cap after teeing off at the 14th hole during the CP Women's Open in Ottawa, on Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. Cranston will make her NCAA tournament debut on Monday when she tees it up at the Nexus Collegiate event. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Katie Cranston was faced with a difficult decision after getting status on the Epson Tour — should she turn pro or go to school?

She chose Auburn University over the second-tier women's professional golf tour, arriving at the American college halfway through the school year. Just three weeks into the semester, the Canadian golfer is already pleased with her decision.

"It's just such a good opportunity for me to learn and grow," said Cranston. "I feel like being here and doing school on top of golf is helping me gain very good time-management skills.

"Getting all my schoolwork done, get to practice, get to qualifying. That's been really good for me."

Cranston will make her NCAA tournament debut on Monday when she tees it up at the Nexus Collegiate event. Although it's hosted by Auburn, the tournament will be held at Albany Golf Club in New Providence, Bahamas.

The 18-year-old native of Oakville, Ont., said that playing against tougher competition, both on her team and at collegiate tournaments, was one of the factors that drew her to Auburn over the professional ranks.

"It was an experience that I was scared to pass up," said Cranston. "I was worried that I would regret not coming. It was just something that I I wanted to give at least a shot."

Cranston originally committed to Auburn in November 2021 before tying for 69th at the second stage of the LPGA and Epson Tour's qualifying tournament at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla., a year later.

"It was really good experience and I was happy with how I did," said Cranston, who could have had regular starts on the Epson Tour this season. "But through the process, I realized that it wasn't quite what I wanted to do yet. 

"It's definitely something that I will do in the future, but I just wasn't quite ready for that."

On top of her solid performance at Q-school, Cranston won several tournaments in 2022. She was victorious at the Dustin Johnson World Junior, the Scott Robertson Memorial, and the Women's Porter Cup and also finished second at the Southwest Amateur and fourth at the NextGen Pacific Championship.

Auburn women's golf head coach Melissa Luellen said that, due to NCAA rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, she wasn't able to do any evaluations or even meet Cranston in person before the teenager agreed to come to the school. But when Luellen did see her new charge play in person, she was very impressed.

"I watched her hit the first tee shot at the U.S. amateur at Westchester Country Club in New York and my jaw drops like, 'Wow! That was awesome," said Luellen. "She is a beautiful, strong ball striker. I'm feeling pretty good about my decision."

PGA TOUR — Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., and Adam Svensson of Surrey, B.C., lead the Canadian contingent into this week's Waste Management Phoenix Open on TPC Scottsdale's Stadium Course in Scottsdale, Ariz. Hughes and Svensson are the top-ranked Canadians on the PGA Tour sitting 11th and 12th respectively on the FedEx Cup standings. They'll be joined by Nick Taylor (51st) of Abbotsford, B.C., Adam Hadwin (58th), also from Abbotsford, Corey Conners (79th) of Listowel, Ont., and Taylor Pendrith (88th) of Richmond Hill, Ont.

KORN FERRY TOUR — Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., is tied for third on the Korn Ferry Tour's rankings heading into this week's Astara Golf Championship at the Country Club de Bogota-Lagos in Bogota, Colombia. Edmonton's Wil Bateman is not far behind Silverman in the standings, sitting 10th heading into play this week. Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., and Toronto's Richard Jung are also in the field in Colombia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press

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