Aaron Cockerill says playing in the Canadian Open 'makes me want to get back there'

Teulon, Man.-born golfer Aaron Cockerill had the opportunity to cross off what was surely one of the items on his bucket list by making his PGA Tour debut in the 2022 RBC Canadian Open at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto’s west end.

Fresh off that experience, Cockerill joined several reporters via Zoom call and described his week as a lot of fun.

“Had some family and friends come out and just to have the experience with everyone was really cool,” the 30-year-old said from his home in Winnipeg.

“It was a great atmosphere on the golf course. There was a lot of people. On Saturday I was in a group behind Justin Thomas, and on the 15th hole I was looking up the fairway and there was like five deep on both sides. He hit it close and like the roar was loud. So it was really fun and makes me want to get back there.”

Cockerill finished even for the tournament, winding up in a five-way tie for 48th place and adding just over $22,500 to his bank account, which is in pretty good shape after a pair of top-five finishes on the European Tour and making eight of 12 cuts. Counting the paycheck from the weekend, Cockerill’s earnings for the 2022 season are just over $400,000 Canadian. So does that add up to a breakout season?

“Yeah, that’s probably fair. Two of my best finishes came in a five-week stretch or something like that so it’s probably the best season I’ve had as a pro,” said Cockerill, who began his professional career in 2015. “And to have it happen at the start of the year is nice. It relieves a bit of the pressure for the rest of the year.”

Cockerill shot 12 under 272 to finish a career-best tie for second place at the Magical Kenya Open during the first week of March and then fired a 13 under, 267 for a third-place tie at the ISPS Handa Championship in Spain in late April to account for the bulk of his earnings in 2022 — and his career, for that matter.

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On the topic of money and golf, Cockerill says there was plenty of discussion among the players on the weekend about the launch of the LIV Tour in London.

“It seems like that’s all guys talk about now. In the lunchroom and the gyms and everything, it’s kind of always a constant chatter. But then guys don’t talk about it as much when there’s cameras and stuff on them,” said the two-time Manitoba Golf Association men’s match play champion in 2012 and ’13.

“I don’t know if much of anything like this has happened in golf in my lifetime. If you follow golf closely this would be like the Saudis trying to pay Kyle Connor and the boys to go over and play in another league. It’s pretty wild what’s actually happening. ”

Cockerill says he has heard rumblings the players banned from the PGA Tour may try to compensate for a few of the lost dates in their schedules by playing in some of the bigger European Tour events like the Irish and Scottish opens.

“We still haven’t heard anything from Keith Pelley (CEO of the PGA European Tour), which is a bit shocking,” said Cockerilll. “I’m supposed to fly to Munich next week, we have a tournament next week (BMW International Open), and I looked at the tournament entry list today and there are about 10 guys who played last week in London who are signed up to play in our event. So I have no idea what’s going to happen.”

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Just a few minutes later, Cockerill said he received an email from Pelley, but wasn’t willing to share any details when asked about what was being messaged. But with Cockerill currently sitting in 44th place on the European Tour Money Winners list, he shouldn’t be concerned about losing his spot in the field to a Sergio Garcia or Martin Kaymer. Actually, Cockerill sees the drama unfolding in golf as a potential opportunity for up-and-comers like him.

“It could open up more spots on the tour if the PGA Tour is banning these guys. For a guy who has made hundreds of millions to get a little bit more does seem a little bit aggressive,” said the 2010 Manitoba Male Golfer of the Year as well as the co-winner of the award in 2013.

“A guy who I played with many times on the European Tour this year, he’s done well on the Sunshine Tour so it got him into the first event. He finished second but could have made three million bucks. He’s from South Africa, 23 years old — like, life-changing. So you see that side of it, and that’s pretty cool to see.”

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What also resonated with golf — and hockey — fans in his home province was when Cockerill wore Kyle Connor’s No. 81 Winnipeg Jets jersey while playing the “rink hole” on No. 16.

“They told us before the tournament what the rink was going to be like and the atmosphere and were kind of encouraging us to throw on a hockey jersey,” explained Cockerill, who had played with Connor in the 2019 Manitoba Open at Southwood.

“I guess a sponsor of mine, a financial manager connection to Kyle, he’s one of his clients. So I got a jersey from him and see if I can maybe get Kyle to sign it and do something with the jersey afterwards. It was fun to throw it on. There was a couple of boos the first days from Leafs fans who were intoxicated. On Sunday they were more appreciative and I got a few more cheers that day.”


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