It’s Early, But Olkowski Making His Mark
Canon Olkowski signed a letter-of-intent on November 14, 2018 to play college golf at the University of Colorado. Little did anyone know at the time he wouldn't compete in his first collegiate tournament for 823 days after signing on the dotted line.
Oh, it wasn't like he wasn't competing. After starting his prep career at Grand Junction High School and finishing third in the state meet as a junior, his family moved to the Las Vegas suburb of Summerlin, where he completed his senior year at Faith Lutheran High. He had quite a bit of success in several amateur tournaments, among those was a second place finish on the points list for the 2020 Troon Saguaro Amateur Series (in which mostly college players competed in several amateur tournaments around the American Southwest).
His name just had to wait to be attached to any results for CU. Turned out to be well worth the wait … and record-setting at that.
"I had committed to CU when we still lived in Colorado, but I always wanted to be a Buff," Olkowski said. "I liked the facilities we have, they really got my attention, and the campus. Plus, I have always been a CU fan."
Thus, he never gave a single thought to transferring closer to home during the pandemic. "Never entered my mind. I want to do everything I can to help this team get better."
Olkowski, officially a redshirt freshman, played as an individual to open his career, meaning his score didn't count toward the team total; in fact, in this case, it wasn't even on the same golf course in Palm Desert, which has more golf courses in a 15-mile radius (38) than in the state of Alaska (22). But truth be told, quite often the first tournament for a college player is to compete individually. So as the Buffaloes as a team were in The Prestige at PGA West, Olkowski was with 44 others in The Prestige at PGA West Individual Invitational.
He crafted an even-par 72 in his first collegiate round, and then followed with back-to-back 1-under 71s on the 7,145-yard Coral Mountain Golf Club course. In the final round, he was actually 3-over par after scoring a double bogey on the par-3 8th hole, but from that point on, he would birdie four of his last 10 holes with the rest pars to finish in the red for the event, his 2-under 214 total tying him for 14th.
In the process, he tied a school record for the best performance in relation to par in the first career tournament. He matched similar 2-under 214 scores by current CU assistant coach Derek Tolan in the 2005 New Mexico Tucker Invitational and by Sebastian Heisele in the 2008 DU-Ron Moore Invitational. Like Olkowski, Sebastian also competed as an individual; Tolan's effort stands alone as the best effort when the scores counted for the team score. The other two in the top five, by Ethan Freeman (1-under in the 2013 Air Force Miranda) and by his older sibling, Trevor (even in the 2017 AFA event), also competed in those tourneys as individuals.
But he wasn't through yet. Elevated two days later to the Buffs' No. 5 player, he was now a designated scorer as CU was set to compete in Wyoming's Desert Invitational, also in Palm Desert. He would tie for 26th with a 2-over 218, with his team-high 14 birdies on the weekend also tying for the fifth-most in the field in helping Colorado to a seventh place finish. And by closing his final round with back-to-back birdies, it enabled him to tie for the fourth-best effort by a Buffalo in his first 54-hole tournament where he was a designated scorer (four strokes off Tolan's record).
"Canon is a player that has really developed over the last year-and-a-half," CU head coach Roy Edwards said. "It's kind of crazy to think he started as a Buff 18 months ago and this was his first time competing. The restrictions around the various lockdowns significantly favored the self-motivated and hard-working and Canon has really gotten better and that has shown greatly in how he has played since early last summer."
With 14 programs active at present due to the pandemic and the postponement of most fall competition, six from five different sports earned CU's Athlete of the Week honor (presented by Arrow); Olkowski was among them, one of the few in the history of the AOW honor that dates back to 1986 to be recognized for his or her first collegiate performance.
Olkowski wasn't overly discouraged in the long wait to play his first rounds as Buffalo. In fact, he turned it into a positive.
"At times it was frustrating, but I mostly tried to look at it as time for me to really improve," he said. "So I thought I might as well take advantage of that time and work on aspects of my game that I needed to work on. Instead of getting frustrated, I just tried to change my mindset into how can I get better with all this time that I had."
Though the season is obviously young, he's currently the team leader in stroke average – 72.0 – even in relation to par for six rounds, in subpar rounds (3), even par rounds (2) and birdies (27). He made birdie or par on 86 of 108 holes, just under 80 percent, and only had four holes worse than bogey. Quite the debut.
What clicked for him in Palm Desert?
"My short game was really good, and my basically my shots off the tee really improved throughout the whole trip," he said. "I got progressively better as the week went on. I felt good about my course management, something the coaches always emphasize. When I wasn't hitting the ball great, and I did have a couple of double bogeys, I found a way to grind it out and post a decent score.
"The one area I need to improve on when it comes to consistency is with my mid- to long irons in approaching greens," he added. "That comes from using your brain along with course management and will help avoid the high numbers. I do feel that I can always count on stepping on every tee with my driver and having confidence, picking a target and cutting it to wherever I want to go. I have worked super-hard to eliminate double misses with my driver, and it has improved my shot dispersion and helped me play more consistent golf, even on my worst days."
The CU freshman record for season average is 72.51 by Jeremy Paul in 2013-14, which he attained by playing 37 rounds, but anyone who plays at least 20 is eligible to make their mark in the record book. Only six frosh have ever posted averages under 74, including brother Trevor (73.27 in '17-18, the third-best on the list).
"He has an immense amount of talent," Edwards added. "When you combine that talent with his work ethic and competitiveness, I look forward to see what lies ahead for him."
Olkowski said both his parents, who play the game themselves, have had the greatest influence in his career to date.
"They've had 100 percent belief in me and what I do and gave me every opportunity to get better, so I'm extremely thankful," he said. "My dad's out on the course with me a lot helping me wherever he can. And then every coach that I've ever had have really positively influenced me. I feel very fortunate to have had this kind of support."
Olkowski and the Buffaloes will return to action this Monday, March 8, traveling to the southwest again to participate in San Diego's Lamkin Invitational. CU will be paired with co-host San Diego, UCLA and Cal Poly in teeing off at 8:30 a.m. MST. The 54-hole tournament has rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday; Olkowski will be joined by seniors Daniel O'Loughlin and Victor Bjorlow, junior John Paterson and sophomore Adam Matteson in the Buff lineup. For Matteson, he will be playing in his first collegiate tournament in his hometown.