Sports

Conners has his eyes on the prize at Augusta


Corey Conners will be the first to tell you he’s just a regular guy.

He’s from a town of just over 7,500 people. His wife grew up next door to his grandparents. After he turned professional, Conners once worked a shift answering phones at the golf course he grew up playing when his twin sister couldn’t make it in. He’s got a calm and quiet demeanour that’s perfect for how mind-bending professional golf can be at times.

But don’t think the laid-back Conners doesn’t have a competitive fire burning. And when it comes to this week’s Masters, it wouldn’t be a total shock if he won the thing.

“I feel like I know the golf course well and have played well in some big events (so) I’m comfortable in that situation,” says Conners, who’s notched top-10 finishes in the last two Masters. “I like to think I am ready to win.”

At 32 in the world, Conners is Canada’s top-ranked male golfer. It’s the highest position of his career. The highlight of his season came two weeks ago when he defeated former world No.1 Dustin Johnson in the consolation final of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Now Conners is looking to become the first Canadian male to win a major since Mike Weir captured the Masters in 2003. Brooke Henderson won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2016.

The 2022 Masters marks Conners fifth trip to Augusta National. The average number of attempts it takes before a player wins the Masters? Six.

Conners’ Masters debut came in 2015 before he turned pro. He earned a spot in the field that year thanks to a runner-up result at the 2014 U.S. Amateur. He played the first two rounds with Weir (besting his childhood idol by 14 shots) and it remains an amazing head-shaker to both Conners and fellow Ontarian Mackenzie Hughes that they get to play a “usual” Tuesday practice round with the guy whose Masters win pushed them to want to become professional golfers themselves.

Weir is now a solid resource for Conners around Augusta National, and the 2003 winner claimed last year that his countrymen were ready to win a big-time event.

“He gives me a lot of confidence when he says things like that,” says Conners. “I feel like I’m ready if I can play well.”

The 30-year-old ranks as one of the best on Tour in all the key statistical ball-striking categories. He’s third in Greens in Regulation this year, and just once in the past seven Masters has a winner finished outside the top seven in that category. He’s also second to Johnson in Strokes Gained: Ball-Striking at the Masters the last four years, according to data collected by Justin Ray of the Twenty First Group, a sports intelligence company.  

His putting has held him back, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance with the flatstick of late.

Conners’ coach, Derek Ingram, said there’s been “no magic” to Conners’ success when he finds it on the green. Rather, it’s the product of a lot of hard work. Conners, himself, says the short game is where he spends most of his time when he practises.

“I’ve worked really hard to feel comfortable in whatever situation I’m in and be able to execute those shots,” he says.

Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes and Mike Weir played a practice round Tuesday at Augusta National. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Conners has felt more and more comfortable at Augusta National over the last two seasons and says it’s the kind of golf course that suits his eye. He finished tied for eighth at the November Masters in 2020 (it was moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and backed that up with a tie for 10th last year. That result included a hole-in-one on Saturday on the par-3 sixth hole, which sparked a big cheer in his hometown of Listowel, Ont.

“Even though I’m (calm) like him, once and I while I jump out of my chair,” Conners’ mother Janet told the Star last year. “His successes are getting greater and greater… so I get more emotional.”

Hughes, who Conners played junior against and with at Kent State University in Ohio, is quick to recognize his friend’s recent success at Augusta National and says that’s sparked his own competitive fire. 

“His record there has been good the last couple trips and he’s shown he has a knack for playing that place and I think it goes in waves. There are times when he’ll be on a roll and playing well and then I’ve been on some of those rolls myself,” Hughes, who is playing his third Masters, says. “I obviously keep tabs on him a lot. It’s a healthy competition and something that pushes me to keep working and be better.”

But what’s pushed Conners to get better, as he has gone from long shot to sneaky favourite at the first major of the year?

While he admits he’s not the flashiest of guys on the PGA Tour, he is self-assured in his ability. Heading into the biggest event in professional golf, confidence is key.

He’s arrived at Augusta — both literally and figuratively — and now he’s hoping to leave with a new addition to his closet.

“I feel like I can definitely be one of the top players in the world,” says Conners. “I’m excited to get myself in the mix again and get myself a Green Jacket. That would certainly be a dream come true.”



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