GOLF

How Corey Conners made Canadian golf history

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, South Carolina—Corey Conners works on a half sack of balls at the South Carolina driving range, the afternoon sun baking the last sunscreen of the day onto his stubble. Even after 18 holes in the morning, the rhythm of his swing remains like that of an ice cream truck driver pulling a smooth serve in a perfect whirlwind. It’s smooth. His routine at the end of practice is to call distances like 120 or 125 and hit a few 52-degree corner shots for exactly that.

“I feel really good,” he said.

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It’s a week after the Canadian finished in the top 10 at the Masters for the third year in a row. The round he just completed at RBC Heritage included his fourth hole-in-one in 18 months, the most of any on the PGA Tour in that span.

Conners’ five-month-old daughter Reis spent the afternoon at tour daycare while his wife Malory and mother Janet watched him on the course. April has been a busy month for the Conners clan, who will return home to Palm Beach Gardens, Florida at the end of the week. How will they get there? Conners shows off a logo on his collar, for the world’s largest private jet company, NetJets. He smiles and starts hitting balls again.

Conners’ lifestyle these days is a little different than when he grew up in the small town of Listowel, Ontario, about two hours northwest of Toronto. It’s the loose inspiration for the award-winning comedy “Letterkenny” and it’s a humble Ontario town. Conners’ father, Mike, was a territory manager for an industrial gas company; Janet was a teacher. He has a twin sister, Nicole, who is on her way to becoming a doctor in Kitchener-Waterloo, and another sister, Sarah. Malory is also from Listowel. She grew up next to Conners’ grandparents. Reis, who changed her life in many ways, is a household name on Malory’s side.

Conners is ranked 34th in the world, first among Canadians, and he became only the second golfer in this country with three consecutive top-10 finishes at the Masters. But he’s basically the same guy he’s always been. He described himself as “just a normal guy from small town Canada” in an interview before Augusta. A lifestyle that includes private jet flying has been earned with a ton of hard work, resulting in a golf swing that is the envy of nearly everyone on tour.

“It’s so solid,” says Collin Morikawa, the world’s fourth-largest golfer. “He crosses the ball and he controls it very well. His game is simply impressive and it’s always fun to watch.

“I think the most impressive part is the tempo,” says fellow tour winner Adam Long. “It’s the same every time.”

“It’s so silky and smooth,” says Joel Dahmen, another winner on tour. “There is no unnecessary movement.”

And then there’s fellow Canadian Taylor Pendrith, who relies on his longtime friend and former roommate when he struggles on the course. “I just try to do the Corey Conners tempo,” he says, “because it’s perfect.”

Pendrith, 31, has known the Conners for 30 years since they played as youngsters in Ontario. Mike Conners says he first brought his son to class when he was two years old. There was an early affinity for the game. Mike remembers Corey holding a stick of celery with a grip as a four-year-old.

A few years later, Mike came home from work and there was his son, delighted to tell his father about the “course” he had set up in the house. The first hole went to the gutter, the second went around the swing and the third to the flowerpot.

Conners started playing the course in town at age seven, and it only took a year before he got to a full 18-hole course. His first tournament was at age nine and he beat Albin Choi, who has Korn Ferry Tour status this year, in the playoffs. Janet recalls being thrilled that Conners played in the United States when she was young so she could buy collared shirts that fit her, as they were in short supply back home.

“I knew he was good,” Mike says, “but I didn’t know how good.”

He played hockey and baseball until Grade 12 before joining the Kent State University golf team, where he played alongside Pendrith and fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes.

Canadian Corey Conners celebrates after hitting a hole-in-one in the third round of The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2021.

Conners made the usual climb up the golf ladder, starting with the PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica before joining the Korn Ferry Tour – similar to baseball’s Double and Triple-A tours. He earned a PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season and won the Valero Texas Open for the first time in 2019, becoming only the fifth Monday qualifier to win a tournament on the PGA Tour.

Conners’ caddy, Danny Sahl, worked with him when he was on the Korn Ferry Tour six years ago. But Sahl, who traveled to Kent State almost a decade earlier than Conners, got a call from three-time major winner Vijay Singh early in their partnership. Sahl and Conners reconnected two years ago, and he says he’s seen impressive growth from his boss.

“The confidence he has…he knows exactly what he wants to do, and he goes out there and does it,” Sahl said. “There is no deviation from that. Anyone who plays with him salivates at how well he hits the golf ball. »

Conners’ self-confidence continues to shine as he strives to become one of the elite on the PGA Tour. He’s on the Presidents Cup radar of international team captain Trevor Immelman, who can’t wait to see the Canadian join his team when they face the United States in September in the biennial team competition. Conners says making the Presidents Cup team is a big goal. At the beginning of May, he was sixth in the standings. Hughes was 10th, Adam Hadwin 13th. The first eight are automatically part of the team and four are selected. Mike Weir is assistant captain. There could be a lot of Canadian flavor on the team in 2022.

“The bulletproof factor is such a big part of being awesome. I really feel like Corey is starting to figure that out, and that’s what excites me,” Immelman says. “If I was his agent, his trainer or his caddy, I would make him hear it all the time. Like, ‘Man, watch how you hit the ball. Who hits it like you regularly? Not a lot of people. You are the man. You must own this. Do you realize how good you are? ”

Pendrith, who has probably played more golf with Conners than anyone else in the last decade, says that while he looks “very cool” on the course, he doesn’t lack confidence.

Canadian Corey Conners shot 2 under 70 on Sunday and finished 3 under for the week.  He found himself tied for sixth place.

His putt may get a bad rap, but according to Pendrith, it’s because he’s such a good ball hitter. Conners is third on the circuit in greens in regulation, so he’s bound to miss a few of those putts, giving the illusion that Conners looks like a bad putter. “He basically hits him 15 feet every time,” his friend jokes. Conners has worked hard on that part of his game and entered the Memorial 84th in golf metric strokes earned (putting) this season. It might not look great at first glance, but he was 181st for the past two years.

“He doesn’t show it to some people, but he knows he’s doing very well. He knows he’s a good putter,” Pendrith said. “He just has to set it up.”

And here’s the catch. It’s not easy to win on the PGA Tour. Only five Canadians have won more than twice. Conners has the tools, though.

“The person who wins (every week) is the best putter among the best ball hitters. And Corey is still one of the best ball hitters out there,” Dahmen says. “When he starts throwing putts on a nine-hole, 18-hole or 27-hole range, being hot with the putter is kind of all you need.”

So, of course, there’s the private jet and the enviable golf swing and “you want to hang with this guy” vibe. (Long, Conners’ former neighbor, says the Canadian is almost as good a chef as he is a golfer and, with a degree in actuarial math, he “knows a lot about a lot of things.”) Confidence is rising, but Conners is more timid than reckless. You won’t see a big fist pump or hellish celebration from him. No matter what happens on or off the course, his temperament is as repeatable as his swing.

“I feel like my game is really strong, so I just need to trust myself on the golf course,” Conners says. “I know I will see good things happen, so I will play with freedom and confidence and let the game do the talking.”

The golf world is listening.

AS

Adam Stanley is an Ottawa-based contributor to Star’s Sports and host of the Next Round’s On Me golf podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @adam_stanley

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