How Corey Conners swung his way to Canadian golf history - bdsthanhhoavn.com

How Corey Conners swung his way to Canadian golf history

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C.—Corey Conners is working through a half-bag of balls on the driving range in South Carolina, the mid-afternoon sun baking the last of the day’s sunscreen off his stubble. Even after 18 holes in the morning, the tempo of his swing remains like an ice-cream truck driver pulling soft serve into a perfect swirl. It’s smooth. His routine at the close of practice is to call out yardages like 120 or 125 and hit a couple of 52-degree wedge shots to exactly that.

“I definitely feel good,” he says.

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

Conners’ five-month-old daughter, Reis, has spent the afternoon at the tour’s daycare while wife Malory and mom Janet watched him on the course. It has been a busy April for the Conners clan, who will head home to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. at the end of the week. How will they get there? Conners points to a logo on his collar, for the world’s largest private jet company, NetJets. He grins and goes back to hitting balls.

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

While Corey Conners has played well in recent majors, the Canadian says he is "definitely desiring more" heading into the PGA Championship.

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

“It’s so solid,” says Collin Morikawa, the fourth-ranked golfer in the world. “He stripes the ball, and he controls it really well. His game is just impressive and it’s always fun to watch.”

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

“It’s so silky and fluid,” says Joel Dahmen, another winner on tour. “There’s no wasted motion.”

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

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

A couple of years later, Mike would come home from work and there was his son, excited to tell his dad about the “course” he had set up around the house. The first hole was to the eavestrough, the second went around the swing set, and the third to the flower pot.

Conners started playing the course in town at seven, and it took only a year before he got through a full 18 holes. His first tournament came at age nine, and he beat Albin Choi, who has status on the Korn Ferry Tour this year, in a playoff. Janet remembers being excited for Conners to play in the U.S. as a youngster so that she could buy collared shirts that fit him since they were on 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 Kent State University’s golf team, where he played alongside Pendrith and fellow countryman Mackenzie Hughes.

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

Conners did the usual climb up golf’s ladder, starting on PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour Latinoamerica before joining the Korn Ferry Tour — akin to baseball’s Double and Triple-A circuits. He earned a PGA Tour card for the 2018-19 season and won for the first time at the Valero Texas Open 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 went to Kent State almost a decade earlier than Conners, got a call from three-time major winner Vijay Singh in the early days of their partnership. Sahl and Conners reconnected two years ago, and he says he has seen impressive growth from his boss.

“The confidence he has … he just knows exactly what he wants to do, and he goes and does it,” Sahl says. “There’s no deviation from that. Anyone who plays with him just salivates at how good he hits the golf ball.”

Conners’ self-belief continues to shine as he attempts to become one of the PGA Tour’s elite. He’s on the Presidents Cup radar of International team captain Trevor Immelman, who can’t wait to see the Canadian join his squad as it takes on the U.S. in September in the biennial team competition. Conners says being part of the Presidents Cup team is a big goal. As of early May he was sixth on the standings. Hughes was 10th, Adam Hadwin 13th. The top eight automatically make the team, and four are picked. Mike Weir is an assistant captain. There could be a lot of Canadian flavour on the team in 2022.

“The bulletproof factor is such a massive part of being great. I really do feel like Corey is starting to get that, and that’s what excites me,” Immelman says. “If I was his agent or coach or caddy, I would be drumming that to him all the time. Like, ‘Dude, look at how you hit the ball. Who hits it like you consistently? Not many people. You are the man. You need to own this. Do you realize how damn good you are?’ ”

Pendrith, who has likely played more golf with Conners than anyone over the last decade, says although he looks “very chill” on the course he doesn’t lack confidence.

Canadian Corey Conners shot 2-under 70 Sunday and finished 3 under for the week. He ended up in a tie for sixth place.

His putting may get a bad rap, but according to Pendrith it’s because he is such a good ball-striker. Conners is third on tour 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 it to 15 feet every time,” his friend jokes. Conners has been working hard on that part of his game and entered the Memorial 84th in the golf metric strokes gained (putting) this season. It may not seem great at first blush, but he was 181st the last two years.

“He doesn’t show it to some people, but he knows he hits it great. He knows he’s a good putter,” Pendrith says. “He just has to put it together.”

And there’s the rub. 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 (each week) is the best putter out of the best ball-strikers. And Corey is always one of the best ball-strikers,” Dahmen says. “When he starts pouring in putts over a nine- or 18- or 27-hole span, being hot with the putter is kind of all you need.”

So, sure, there’s the private jet and the enviable golf swing and the “you want to hang with this guy” vibe. (Long, Conners’ former neighbour, says the Canadian is almost as good a chef as he is a golfer and, with a degree in actuary mathematics he “knows a lot about a lot of things.”) The confidence is bubbling up, but Conners is more bashful than brash. You won’t see a big fist pump or a hellacious celebration from him. No matter what’s happening on or off the course, his temperament is as repeatable as his swing.

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

The golf world is listening.

AS

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

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