It is hard to imagine that word being used to describe anything about Corey Conners’ season so far. Since last November’s Masters, where he finished in a tie for 10th, through to his T8 at last week’s regularly scheduled version of the first major championship of the year, it would be hard to be derogatory of anything about the play of the Listowel, Ontario, professional.
After all, he has seven top-10 finishes this year, including seventh place at the Players Championship, and has pocketed $2.7 million in winnings. On top of that, most pros would count a top 10 at a major – let alone the Masters – as a career highlight. But Conners is such an exceptional ballstriker, so in control of his game and his emotions, that his expectations at Augusta National were very high. It might not be reasonable to think he could have potentially battled Hideki Matsuyama for the green jacket, but Conners believed he should have. That was Conners’ state of mind as he headed to the RBC Heritage last week, where he tied for fourth place..
“As far as how I felt right after the round on Sunday, I was quite disappointed,” said the 29-year-old, who advanced to No. 42 in the Official World Golf Ranking after the Masters. “I had big expectations for the day.
“Definitely looking back now, I’m proud of the way I battled back. ... I was definitely disappointed that I didn't perform a little bit better on Sunday, but it was a great learning experience.”
One of professional golf’s biggest challenges is learning how to be comfortable around the lead on Sunday, and how to close the job by the end of the round. Conners is close – very close. He’s gotten it done before, won plenty of times at college, and was runner-up at the U.S. Amateur in 2014. Then he won in 2019 at the Valero Texas Open on the PGA Tour, a victory that put him into the next week’s Masters and thrust a spotlight on Conners to showcase the fact he’s a world-class ballstriker.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it adds pressure. It feels sweeter maybe when you accomplish good things.”
But any PGA Tour pro will tell you it takes time to get accustomed to being in the spotlight and becoming one of those guys who always lurks near the top of a leaderboard. They have an otherworldly certainty of their ability.
“I have a lot of confidence in my game,” Conners says.
That’s understandable, but making it stand up under the pressure of the Masters is a challenge that has overwhelmed many previously.
While finishing in the top 10 in Augusta is hardly a failure in anyone’s book, Conners took it as a sign that he’s very, very close.
“I feel like I’ve been fine-tuning all parts of my game, and everything is rounding nicely into shape,” he said. “I definitely have high expectations teeing it up week in and week out, and the strong results definitely help that. I’m looking forward to continuing the good play. ... If I play my game, do what I can … I’m going to give myself a good chance.”
Given that Conners is quiet and unassuming – the type of golfer who studied actuarial math at Kent State – he isn’t going to turn a lot of heads with a big Bryson DeChambeau-esque personality. He stoically goes about his business, and when his putter is hot he makes a boatload of birdies. That said, if there’s any challenge Conners still needs to overcome, it is his occasionally spotty putting.
He’s not the first Canadian to face the issue. Moe Norman, potentially the greatest Canadian striker of a golf ball, suffered from putting woes. George Knudson, who won eight times on tour, far preferred to showcase his remarkable skills with a long iron than he did grinding it out for hours on the putting green. And before injuries derailed his career, Graham DeLaet made a name for himself as someone who could drive the ball on a rope, and his majestic irons that nuzzled their way to the flag. But that last few feet on the green – those short putts left DeLaet flummoxed.
Don’t mistake Conners for a poor putter – he’s 74th in strokes gained putting. But in contrast to his ballstriking, where he statistically ranks among the best on tour both off the tee and into the green, and it is clear his flat stick is where Conners could make a difference.
Before the RBC Heritage, Conners was asked about being in the spotlight of an entire country. Canadians love their golf, and for years the focus of the country was on Mike Weir, especially after he won the Masters in 2003. The expectations were probably unfair.
Conners says he doesn’t feel the eyes of all Canadians on him, and he’s probably right. At the game’s top levels, Conners shares the limelight with other Canadian PGA Tour winners like Nick Taylor and Mackenzie Hughes. But more than that, Conners’ answer to the question of having an entire country behind him is telling.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it adds pressure,” he said. “It feels sweeter maybe when you accomplish good things.”
And, given his ability and recent success, expect many more good things to come Conners’ way.
Top: Corey Conners has posted consecutive top-10 finishes in the Masters Tournament.