Corey Conners was the last player to qualify for last week’s Valero Texas Open, winning a 6-for-1 playoff at the Monday qualifier.
On Sunday at TPC San Antonio, he was the last man standing, following four rounds in the 60's to capture his first professional and PGA Tour victory by two shots.
When his Pro V1 hit the bottom of the cup at 18, this also became official: He would be the last man to pack his bags for Augusta.
On Thursday morning at 8:30, Conners will be in the first group off at The Masters.
It has been a whirlwind week for the 27-year old.
Corey and his wife, Malory, did not arrive in Georgia until the wee hours of Monday morning on a charter, a welcome detour from what was supposed to be a commercial flight home to Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. Corey hit golf balls on Monday, and was scheduled to play a practice round with fellow countryman Mike Weir on Tuesday, but was waiting out the opportunity as torrential rains closed the course temporarily.
He is not totally unfamiliar with the golf course, however. Corey earned a Masters invitation in 2015 by virtue of his runner-up finish at the 2014 U.S. Amateur. That year, he played a practice round – and each of the first two competitive rounds – with the 2004 Masters champion. Conners opened with an 80, but missed the cut by only three shots after a second-round 69.
During a rain delay Tuesday at Augusta National, Conners spoke with Team Titleist inside the Titleist Tour Van, addressing a range of topics from his first trip to The Masters to growing up as a golfer in Canada:
On His Most Memorable Shot from His First PGA Tour Victory (a 7-iron approach from 178 on No. 16 at TPC San Antonio):
"It was a little bit into the wind and I just hit it really solid. I hit a little bit of a draw and it was right at the flag, it landed right by the hole and it stopped right there. I was able to convert that for birdie and give myself a couple of shots cushion. That shot at that moment is one that was really special and one that I'll remember for a long time."
On Nearly Missing Out During His Monday Qualifier:
“I was really close to not qualifying on Monday. I birdied the 18th hole of the round and I made a 25-foot putt, downhill, really fast, breaking. It broke a couple feet left to right. I'd had a bunch of good putts that day, and had a lot of confidence standing over it, and was able to make that putt. If that putt doesn't go in, I miss out on getting into the playoff, and I wouldn't have been in the field, so that's pretty crazy how it all worked out. Then, I made a six-for-one playoff to get in as well, which is pretty crazy, thinking back, how close I was to not being there.”
On the Advice He's Received from Mike Weir:
"Mike definitely gave me some pointers back then and he's been in contact with me all this week. He has always been really helpful and willing to share his knowledge, which is pretty awesome. …. I think the biggest thing he emphasized was just trying to understand the angles and learn where to hit your approach on certain holes. Mike told me to give myself a chance to hit it close given the fact that some of the greens have severe slopes. If you're in the wrong spot on the fairway it might be hard to get the ball close to the hole. On some of the par 5's, laying up on the proper side of the fairway is important. I think that type of information from Mike, and some of the other guys that have played here a bunch, is really helpful to somebody who isn't as experienced."
On His Game Since the 2014 Masters:
"I was striking the ball well back then, but I think I was at my best last week and I plan to continue that. In fact, I think every part of my game is better, particularly the short game, and my distance control and around the greens with the wedges. I have also spent a lot more time practicing my putting the last few years and that has paid off with good results."
On His First Time Playing a Titleist Golf Ball:
"I vividly recall my dad playing the Tour Prestige 90 when I was really young and I'd get his hand-me-downs. As a kid, there was nothing better than getting a new sleeve. Then he switched to the new Pro V1 when they first came out. I was probably about nine years old but I remember what a big deal it was. I've never hit anything but a Titleist in competition, and probably even during practice or anywhere else. There's nothing better in my mind."
On Growing Up as a Golfer in Canada:
"Playing hockey every winter as a kid gave me a break from golf. But I was fortunate my dad would take me to an indoor range and I would be able to hit balls and sort of fine tune my swing a few times a week until we could play outside."
(Conners is a native of Listowel, Ontario, where he excelled at both golf and ice hockey. Conners ultimately chose golf following high school and attended Kent State, where he was a teammate of fellow Canadian and PGA Tour member Mackenzie Hughes.)
On How He's #ProvingIt:
"I've been working really hard and I've had confidence in my game, but to be able to get the win definitely proves to me that I do belong out here and am able to compete with the best players in the world."
Conners will have a large contingent cheering him on at Augusta, as his family, friends and the members from Listowel Golf Club in his hometown will be making the impromptu trip south to see their native son compete on golf's grandest stage. He will enjoy the moment.
"This is a magical place," Corey said as he prepared to go back across Washington Road to play his first practice round. The rain had subsided and the course was scheduled to re-open soon. "I feel special and honored to be out there. I think that's what I was looking forward to most. Just being inside the ropes. You can't describe it."
• • •
Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Corey and best of luck at The Masters!