AUGUSTA, Georgia – In the span of nine days, Corey Conners went from winning the last spot in a Monday qualifier for the Valero Texas Open to winning his first PGA Tour event to trying to explain it all in a pre-tournament interview at his first Masters.
That’s not a whirlwind.
It’s a tornado inside a hurricane inside a tsunami.
“It’s been a crazy week, for sure,” Conners said.
The craziness continued Thursday, when he held the lead alone at 3-under par early in the day, until he finished with a bogey on the 18th hole at Augusta National. Still, a 70 in the first round of your Masters debut is about as good as it gets.
“It’s been wild, definitely unexpected, but I’m playing some good golf and really excited to be here and honored to be playing in the Masters and just trying to keep riding the good play,” Conners said. “I had a great day out there today, a lot of fun, and hit some quality shots and was able to get a couple under par, which was very pleasing.”
He even earned some coveted Masters crystal with an eagle 3 on the par-5 15th hole.
“I hit a nice tee shot and had a perfect (yardage) for a full 6-iron into the green, a little bit of help (downwind),” he said. “My caddie and I had it at 202 and just hit it really sweet, right at the target. I thought the 6-iron would be a perfect club and I loved it in the air and it ended up pretty close. And it was great to make that putt.”
The 27-year-old Canadian is the quintessential out-of-nowhere story, the Cinderella immortalized by Bill Murray in “Caddyshack.” The last player to go from Monday qualifier to the winner’s circle was Arjun Atwal at the 2010 Wyndham Championship, and only three others had done it since 1980.
In the qualifier, Conners had to make a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole just to get into a six-man playoff for the final spot, then won the playoff with a birdie on the first extra hole. That’s the equivalent of a half-court shot to force OT in basketball and then a three-pointer-and-one to win the game.
Six days later, Conners played the wildest final round by a PGA Tour winner you’ll see for some time. He birdied four of the first five holes at TPC San Antonio, then bogeyed four in a row, then birdied six of the last nine. If you’ve played tournament golf at any level – let alone the highest – you know how hard it is to hop off the bogey train mid-round and go on a birdie binge.
“I was able to make a bunch of birdies and ultimately get the victory,” he said. “Honestly wasn’t expecting that.”
Him and a few million others. Conners had never won in 104 combined starts on the Mackenzie Tour Canada, PGA Tour Latinoamerica, Web.com Tour and PGA Tour and went into the Valero Texas Open ranked 196th in the world.
His previous six finishes on the PGA Tour read like a scene from a slasher movie: cut, cut, cut, cut, T-41, cut (though he did tie for third in the season-opening Sony Open in Hawaii).
The emotional reaction by Conners’ wife, Malory, after the winning putt dropped perfectly summed up his unexpected victory. Instead of greeting him with the standard hug-and-peck-on-the-lips for the cameras, she sprinted onto the green and leaped into his arms.
As if the story couldn’t get any sweeter, the two have known each other since they were kids; Malory lived next door to Conners’ grandparents back home in Listowel, Ontario.
“She’s been my biggest fan for years and my biggest support,” Conners said. “I’m really lucky to have her by my side. It’s pretty cool to see her in the spotlight a little bit. Her reactions were awesome. You can see how much she cares about what I’m doing, and it means a lot to me. It was pretty cool. She got a lot of messages and gained a lot of followers on social media, so she was pretty pumped about that.”
Conners earned $1.9 million along with a two-year tour exemption, which means no more Monday qualifiers. But the biggest perk was getting the final spot in the Masters field.
Quite literally overnight, he went from a touring pro toiling in relative obscurity to joining the exclusive fraternity of PGA Tour winners and being welcomed to the club by the likes of Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Bryson DeChambeau.
“It’s very special to see those stories out here, because winning is difficult and it’s nice to see when it happens and it changes someone’s life, so to speak,” said Justin Rose, ranked No. 1 in the world. “The status that he’s now going to have, guaranteed for a couple of years, is huge.
“I don’t know him well, but the few interactions I’ve had with him, he seems a lovely guy. I was rooting for him, for sure, and yeah, 10 birdies on Sunday – unbelievable.”
Everything that happens from here on out at Augusta is one big bonus for Conners.
“Obviously, I would love to give myself another chance to win,” he said. “I don’t like setting specific targets, necessarily, (because) then if I don’t meet them, I may be overly disappointed. But I feel like I’m playing really well. I’d definitely like to get myself in the mix and, yeah, hopefully have a chance to win.”
Now that would be a Cinderella story.