Corey Conners made like the Canadian he is upon arrival in his home and native land for this week’s RBC Canadian Open, which gets underway Thursday at St. George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto.
“The first stop right from the airport, went to Tim Horton’s and hooked myself up with a coffee and a donut. That reminds me I’m home. I think that’s the first stop every time I get back to Canada. Don’t know what it is about it, but that makes me feel like I’m at home,” said Conners.
“It’s certainly exciting to be back here, I’ve been looking forward to this event for some time now, obviously. We weren’t able play the last couple years (due to Covid-19), so it’s great to be home, feel great about my game and I’m really looking forward to the week,” he said.
“It’s been great so far, felt a lot of support from family, friends and all the people across Canada, so it will be a really fun week and looking forward to getting started,” he added.
Conners is making his seventh start this week in the national championship, his last being in 2019 at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, where he missed the cut after rounds of 70-69.
That came a couple of months after his first tour victory at the Valero Texas Open. That and his play since makes Conners an obvious favourite to become the Canadian to snap the streak of home boys not winning the national title since Pat Fletcher did it in 1954.
“I seem to get asked about that quite often,” said Conners.
“I feel like now, more than ever, there’s a great crop of Canadian players and I think there’s 20 Canadians playing this week and more and more Canadians getting out on the PGA Tour, so it’s exciting to be a part of that group and I think it’s just a matter of time before someone changes the history on that,” added Conners, who will have a large contingent following him this week.
“It’s incredible. I’ve got a lot of family and friends who will be making the trip here this week. I’m excited for them to come out and see me play golf. It’s been awhile since a lot of them have been able to watch me play, so it’s always special,” he said.
“All the support I felt in the other times, I think it’s going to be even more this time and just, yeah, really excited to be back. Nothing feels like home. It’s going to be a lot of fun, really looking forward to teeing it up,” he added.
Conners plans to embrace that added attention to the Canadians this week, but not get distracted by it. He’s used to the attention of Canadian fans at other PGA Tour venues, but this week, it will be ramped up at St. George’s, especially playing alongside Justin Thomas and defending champion Rory McIlroy for the first two rounds..
Conners knows what’s ahead after his experience in Hamilton three years ago.
“I had a lot of fun in 2019, I just missed the cut. I was coming off my first win, seemed to be sort of a lot going on, felt like I could have maybe been focused a little better, there was a lot of distractions, but I feel like I’m better suited to handle those distractions now and just kind of reset myself, get focused on the right things,” he said.
“As far as my game, I was playing really well in 2019 as well, but a little more refined now and just sort of more comfortable in all types of situations. I feel like I made some good improvements with sort of my short game and putting that can bail me out when needed,” added Conners.
In 17 events so far, Conners has missed just four cuts and nine of his finishes are in the top 25, including a couple of top 10s. In March, he finished third at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, followed a couple of weeks later by a tie for sixth at the Masters.
He’s coming off a tie for 13th at the Memorial last weekend.
“I played well at those two events particularly. I really love Augusta, love the match play format, so it was nice to have some success at those two events,” said Conners.
“Overall, been a little bit inconsistent. I found certain parts of my game have been strong some weeks and other parts sort of let me down,” he added.
“So, certainly like to be a little bit tidier overall, but I’ve been working hard and I’ve had a number of weeks at home over the last couple months where I’ve been able to sort of get recharged, refreshed and work on the game and I feel, yeah, like everything’s sort of coming together and nice time for that to happen,” he said.
Despite being from Listowel, just a couple of hours from St. George’s, Conners is getting used to a new golf course this week, one that he never played in his formative years in Southern Ontario.
“It’s got a really old school feel which I like, sort of parkland feel. I like being home on this type of grass, kind of grew up on more of the bent grass. Living in Florida now and the early part of the tour, we don’t get to the northern parts of the States or in Canada and play on this grass,” he said.
“So, visually really like it. The fairways are defined by the thick rough and good shape to some of the holes. It really is pleasing to my eye for sure and definitely has sort of an old school feel. The greens back to front slope, a lot of them raised up a little bit,” he said.
It may be new to him, but there’s no place like home.