Corey Conners’ game matches up with ‘dream’ Presidents Cup


Corey Conners is stoked to scratch a big item off his career bucket list this week.

Playing a Presidents Cup has been on the 2019 Valero Texas Open champion’s radar for quite some time and he can’t wait for Thursday’s opening session.

“It was a goal to make the last team (in 2019) in that final stretch when I got my first win, so not getting the pick for Australia was disappointing,” said Conners. “I really made this one a priority. I love the whole idea of team golf and watching the Presidents Cup as a kid, it was a bit of a pipe dream to make a team, you know, one of those things you really want to do. Maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but now that it’s become a reality, yeah, it’s pretty awesome.”

Conners took care of his Presidents Cup business the old-fashioned way: he earned it.

Ranked 26th in the world, the Listowel, Ont., native had four top 10s last season on the PGA Tour, including a third at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, a sixth at the RBC Canadian Open and a tie for fifth in the BMW Championship, the second-last playoff event. Consistency pushed Conners up to fifth in the International team standings, a single point ahead of Presidents Cup veteran Adam Scott. That took any captain’s pick scenario out of the equation.

“After not being named a pick at Royal Melbourne I decided to take care of that with some solid play,” Conners said.

Expect Conners to be leaned on by Trevor Immelman and his assistants, especially after the exclusions of Cam Smith, Joaquin Niemann and potential pick Marc Leishman for joining LIV Golf. Fair or not, the Presidents Cup rookie is ready for the responsibility.

“I’m getting that sense from Trevor and the assistant captains. I think they have a lot of belief in my game, as do I,” Conners said. “Yeah, I’m a rookie, but I almost feel like one of the leaders of the team and hopefully will lead by example.”

Conners’ first memory of the Presidents Cup is watching the Mike Weir-Tiger Woods singles match at Royal Montreal in 2007. Weir’s 1-up victory made an impression.

“I remember how cool it was, that match was being played on home soil in Canada and how great it was that Weirsy beat Tiger that day,” he said. “I always watched the Ryder Cup, too, but that Presidents Cup in 2007 was a motivating one for me.”

An assistant captain again this week, Weir — the likely choice to lead the 2024 International team when the matches return to Royal Montreal — believes both Conners and Canadian Taylor Pendrith, one of Immelman’s captain’s picks, will gain valuable experience playing this week as rookies.

“For both guys I believe it can spur on great play,” Weir said. “There’s a lot of inspiration that can come from playing these types of intense matches. Hopefully, Corey and Taylor embrace this opportunity.”

Immelman hasn’t tipped his hand on pairings, but an all-Canadian tandem of Conners and Pendrith seems likely. Neither golfer knows if that will happen, but Conners says they’ll be ready.

“We’ve played so much golf together — we’ve been teammates on the national team, teammates at Kent State, teammates at the World Am — but to team up at the Presidents Cup, and at the highest level of professional golf, would be special for both of us,” he said. “We know how to feed off each other — we partner up in matches at home all the time — so sure, it’s something we’re both thinking about.”

Although Immelman raised a few eyebrows with his selection of Pendrith, Conners wasn’t the least bit surprised.

“Honestly, I really wasn’t,” he said. “I feel like his game speaks for itself. Coming back the way he has, having a chance to win at Rocket Mortgage in Detroit, and he was playing well prior to getting injured. I certainly would have loved Mac (Mackenzie Hughes) and Adam (Hadwin) to be part of the team. I’m really close with those guys and I know they were fighting hard to try and earn their spot, but you can’t argue with how Taylor has played this season.”

Something else that can’t be argued is the success Conners has enjoyed in match play. He made it to the semifinals and finals of the U.S. Amateur in 2013 and 2014, beating the likes of Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau and Scottie Scheffler along the way. He won three matches at the 2016 Aruba Cup, a PGA Tour Canada Presidents Cup-style event. And he defeated Dustin Johnson in the WGC match-play consolation final this spring.

“I love the format and I’m very comfortable with it,” he said. “I hate to lose, so there’s a really competitive nature to it for me because even if I fall behind it’s a fun challenge to try and square it up and go ahead. I played well in Austin (Texas) at the match-play event, won a bunch of matches, but I’d also say my game sets up well for it. Drive it well, iron it well and don’t give up on any holes is the key to this format. Match play is about taking advantage of opportunities.”

Conners and the International side will need to do that. On paper, the United States is a juggernaut. It has dominated the biennial competition since 1994, losing only once in 1998 at Royal Melbourne and tying the 2003 matches in South Africa.

“The Americans obviously have a really talented squad and there’s no doubt they’re going to try and bury us early,” Conners said, “but so often in sports we’ve seen underdogs step up. Who knows? Maybe we’re the next example for that. Maybe we’ll shock the entire golf world.”

Rick Young is a Woodstock-based business and equipment analyst for SCOREGolf. He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @youngergolf


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