For Corey Conners, the entire golf season has been leading up to this weekend. The 23-year-old Listowel native earned an invitation to the 2015 Masters by finishing runner-up at the 2014 U.S. Amateur Championship. We sat down with Corey a few months after his invitation to the Masters to talk hockey, golf, school and more.
Tell us about how you got started in minor hockey.
I lived in Palmerson and grew up playing hockey in Minto. I started at a young age and my dad introduced me to the game. I started skating when I was 3 or 4 and started playing hockey at 5 years of age. In grade 6 and 7 I played for the Huron Perth Lakers before moving to Listowel in grade 8 where I continued playing the game. I played all throughout high school. In grade 11 my team won the OMHA B Division Championship. That was a big highlight for me and I took a lot away from it.
Was there any pressure to stop playing hockey?
It definitely crossed my mind when I started having success on the golf course. I had a lot of passion for hockey though and loved playing so much that it never really pushed me to stop playing. I enjoyed it and it works kind of nicely for an off-season for golf. I was eventually training for golf in the winter but it was good to still be involved in something competitive. It was so much fun, I couldn’t really stop, I played all the way up into university in the states.
Do you still skate or play at all?
In university there was a pickup league one night a week, not really organized just show up and throw some teams together. I definitely loved doing that and really looked forward to playing whenever I get the chance. Recently I haven’t played too much because of traveling and not being home in the winter but my friends organize a tournament over Christmas break that I play in every year and I really looking forward to playing that.
Where does your passion for sports come from?
My whole family loves to be competitive so I would say that it comes from them. My dad and all my uncles play hockey. Even from a young age I have always enjoyed being involved in all kinds of sports and I had success with hockey.
Any memorable moments from your minor hockey career that stand out?
Winning the OMHA title in Midget was probably the biggest highlight. it was pretty cool; the team I was on we were all great friends. It was a highlight of my childhood and highlight of my hockey career. I missed two games in the finals actually, I was away golfing for Team Ontario over that march break . When I came back we won the last 2 games and won the title; it was pretty cool…not that I was the reason we won!
Who is your favourtie NHL team?
Like most people in Listowel, I am a big Toronto fan. Growing up, I was a big Paul Karyia fan so I liked the Mighty Ducks but I’ve always been a Leafs fan and they are the team I cheer for.
What skills do you take from hockey that translate into your golf game?
I definitely learned how to push myself and have a good work ethic through hockey practice, which I feel I have taken to the game of golf. In my later years of minor hockey I worked really hard and I saw the rewards. I tried to get better every day and definitely have taken that into golf. It’s important to work hard all the time, there are a lot of guys trying to make it as golfers but hard work can give you a step up on some players. Being in pressure situations on the ice is also something I apply to my golf game. Feeling some nerves and being able to perform despite the nerves has helped me with my golf game and in life.
When did you start playing golf?
I started playing when I was really young, around 7 years old, and kept on getting better at it. The passion for golf started pretty much at the same time as it did with hockey. I started playing in tournaments when I was really young and started having success when I was about 10.
Was there a moment that you knew you were good at golf and could possibly make a career of it?
I think looking back now, around the time I was 12. I won a provincial championship then almost won a national tournament in Canada. I think after that I started dedicating more time to golf and kept playing other sports for fun.
Was there external pressures to push you to golf?
It was more personal, but my family has always supported me. It was my decision to start working on golf. I didn’t want to drive myself crazy, and hockey helped keep things fun.
In 2010 you won the Ontario Amateur Championship, made the World Jr. Golf Team, and your golfing career really started to take off.
Yeah, it was a great year for me. I was on the Canadian National Team at that time. It was a big honour to even be selected. It motivated me even more to work hard and show I deserved a spot. I was able to create some great opportunities from there and was selected to play for Canada at the World Junior Team Championship event and had success there. I had committed to Kent State University and I was working hard to prepare for college golf. It was rewarding to win those events and I felt pretty good at where my golf game was at heading into university golf to play with the best at my age group.
Why did you decide to go to Kent State University?
I studied and got my degree in Actuary Science. Throughout high school I had a passion for math and sciences and liked learning about those subjects. I decided to go there because I knew a bunch of Canadian players that went there who I looked up to during my junior golf career. They were a little bit ahead of me and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I saw their development at Kent State and how they succeed at the college level. After visiting Kent State I saw their amazing training facilities, the schooling was great and the town I really enjoyed; it seemed like a perfect fit. It wasn’t too far from home which allowed me to come home in the winter when we weren’t traveling for golf, which was really nice.
The whole athletic department, the resources we had certainly helped us succeed. The golf team was a premier team at the university. We didn’t have a particular amazing football or basketball team, although our football team was ranked one year which was pretty cool. The golf team is known for always being successful and a lot of the athletic department and the students were aware of that. We played in a lot of high profile tournaments with teams like Alabama, Texas and our schedule was top notch and we faced a lot of big name schools a lot and it was fun to beat those guys.
Tell me about a typical season of an NCAA Golfer?
The tournament season goes September to October and you have November – January off. Then start back up in February through May. Our coach Herb Paige was great at making sure we worked hard. During a typical week we would be at the gym at 6:30AM every morning, go to class from 8:00-12:00 then practice 1:30-6:00. From there we would go to study tables, a specific place for athletes to go and we had to log a certain number of hours there for the first few years to make sure our schooling was a priority. We were pretty busy but everyone was dedicated to school and golf. When we travelled we missed some classes which was a challenge but the teachers were all supportive of my golf and helped to make sure I was successful.
Who are your mentors outside of your parents and family?
The last few years the coach of the Canadian National Team, Derrick Ingram has been very important to my development and very helpful in getting me to where I am. Also my coach at Kent State, Herb Paige has been a great mentor. He has a lot of experience developing players and he knows what it takes to get players to the next level. He’s been really important in my development as well. When I was younger, starting out, a gentleman I worked with a lot Jim Walker helped me an incredible amount and provided guidance during tournaments and was a huge help in my development.
Can you tell us about your experience at the US Amateur Championships.
The US Amateur is unlike any other tournament I have been a part of. They treat the players really well and the hype around the event is unique. The golf courses are always famous courses in the USA and this year playing at the Atlanta Athletic Club which has hosted many major professional tournaments was very surreal. Going into the event I fell just one shot short of wining the Canadian Amateur Championship the week before and I was motivated to redeem myself. I was in the same situation the past two years heading in the US Amateur coming up one shot short of the title. I was motivated to pay well in my game and was playing great. Golf courses like that are always very difficult which works out for me because I hit the ball pretty straight and manage my game really well so I knew I had a shot.
You play 2 rounds of stroke play and they take the top 64 out of 312 competitors so you have to play well to get in. You go into match play where it’s just you against one other opponent, with the difficult golf course I was able to manage my game really well and play some solid golf and ultimately win 5 matches and get myself a spot in the final. Too lose in the final was quite disappointing but offered some nice perks like playing in the 2015 Masters. In 2013 I lost in the semi-finals to the eventual champion and this year in the semi-final I was really determined to play my game and play really well to get to the next step and make it to the finals. I had a really good match with Danny McCarthy who I played with a few times and know through college golf. We had a great match and I made a 3.5 foot putt on the final hole to win and play in the final. The feeling was awesome that I had made it to the finals and earn an invitation to the Masters. My best friend Taylor Pendrick who went to Kent State and is on the Canadian National Team was my caddy, which made the moment even more special to share with a good friend. For the final match I had family friends from Listowel fly down to Atlanta to watch and it was a pretty cool to have them there and to share that experience with them
What expectations do you have for yourself at the Masters?
They are really good at opening the doors for participants to come out and play. I am just really excited about playing to be honest. I watched the Masters on TV since I was young and just being out there will be a pretty cool feeling. I know there will be a lot of people watching but I’m pretty excited to play well. I think I should be able to do well if I just play my game, hopefully make the cut and play all 4 rounds. That would be an awesome feeling and good accomplishment for me. I’m really excited about the aura of the whole event and hopefully I will get stay in the crow’s nest a couple of nights and live some history out.
What are your career goals moving forward in golf and then beyond?
First and foremost I want to make the PGA Tour and eventually win a tournament. I had a couple chances to play in PGA tour events at the RBC Canadian Open the past couple years, that experience has been amazing and its really motivating to work hard because you get a first-hand look at what it’s like to be a PGA tour player. They treat you so well and there are some nice rewards for being a member of the tour so definitely motivated to work really hard and earn some status on the PGA tour in the next couple years.