THE CANADIAN PRESS
Residents of a small town in Southern Ontario were glued to their televisions on Thursday, rooting for a local hero playing on one of golf’s biggest stages.
Corey Conners, a 27-year-old from Listowel, Ont., finished the first round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Course temporarily tied for top spot. He shot a 2-under 70 while playing in the first group of the day.
"We’re really happy for him," said Jim Stewart, who was watching the first major of the men’s golf season while playing simulated golf with friends at Listowel sports bar The Back 9.
Several men in the group have known Conners since he was a kid, Stewart added.
The golfer has long been a star in Listowel, a town of 7,530 people located about 160 kilometres west of Toronto. But his name became prominent in many golf circles last week after he won the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open and claimed the final spot in the Masters.
When asked if people in the community are excited about Conners’ growing fame, Stewart was emphatic.
"Oh, good heaven’s, yes," he said. "It’s all over town. Everybody’s talking about it."
Over at the Listowel Golf Club, the excitement around Conners’is "huge," said assistant pro John Schmidt.
"Everyone that comes in is talking about it, we’re all talking about it here, all the grounds crew are talking about it," he said. "It’s absolutely incredible what he’s going through and what he’s achieved."
Schmidt said there are two things that put Listowel on the map — Conners and the TV comedy "Letterkenny", which revolves around people living in a rural Canadian community.
The show’s creator, Jared Keeso, hails from Listowel. The show, featuring two friends living in the fictional town of Letterkenny, Ont., is loosely based on Listowel.
Over in the golf course’s lounge, a crowd was expected to come take in the action as the tournament continues through the weekend. Some from the club have even travelled to Georgia to watch Conners’ play and are posting updates to the golf course’s Twitter account.
Many in town believe the golfer will experience his biggest success yet this weekend.
"I think if he keeps his head together, he’s going to have a shot at the title," Stewart said. "Corey’s got the talent to do it, let’s just put it that way."
No matter what happens, Listowel will be cheering for Conners through the tournament and well into the future, Schmidt said.
"We’re all hoping for the best for him," he said. "It’s hard to put on an expectation because golf is a funny game that way. But we’re all just hoping that he does the best that he can. That’s all anyone can ask of anyone, really."