Corey Conners reflects on his epic first Masters, Woods’ victory

Corey-Conners

Corey Conners hits a drive on the 18th hole during the first round for the Masters. (David J. Phillip/AP)

A lot of people are going to remember where they were when Tiger Woods won the Masters in 2019. That includes Corey Conners, who, at one point Thursday was leading the tournament, and decided Sunday once his fourth round had finished to go out and watch.

“I’m a huge golf fan, so I walked back onto the golf course. We were standing right beside the tee on 18 and saw him lace one down the fairway and have that stone-cold walk,” said Conners. “It was awesome.”

Prior to watching Woods win his fifth green jacket, Conners had wrapped up a whirlwind week Sunday at the Masters with a four-over-par 76. It was his worst score of the week after rounds of 70-71-71 through the first three rounds, and he admitted he ran out of gas on the back nine Sunday.

He didn’t want to make excuses – he said he just hit some poor shots. But for a guy who had to Monday qualify just to get into the Valero Texas Open field two weeks ago — he went on to win that tournament, of course — you can’t help but give him the benefit of the doubt.

“I think the adrenaline had worn off that I had been running on from the beginning of the week, and I definitely got a little fatigued,” he said. “It was a long couple weeks.”

Conners’ win in Texas was his first on the PGA Tour, and it got him into the Masters. Perhaps more importantly, he said, he earned a two-year exemption onto the PGA Tour. He was battling for starts given his status after last year, when he finished outside the top-125 on the FedEx Cup, and the fact that he gets to pick and choose his schedule for the next while is even more important than some of the other perks that came with the win.

But, yes, the $1.3-million (USD) payday was pretty cool, too.

“I think the reaction when I looked at my banking app on my phone was pretty sweet. I kept refreshing to see what that looked like,” he said with a laugh. “It hasn’t really sunk in. So much has been going on, but it’s pretty awesome.”

Equally awesome, Conners said, was how he got to tee it up last week. It was a bonus, he said, but at one point during the tournament, he was leading a Masters that Tiger Woods would go on to win.

Conners, 27, is too young to remember the 1997 Masters, but he said he’s watched that tournament “like 200 times” on VHS. It was his favourite video growing up, he admitted with a sheepish laugh. And when he saw Woods had a chance to capture his fifth green jacket Sunday, he wasn’t going to miss it.

He was with a few friends on 18, and after Woods teed off they walked around to the right side of the fairway, near the big scoreboard that three days ago had his own last name on top. He didn’t see Woods’ par attempt, but felt the crowd pulse when Woods made his short bogey. Woods had won.

“I grew up watching him and he was my idol, basically. He was everyone’s idol,” said Conners. “It was cool to be able to see that.”

Now Conners is both part of a generation of PGA Tour regulars inspired by Woods, and someone who needs to contend against the 82-time PGA Tour winner. And Woods’ win wasn’t the only big moment for Conners at last week’s Masters. He had a whole handful of them.

Tuesday, Conners went out as a single to play as many holes as he could before he was called into the Augusta National press centre to address international media. He was the last guy in the field. How does it feel?

Wednesday, Conners played a practice round with Adam Long and Andrew Landry before participating in the Par-3 Contest, wife Malory on his bag. By that point, many of golf’s biggest names, including Jordan Spieth, Gary Player and Fred Couples, had congratulated him.

Thursday, Conners was in the first group of the day, so he got to watch the ceremonial opening tee-shot… from the tee. He shook Jack Nicklaus’s hand. Nicklaus knew who he was.

“I wasn’t expecting him to notice me. There were so many people around and he was walking to the tee with his family, but he came up to me and said, ‘Congrats,’” said Conners. “It’s hard to put into words. I never though Jack Nicklaus would be congratulating me.”

By the end of that first day, Conners had held a piece of the Masters lead. Both the Nicklaus handshake and Conners-leading-the-Masters have been immortalized in photos Conners will likely print out.

Despite everything that’s unfolded the last 14 days, Conners doesn’t want to settle. Last week, he said, was spectacular. Ditto the week before, when he won his first PGA Tour title.

But Conners said he’s more motivated now than ever.

“It’s difficult to keep your status, but I don’t want to be overly excited about that. I want to keep working hard, I want to keep grinding it out, and that’s what I want to do. I love to play, and I don’t want to sit back and say, ‘I’ve won, I’m good for two years, I don’t have to work hard.’ No, I really want to work hard,” he said. “I want to be a top player on Tour.”

Conners will play this week at the RBC Heritage and next week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in a team event with partner and fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes. And then, finally, time for a break.

In the meantime, he’s got enough memories from the last two weeks to last a lifetime – or at least until Woods’ next major victory.

“So much has been happening, and so much happened so quickly,” said Conners. “But that was pretty sweet.”

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