JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Corey Conners thinks he has enough game to turn professional one day. He’ll have to wait a while to find out, but he knows it will be worth it – just as it was worth it to remain an amateur after completing his collegiate career in the spring.
Conners, recently graduated from Kent State University in Ohio, didn’t get the grand prize in the 114th U.S. Amateur, falling to Korea’s Gunn Yang, 2 and 1, in the 36-hole final Sunday at Atlanta Athletic Club. But his decision to delay the professional career he has wanted since watching fellow Canadian Mike Weir win the Masters in 2003 proved rewarding nonetheless.
As runner-up in the oldest USGA championship, Conners, 22, earned a berth in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in University Place, Wash. The U.S. Amateur runner-up also traditionally receives an invitation to the Masters Tournament.
Not being in a hurry sometimes gets you to your goals quicker.
"The decision to turn pro – or to not turn pro – after the NCAA season was over was pretty easy," said Conners, who reached the semifinals in last year’s championship before falling to eventual winner Matthew Fitzpatrick. "I had been a part of the Canadian national team for years and just wanted to continue using the resources that they have available – unbelievable coaching and guidance. … And also the World Am is coming up in a few weeks in Japan and wanted another crack at playing in that. I played in Turkey in 2012, and that was an awesome experience and wanted to play for Canada again, so that was big in my decision-making."
A two-time Mid-American Conference champion for the Golden Flashes, Conners has come a long way since he began playing golf at age 5 after being introduced to it by his father, Mike. He has been around the game practically his whole life, playing and working at Listowel Golf Club, the private course in his hometown in Ontario. He started out working in the bag shop, and in high school moved into the pro shop.
"I was pretty lucky to grow up there," said Conners, whose pro aspirations also run toward patriotism, as he hopes to represent Canada in the Olympics in 2016.
Unquestionably, Conners’ game has grown since leaving Listowel. He earned third-team All-America honors this past season despite the fact that Kent State failed to advance to the NCAA Division I finals. He finished fourth in the 2013 NCAAs and posted second-place finishes in the Canadian Amateur and North & South Amateur.
He left Kent State with a degree in actuarial science and the 2014 Merle Wagoner Award as the school’s outstanding male athlete.
Nevertheless, he’s under no illusions about the state of his game, despite a second impressive performance in the U.S. Amateur.
"I have to get better everywhere, but I really need to improve my driving," Conners said, noting that he hoped to prepare for Augusta National Golf Club by seeking to compete in a few PGA Tour events – as an amateur, of course.
One area where he is not lacking is the all-important intangible of self-belief, which he has derived from his two-year Amateur run. Consider it another reward for patience.
"Yeah, it gives me a lot of confidence going forward to know that I've done the best I could in amateur golf pretty much and have had a lot of success," he said. "So I feel like I'm ready to transition forward, and, yeah, just keep fine-tuning the game a little bit."
Fortunately, he has some time. Which he earned.
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work frequently appears on USGA websites.