When Corey Conners walked off the course on Monday, he figured he was going to have the week off. His round of 71 in the Monday qualifying was six shots short of grabbing one of the four exemptions up for grabs for the Valspar Championship.
But not long after his final putt, his phone rang with some good news.
“I just finished and got a call from the Tour saying that I was in,” Conners said. “So, yeah, it was obviously a great feeling to get into the field and kind of had a mindset of trying to take advantage of sort of a good break.”
The Listowel, Ont., product, who ended up getting into the field off the alternate list after Kyle Stanley withdrew, certainly did that, posting a 4-under 67 to take the first-round lead on the challenging Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla. Only 27 golfers broke par during a windy opening round.
“I seem to play well on difficult golf courses,” Conners said, “and hit a lot of fairways, got myself into position to make some birdies and fortunate to hole some nice putts on the front nine and keep myself out of trouble.”
Conners was 4-under par on his opening nine holes. He pushed his score to 5 under with a birdie on the 11th, with the only blemish on his card coming on the 18th where he made bogey after his approach shot flew the green.
For the rookie PGA Tour player, the round was a continuation of some solid if not necessarily spectacular play this season. He’s played 10 events, making the cut in nine of them but hasn’t finished any higher than 29th. Still, he remains positive about his game.
“Everything feels really good,” said Conners, who only had one practice round at Copperhead prior to Thursday. “I haven’t had the best results on the weekend, so trying to learn from prior experiences and kind of get in a better rhythm and stay focused. Everything is solid. I feel really good about my game and was really happy to have gotten into the field here and definitely feel like I’m due for a good week.”
Despite being a rookie at this level, Conners has played on the Mackenzie Tour, the Web.com Tour and PGA Tour Latinoamerica. At every level, he’s gained experience and he knows fully well that no tournament can be won on Thursday, even if a fast start can be a big boost.
“I know – that’s the ultimate goal,” Conners said of seeing his name on top of the leaderboard. “There’s still a lot of golf to be played. Yeah, wasn’t – didn’t get too excited out there, try to stay level-headed and keep doing what I was doing. Hopefully I can go and do more of the same tomorrow (Friday).”
If he did manage to hold the lead through Sunday, Conners would be the first alternate to win a Tour event since Vaughn Taylor at the 2016 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
Defending champion Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., opened with an even-par 71. Mac Hughes, a college teammate of Conners at Kent State, was 2-over 73, as was Nick Taylor, while Ben Silverman posted a 75.