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Conners, Henderson hoping partnership pays off

Brooke Henderson Brooke Henderson - The Canadian Press

The last time Corey Conners and Brooke Henderson played together was back in 2013 and it was memorable.

That year, they won the Copa de las Americas championship, a major international amateur event, alongside Albin Choi and Augusta James.

Ten years later, they’re hoping for the same result.

This week, Canada’s top-ranked male and female players will be reunited in the Grant Thornton Invitational, the first mixed-team, PGA Tour-LPGA Tour tournament since 1999. The last Canadian duo to play was comprised of Mike Weir, now on PGA Tour Champions, and Lorie Kane, who retired from LPGA Tour play last year, in the JC Penney Classic.

“I’m really excited to be here with Brooke this week,” said Conners. “Ever since they announced the format of this event, I tried to throw my name in and partner up with Brooke.”

Conners was so intent on getting the all-Canadian team together that he reached out to the tournament organizer a few days after it was confirmed it would go ahead and asked for the duo to be given a spot in the limited field. At that point, he hadn’t even asked Henderson, although he was confident that she would play.

Despite a five-year age difference, the two came up through the Canadian national team program at the same time and often attended training camps together. They were both at the last Olympics for Canada, although their only team event there was a dinner.

This tournament will not only be fun and draw a huge contingent of Canadian snowbird fans, but it will also provide each player with the opportunity to watch each other’s game.

“That's something I've been really excited about,” Conners stated. “I think just learning more about her process and how she goes about her rounds of golf is something that I'm very interested in and definitely hoping I can pick something up there that might help. Obviously, she's had an incredible amount of success on the LPGA Tour and around the world.”

“I'm really excited to watch the men play, watch Corey play, see how he goes about it, and it's been really fun,” Henderson said. “We started talking a little bit about strategy, especially for the alternate shot days. I think that's pretty cool to have a partner and somebody that is as brilliant as Corey.”

Conners and Henderson are each coming off respectable seasons, although both pointed to some inconsistencies in their games.

Conners logged his second career victory at the Valero Texas Open. He was also in contention at the PGA Championship, starting one shot off the lead heading to the final round before finishing tied for 12th. But he missed the cut in the Players Championship, the Masters, and the U.S. Open. He managed to reach the Tour Championship at the end of the year, a clear mark of success.

Henderson won the season-opening Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions and was runner-up in the Amundi Evian Championship, one of women’s golf’s majors. But she managed just three top-10s on the season, an unusually low number for her. A late-season change of irons seemed to sharpen her game and left her enthused for the coming year.

While this week will be as much about fun as competition, both Conners and Henderson stated they would welcome a more competitive mixed team event in the Olympics.

I think it'd be really great to have a mixed team event,” said Conners. “There's a limited number of players that are invited or qualified for the Olympics. So, I think it's definitely a possibility. You know, we could all play together and that's definitely something that I would be very excited about, and it would be another cool event in the game of golf.”

“I feel like golf coming into the Olympics was a big step for the game and pretty cool for us athletes,” added Henderson. “And I think if we had a mixed event, it would just add another level and grow the game as well.”

One other Canadian will tee it up this week. Nick Taylor is partnered with China’s Ruoning Yin, who won this year’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

There will be three different formats used over the three days of the tournament. It will open with a scramble on Friday, foursomes or alternate shot on Saturday and use a modified four-ball where both players will drive and then switch balls and play that ball until it is holed. The lowest score on each hole will count.

The men and women will play from different tees for all three formats.