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Conners feeling good about his game heading to the PGA Championship

Corey Conners Corey Conners - The Canadian Press

Corey Conners can be forgiven if he doesn’t remember too much about the last time he played Oak Hill Country Club, site of next week’s PGA Championship.

That came when he was 16 and played in the Williamson Cup, a team competition for junior golfers representing a variety of golf associations from the region. Conners played for an Ontario team.

“I remember the last hole,” said the Listowel, Ont., product. “And I remember they had a bowling alley in the club, and we got milkshakes. That’s about it.”

The bowling alley is still there but the Rochester, N.Y., golf course has seen a dramatic overhaul since Conners’ last visit. It will be stern test for the world’s best who gather for the year’s second major.

Conners is one of six Canadians in the field. That’s the most for this major, which was first held back in 1916.

Conners, Adam Hadwin, Mackenzie Hughes, Taylor Pendrith, Adam Svensson, and Nick Taylor are entered, providing a healthy dose of Canadian flags on the leaderboard.

Conners is the highest-ranked Canadian on the Official World Golf Ranking, sitting in 27th spot. Of the six players, he also has the best finish in the PGA Championship, logging a tie for 17th in 2021.

This season he has a win and two other top 10s, one of those coming at his last start at the Wells Fargo Championship where he finished tied for eighth. However, he missed the cut at both the Players Championship and the Masters, something he called extremely disappointing. But he comes to the PGA Championship pleased about his recent play and full of confidence.

“I feel good about my game,” he said. “It felt good to play well at Quail Hollow, which is a major-calibre course, and I’ve tightened up my iron play, which I’m happy about.”

Conners is also excited about getting back onto a course that closely resembles what he grew up playing throughout Ontario. Oak Hill features bentgrass fairways and greens, and the region will have cooler temperatures compared to what the PGA Tour has been playing recently in the southern United States.

This will be Conners’ 18th appearance in a major championship, and he believes he is past the point of being overwhelmed by the aura of the biggest tournaments in the game. That’s allowed him to play in a manner that has lifted him inside the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I feel like I do a good job of normalizing it,” he said. “I’m comfortable playing them. It’s still about getting the ball in the hole.”

If he’s at ease on the course, Conners is less so watching his favourite hockey team, the Maple Leafs in the NHL playoffs. He attended Game 6 of the first round and watched Toronto clinch the series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. But speaking on the morning of Game 5 of the second-round against the Florida Panthers, with the Leafs down 3-1, he was all nerves.

“It’s been great to follow them and to see them get out of the first round,” stated Conners. “I’ve become friends with a bunch of the players; they’re all big golfers and we text back and forth. I’m still hopeful they might pull it out.”

As for the rest of the Canadians, Hadwin has played the most of what is now the year’s second major. This will mark his seventh start while Pendrith and Svensson will be making their PGA Championship debuts.

The Canadian contingent comes in having played some impressive golf this season. Hughes, Svensson and Conners have all won on tour, marking the first time three different Canadians have captured PGA Tour titles in a single season.

Last month, Taylor and Hadwin joined forces at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, a team event, to finish runner-up. That was one of five top-10 finishes this season for Taylor who has amassed more than $4 million in earnings, easily a career record.

Taylor will arrive in Rochester as a new father. He and his wife, Andie, welcomed their second child, Harper Mae Taylor, into the world last week. The impending arrival of their daughter kept father out of last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, one of the tour’s designated events.