Valero Texas Open winner sets sights on Presidents Cup captain’s pick
(PGA TOUR) ATLANTA, Georgia – This has been a dream season for Corey Conners.
Within eight months, he has progressed from the rigors of Monday qualifying to a PGA TOUR champion. And that improbable trajectory has helped him find his way to Atlanta this week for the big-money TOUR Championship.
But, without sounding greedy, there is one more thing the Ontario native has on his wish list.
He wants to be part of the President’s Cup team.
“It’s on my mind, yeah,” Conners admitted. “Hopefully I’m on captain (Ernie) Els’ radar. Hopefully I can have another good week and try to make it more difficult for him to not pick me. That’s really the goal.”
Conners played his way into this week’s season-ending TOUR Championship at East Lake Golf Club. He’s one of just 30 players with a mathematical chance to come away with the $15 million prize that goes to the victor.
The odds are long that Conners can win the TOUR Championship. Under this year’s new format, he’ll begin the first round nine shots behind FedExCup leader Justin Thomas. But a good showing at East Lake will improve his chances to make the President’s Cup team.
Because of his lack of playing status to start the season, Conners knew he was a longshot to be among the top eight who automatically qualified based on points. But the team captain chooses the final four players on the team, and Conners wants to hear his name called when they are announced in November.
“The selection doesn’t happen for another couple of months, so I plan to play some more golf and try to get some more world ranking points,” Conners said. “I don’t know if they’ll continue the (President’s Cup points) list, but I’ll try and keep moving in the right direction.”
Conners already has his campaign pitch ready for Els: he has valuable experience competing at Royal Melbourne Golf Club, which will host the President’s Cup on Dec. 9-15 in Australia. Conners once shot a 63 there during the Australian Master of the Amateurs. Els holds the course record with a 60.
“I’d tell him that his name and my name are both on the wall of the club,” Conners said. “I really love the golf course. It’s a really cool spot. Hopefully that helps a little bit.”
The 27-year-old has already participated in some of the International team meetings hosted by Els and is eager to officially become part of it.
“That kind of gets you excited about it and motivates you to try and earn your way on the team,” Conners said. “Their goal obviously is to win the President’s Cup. They’ve got a great plan in place and it’ll be a lot of fun for the guys who are there. I’m just working really hard this week and this fall to earn a spot.”
Conners has witnessed the national pride when other Canadians like Graham DeLaet or Adam Hadwin played on the President’s Cup team. He wants to feel it for himself.
“In the past, when Graham and Adam played, the whole country of Canada was behind them,” Conners said. “That would be a really cool feeling and definitely something to work toward.”
It has already been a surreal season for Conners. He was a Monday qualifier at the Sony Open in Hawaii and closed with back-to-back 64s to finish tied for third. After missing the cut in five of his next six starts, Conners won the Valero Texas Open – earning the final spot in the Masters — and became the first Monday qualifier to win a PGA TOUR event since 2010.
Conners has played some of his best golf over the last month and closed strong last week at the BMW Championship. He shot four scores in the 60s, tied for seventh, and moved up to No. 23 in the FedExCup standings. The result was a spot in the TOUR Championship.
“It was like kind of a goal to start the season, but I wasn’t sure if it was realistic,” Conners said. “After the win, I definitely had my eyes (on East Lake). I was trying to keep playing well … really tried to keep my foot on the gas. It’s a big deal to get here.”
Although he’s never played East Lake, the course rewards accurate players like Conners, who leads the PGA TOUR in greens in regulation. He will be focused on hitting fairways, playing smart and giving himself a chance to make birdies.
“That’s one part of my plan every week, trying to hit as many greens as possible,” he said. “I think it just makes the game a lot easier. The greens here are great, so I’ll try to hit fairways, get on the greens and roll it in.”