Corey Conners advances to U.S. Amateur final

Corey Conners (left) celebrates his U.S. Amateur semifinals victory with his caddie Taylor Pendrith.
Corey Conners (left) celebrates his U.S. Amateur semifinals victory with his caddie Taylor Pendrith. ( Tracy Wilcox )

Saturday, August 16, 2014

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Last year, Corey Conners fell one match short of the U.S. Amateur finale.

“It did sting quite a bit. I still tried to keep my head up and be proud of making it to the semis,” Conners said. “… There was a little more motivation this year, I guess.”

At the 114th playing of the world's toughest amateur championship, Conners wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip away again. The 22-year-old Canadian advanced to the championship match after winning a hard-fought battle against Denny McCarthy, 1 up.

Conners, just like he had in four of his previous five matches, got off to a fast start against the Virginia senior.

“I birdied the first hole, but it felt good and kind of off and running,” Conners added. “Getting off to a good start was very important.”

He went 2 up through three holes at Atlanta Athletic Club, but hit a bit of a dry spell when Nos. 8-10 came around.

After sticking his tee shot on the par-3 seventh to 18 feet and converting on his birdie attempt to go back to 2 up, Conners found water off the tee on No. 8. He proceeded to make 6 and added bogeys on Nos. 9 and 10 to bring the match back to all square.

Although the duo halved the par-4 10th with bogeys, McCarthy felt like that was a momentum shift.

“I ended up having a 4- or 5-footer to win the hole, and not making that,” McCarthy continued, “that was an opportunity that I think I really needed to capitalize on, and I hit a good putt and just didn't go.”

McCarthy added that going out of bounds with his second shot from the first cut of rough on No. 12 also put a damper on his comeback.

On 16, McCarthy stuck his approach shot to 4 feet to win the hole, trimming Conners' lead to 1 up. McCarthy won 16 in his previous three matches.

Coming down the stretch, it was Conners’ 5-iron that proved to be the major factor in advancing to Sunday.

He used it off the tee at the par-3 17th to get it back to the pin, sticking it 4 feet. The putt didn’t drop, but the 5-iron would come in handy again on 18.

After a wayward drive that found the water, Conners had 205 yards into the green for his third shot. He would find the green – 20 feet above the cup – and two-putted for victory.

“He's a good player,” McCarthy said of Conners, a recent graduate of Kent State. “He hits his long irons and his mid-irons, he flights them really low. There's not much curve on his ball, so it's usually going to go pretty straight.”

By advancing to the finals, Conners earns trips to both the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open. A berth into the Open Championship is on the line tomorrow.

“I don’t even know yet,” Conners said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. But obviously it’s going to feel awesome and be really special.”

Conners is trying to become the first Canadian champion since Gary Cowan in 1971.

Conners was excited that some family members will make the trip from Listowel, Ontario, to support him in the final. Although he has had plenty of support this week as his Canadian National team members stuck around after bowing out of the championship themselves.

“I could hear them cheering for me out there today, and it just puts a smile on my face,” Conners said. readers: We value your input and welcome your comments, but please be respectful in this forum.