BY DAN MCNEE
INDEPENDENCE, MINNESOTA – Corey Conners certainly has a flair for the dramatic.
The 21-year-old Kent State University senior won the first collegiate golf event of the season on Sept. 9 – the ninth annual Gopher Invitational at the Windsong Farm Golf Club in Independence, Minnesota. Conners won the tournament on the final hole of the final round by one stroke over California’s Brandon Hagy, and is the first golfer to win back-to-back Gopher titles.
“It obviously feels really good,” said Conners of his win. “It’s nice to get off to a great start to the season.”
Playing in a group with Hagy and third-place finisher Gavin Green on the final day of competition, Conners and Hagy were tied at 6-under-par on the tournament heading onto the 18th hole, a 571-yard par five. Conners led off with a favourable tee shot right up the middle of the fairway while Hagy hit his first shot into a bunker.
“I hit a really sweet drive – it was a really risk and reward type hole,” said Conners, who followed up his tee shot with a 200-yard bomb onto the green with his five-iron. “I was just trying to give myself a great putt for eagle.”
Hagy managed to recover from the sand and get on the green in three shots for a birdie putt, but missed his attempt and settled for par to open the door for Conners. Conners put his eagle putt six inches from the cup and then tapped in a birdie to clinch the win.
“I was pretty relieved to make the birdie and escape with a one-stroke win,” said Conners.
The Gopher Invitational individual victory comes on the heels of an unbelievable summer of accomplishment for the Listowel native, who is now the number 26 ranked amateur golfer in the world. Since July, Conners has participated in the RBC Canadian Open, was the runner-up at the Canadian Amateur Championship and was a semifinalist at the U.S. Amateur Championship.
“It’s always nice to win,” said Conners. “I’m still happy with how I did at the U.S. and Canadian championships. I’ve just got to keep doing my thing.”
Conners recorded scores of even, -5 and -2 over three rounds for a 7-under par total at The Gopher Invitational, helping his five-man Kent State Golden Flashes team to a third-place overall finish behind winner New Mexico and runner-up Baylor. Next up for Conners and Kent State this month is the Windon Memorial in Chicago and then the Jack Nicklaus Invitational in Columbus.
But in the long term, Conners has some other goals he would like to accomplish in his final year at the Ohio university, including clinching another NCAA Championship berth for his school towards the end of May. He is also hoping for a top-eight finish for Kent at the event.
“To be a three-time All-American would also be pretty sweet,” he said. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”