By JOHN CHIDLEY-HILL
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Thursday, April 11, 2019
TORONTO -- Herb Page and Jon Mills were sitting at an airport bar in Houston, wondering if the rain that had cancelled Kent State University's golf tournament over the weekend would affect their flights back to Ohio when they looked up and saw former student Corey Conners on TV.
Page, the long-time head coach of Kent State's golf team, loved what he saw on Sunday.
Not just that the affable Conners was atop the leaderboard at the Valero Texas Open, but that he hadn't changed his unique swing since graduating in 2014.
"Corey Conners owns his swing," Page proudly said of the fellow Canadian on Tuesday. "He stays within himself. He doesn't hit a golf shot that he can't hit.
Those are traits that some guys don't have. He's ultraconfident.
"He's not afraid. The moment won't get to him."
That poise paid off for Conners, as he went on to win the Texas Open by two strokes over Charley Hoffman.
The effect on Page, his assistant coach, Mills, also a Canadian, and the players on Kent State's golf team was immediate as they started to get excited texts, emails and phone calls about Conners's win. It certainly made it easier to get over the disappointment of their tournament at Texas A&M being rained out and their flight home being delayed.
"Everybody's excited, I mean, it's unbelievable," said Page, who will retire at the end of this season and hand the Kent State head-coaching reins to Mills.
"'He was just [on the team]. I think that makes it even more special. People know him. They know everybody, it's a small college town. People know him."
One of the benefits of Conners's win is that he will be in the field of the Masters on Thursday.
The Listowel, Ont., native and Mike Weir of Brights Grove, Ont., are the only two Canadians playing in the first major of the men's golf season.
Page, from Markham, Ont., will be inducted into Canada's Golf Half of Fame this June for his achievements as a coach, including helping to shape the careers of Conners, fellow PGA Tour member Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., and Ben Curtis, who won the British Open in 2003.
According to Page, one of the things that has set Conners apart is his ability to improve his game at every level he plays.
"I'm not surprised, Corey's a great player. He was a great player for Kent State," Page said. "I sent a little text to Corey after the win: 'Hey, you're a champion, you've been a champion at every level.' "He just kind of gets to every level, he gets comfortable and then he says 'Okay, I can do this,' and moves a notch up the ladder."
Part of that comes from Conners's analytical mind. He was a two-time All-American and a two-time Academic All-American, a feat that Page is especially impressed with since Conners majored in actuarial science.
"Coaching him was a dream," Page said. "Here's what happened to Corey Conners when he got here: He just got better and better and better. And I'm very proud of that."
All of the other North American professional tours have the week off to put the spotlight squarely on the Masters.
DRIVE, CHIP, & PUTT
Nicole Gal of Oakville, Ont., won the girls' 14-15 age division at the national Drive, Chip, & Putt championship at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday. Gal won by a one-point margin, finishing with 23 points to top the competition. This is the third straight year a Canadian has won a Drive, Chip, & Putt title. Toronto's Vanessa Borovilos won her division in 2018 and Savannah Grewal of Mississauga captured Canada's first title in 2017.
Corey Conners and spectators react as he just misses a hole-in-one during the par-three tournament at the Masters, in Augusta, Ga., on Wednesday. Conners will be one of only two Canadians in the field for the Masters on Thursday.
CURTIS COMPTON/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS