JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Having recently earned a bachelor of science degree in actuarial science from Kent State University in Ohio, Corey Conners already has established a career path filled with mathematical possibilities.
"I don’t know what I’m going to do. I hope I’m counting numbers on a scorecard," Conners said with a grin adorning his tanned, perspiring face.
After sweating out a mid-round stumble Thursday afternoon in a third-round match in the U.S. Amateur, the Canadian standout has at least one more day to keep track of strokes at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Of late, he’s had a lot of practice in this championship.
After advancing to the semifinals a year ago at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Conners reached the quarterfinals of the 114th Amateur at AAC by dispatching Spain’s Jon Rahm 3 and 1.
"I guess I like match play," said Conners, who improved to 7-1 in this championship the past two years.
Conners, who lost to eventual champion Matthew Fitzpatrick last year, next faces Zachary Olsen of Cordova, Tenn., at 11:40 a.m. Friday in the third of four quarterfinal matches. Olsen defeated Will Zalatoris of Plano, Texas, 5 and 3.
A pair of wild swings starting on the inward nine highlighted the battle between Conners and Rahm. With four birdies on the front, Conners, who never trailed, steadily built a 3-up lead at the turn only to see it evaporate with three bogeys in a four-hole stretch. Rahm sank a 10-footer for par at the 13th that brought the match to all square for the only time.
But Conners, of Listowel, Ontario, immediately jumped back in front when Rahm encountered trouble off the tee at 14 and had to lay up on his second shot from a buried lie in a bunker. Conners took dead aim and his short approach with a pitching wedge stopped 5 feet behind the hole. Although Rahm saved par, Conners converted the birdie.
"I felt like that was definitely the most important part [of the match]," said Conners, who carried his own bag the first few rounds but enlisted Kent State and Canadian National teammate Taylor Pendrith, who fell in the first round of match play after tying for eighth at 4-under 139 in stroke-play qualifying.
On the long par-3 15th, Rahm again misfired while Conners got up and down from just left of the green. Rahm, after putting from a collection area right of the green, pushed his 5-foot par attempt to fall 2 down.
The match ended on 17 when Rahm missed a 12-foot birdie putt and then conceded Conners’ birdie look from 8 feet.
"I was playing like Seve today a little bit," chuckled Rahm, 19, who returns to Arizona State next week for his third year. "My short game kept me close, but Corey deserved to win. He played solid, especially there towards the end, and I made some mistakes. My driver let me down, and it had been a strength all week."
Conners said the key to his play this week has simply been preparation. "I have a great game plan, and I am playing well," he said. "I am getting more and more comfortable on this course. I don’t want to change a thing that I’m doing right now.
"I just want to keep it simple and stick to my game plan."
Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who writes frequently for USGA websites.