Since they first met 17 years ago, Mackenzie Hughes and Corey Conners have conquered the golf world together.
They dominated the Canadian Junior Golf circuit together.
They starred at Kent State together.
They’re currently tearing up the PGA Tour together.
From July 29-August 1 they’ll represent Canada at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games — together.
As the two top-ranked Canadians, Hughes and Conners will be among the field of 60 players competing for gold during the 72-hole event held at East Course of the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama.
“All the steps that we’ve taken though junior golf, amateur golf, our collegiate days at Kent State, our young professional days, we’ve taken all of those steps together and had very similar trajectories and paths,” said Hughes, who spoke by phone two days after earning $386,500 for finishing in a tie for sixth place at the 2021 British Open on Sunday. “It’s been a wild ride, and I think there’s a lot more to the journey, but representing Canada at the Olympics is definitely one of the pinnacles for us. To be doing this together is kind of unthinkable really.
“To think that we’d ever be competing for an Olympic team and be the two best male professional golfers in Canada … it would have been hard to think of those things years ago when we first met.”
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Hughes and Conners have already made the vast majority of their golf dreams come true. They starred on the best team in Kent State men’s golf history, the 2012 squad that finished fifth in the nation. They’ve both won on the PGA Tour. Conners and Hughes are currently 36th and 53rd, respectively, in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Competing in the Olympics wasn’t a dream growing up, because it wasn’t a possibility. After George Lyon — ironically enough from Canada — earned the gold medal in 1904, golf was left out of the Olympic Games until 2016.
“I never thought about playing in the Olympics as a kid because golf wasn’t included. But I was a huge sports fan and always loved watching the Olympics, and knew how special it was to be an Olympian,” said Conners, who wound up 15th but was in contention midway through the final round at last weekend’s British Open. “When golf was reintroduced it definitely was a goal of mine to be able to represent Canada.”
Both Conners and Hughes were surging as professionals during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“I got my PGA Tour card for the first time that fall, but I just missed out on qualifying [for the Olympics],” said Hughes. “I’ve thought about it since then, wanted to be part of that when it came around again. It’s not something that golfers have traditionally looked forward to throughout their careers, because it wasn’t there before. It is very neat that it’s something we can aspire to now and chase. I’m certainly very honored to be an Olympian. It’s going to be very exciting to get over there.”
Conners and Hughes have earned the right to represent their native country at the Olympics during a strong era in Canadian golf. Nine Canada natives are currently competing on the PGA Tour — including Taylor Pendrith, another star on that stellar 2012 Flashes squad, who will be a full-time PGA Tour member next season.
Both Conners and Hughes are from Ontario. They grew up about about 90 minutes apart and were both lured to Kent State by legendary golf coach Herb Page — who is also from Ontario.
Hughes, a four-time All-Mid-American Conference performer and medalist at the 2011 MAC Championship, was a senior on that 2012 Kent State team. He won his first professional tournament while competing on the PGA Tour Canada the following year, then claimed his PGA Tour card after capturing the Korn Ferry Tour’s Price Cutter Charity Championship in August of 2016.
Three months later, in just his fifth PGA Tour start, Hughes emerged from a five-man playoff to win the RSM Classic. Since then he’s recorded three top-three finishes and two top-15s in majors. After recording the highest major tournament finish of his career last weekend, Hughes’ career earnings rest at $7.3 million. He’s made $1.72 million this season and is currently 61st in the FedExCup rankings.
Conners, a two-time All-American and two-time MAC Player of the Year, was a sophomore on that legendary 2012 Kent State squad that won five tournaments. He was a conditional member of the PGA Tour in April of 2019, when Conners won a Monday qualifier for the Valero Texas Open by draining a 30-foot birdie putt to wedge his way into a six-man playoff for one spot — which he claimed. Six days later Conners secured his first professional victory, stunning the golf world by becoming the first Monday qualifier to capture a PGA Tour event since 2010.
Conners then recorded 10 top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour in 2019-20 and has now placed among the top 10 in the past two Masters along with a seventh-place effort at The Players Championship last March. He is currently 28th in the FedExCup rankings with over $3.4 million in earnings this season and has made over $8.7 million on the PGA Tour overall.
“What these guys have accomplished is just mind-boggling,” said Page. “Every step of the way they’ve just gotten better and better and better, and now they’re world-class. And they’re very humble. They haven’t changed since they left Kent State. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
Hughes and Conners share many similarities. They both stand 6-foot and were born about 15 months apart (Hughes is 30 years old, Conners 29). They’re both sponsored by Titleist. They’re devoted ice hockey fans who cheer on the Toronto Maple Leafs together. They’ve become loyal friends since their junior golf days — former teenage rivals who stood up in each other’s weddings as young adults.
They share a mutual love for Canada and Kent State.
“When we play on the PGA Tour week in and week out we feel that we’re representing Canada and carrying the flag,” said Hughes. “When Corey and I were playing well last week in the [Open] you could feel that sense of pride for Canada. You know everyone in Canada is pulling for you. Just like Canada, we represent Kent State with the same passion and pride. Without Herb and his guidance through that program, I’m not here today. I will always be indebted to that program. It’s going to be cool to have two Golden Flashes playing for Canada in the Olympics.”
Hughes and Conners still spend time together on and off the course whenever their hectic schedules allow it. They’ve shared countless laughs and consumed many adult beverages together over the years, the tastiest being the cold beer Hughes presented to Conners after he walked off the 18th green following his victory in Texas.
If things go well in Japan, maybe they’ll be sipping celebratory sake together after the 72nd hole of the Tokyo Olympic Games. And things could indeed go very well for Hughes and Conners, both of whom will arrive in Japan this week brimming with confidence.
“Between the two of us we give Canada a very good chance to compete for a medal, and that’s our intent,” said Hughes. “We’re going over there to try to be on that podium. I wouldn’t consider anything else a success really. We’re over there to compete for a medal, and I like both of our chances.”
“My goal for Japan is to give myself a chance for a medal,” echoed Conners. “I have plenty of confidence in my game and will be feeling lots of support from the fans back home. It would be awesome to be standing on that podium with Mac.”
Source : https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/07/25/olympics-mackenzie-hughes-and-corey-conners-canada-kent-state/1821