Corey Conners, a Canadian who grew up playing hockey – of course – can’t wait to tune in to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs play Thursday night.

The only problem is that he may not be able to stay up to watch the whole thing.

“I have no chance of staying up till the end of the game,” said Conners with a laugh.

Regardless of whether the Leafs win or lose on Thursday, Conners can count the day as a win for him: His 5-under-par 67 sees him on top of the PGA Championship leaderboard after day one.

“I think there's nothing that I want to do differently. I didn't really make any mistakes out there,” said Conners. “I played solid all through the bag… A lot of good putts. Drove it well, ironed it well and got up-and-down a couple times really nicely.”

If Conners’ name is unfamiliar, it’s likely it won’t be for much longer.

The Canadian has one PGA Tour victory to his credit but has zipped up the Official World Golf Ranking over the last six months or so on the back of seven top-10 finishes on Tour this season.

Two of those top 10’s came at the Masters, the back-to-back majors that occurred prior to this week’s PGA Championship at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. Conners is 37th in the world and his demeanor is chill and laid back. You won’t see him get too high or too low – even when he has a two-shot lead at a major.

“I definitely felt calm out there. It was fun,” said Conners. “It's fun to hit good shots; it's fun to give yourself birdie chances and fun to roll in putts.”

If there has been one Achilles heel to Conners’ game since he turned professional, it has been his putting. He was ranked nearly 200th on the PGA Tour in Strokes Gained: Putting a couple of seasons ago. However, he’s now up more than 100 spots, to 86th. That big jump has corresponded with Conners challenging for PGA Tour titles almost every week and he credits his putting improvement to switching to a cross-handed grip – and tons of hard work.

“I've seen glimmers of good putting in certain events throughout this year and I've worked really hard on my putting,” said Conners. “It's held me back a little bit, I would say, over the last few years, and it's definitely becoming more consistent and fine-tuning it week-by-week, and definitely have a lot more confidence right now.”

Conners and his wife, Malory, have only returned home to Canada (they are both from the same small town about two hours from Toronto) over last year’s Christmas holidays. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions in place in Canada the pair had to quarantine for 14 days before they were able to see their families. Even as a professional golfer, he did not get any kind of exemption to waive the quarantine.

“That was the only time we've been back in the last year,” said Conners. “Wish we could go back a little easier, but we've based ourselves in Florida for most of the time.”

He was given some good news post-round, however, as Ontario – his home province – has just lifted its ban on playing golf. Courses will be allowed to re-open on Saturday, it was announced Thursday afternoon, as up until that point it was the only place in all of North America where golf was not allowed to be played due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“I wasn't sure it was true. But that's awesome,” said Conners. “Good to hear.”

What else was good to hear? Conners will be the first-round leader of the PGA Championship, his first career lead at a major.

“It's impossible to be stress-free around this golf course. You can't fall asleep out there on any holes. It's very challenging,” said Conners. “But I was fortunate to have a good day.”

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