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With major exemption, Canadian Corey Conners puts pro plans on hold

Corey Conners of Canada takes a shot on the 18th hole during the U.S. Amateur Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga., on Sunday.

Curtis Compton/The Associated Press

A recent graduate of Kent State University, Canadian golfer and U.S. Amateur finalist Corey Conners was hoping to turn pro this fall.

That plan changed when he made the final pairing at the Atlanta Athletic Club over the weekend.

Conners dropped a 2-and-1 decision to South Korea's Gunn Yang in Sunday's championship, but by making it to the final he earned an exemption into the 2015 U.S. Open and will likely be invited to play at the Masters.

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He has to maintain his amateur status to enter those major tournaments. It didn't take him long to decide to put his professional plans on hold for now.

"Not everyone gets an invitation to the Masters," Conners said on Monday from London, Ont. "So it'll be very special."

The U.S. Amateur, which features 36 holes of stroke play before match-play elimination rounds, is the biggest event for non-professional golfers in the United States. Conners reached the semi-finals last year before losing to eventual champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

"I was watching the Masters this year and I saw the two amateurs that were playing," he said. "I was just reminiscing and saying, 'Jeez, that could be me,' and [thinking] how special that would be.

"Now to actually make that happen is crazy."

Conners was ranked 44th in the world amateur standings entering last week's event.

He initially planned to go to qualifying school in the fall to try to get his PGA Tour card but will likely go that route this time next year, armed with the experience of playing in among two of the biggest events in men's golf.

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On Sunday, the 22-year-old from Listowel, Ont., had a chance to push the 36-hole match to the distance but just missed a 15-foot birdie attempt on No. 17. Yang tapped in his short putt for the victory.

"I was maybe overwhelmed last year a little bit; I didn't expect to play that well," Conners said. "Then this year I had higher expectations and was determined to try to play well. It was really exciting to play nice golf.

"To make it to match play and then start winning some matches, it was awesome."

A week earlier, 16-year-old Brooke Henderson reached the final of the U.S. Women's Amateur in Glen Cove, N.Y. She settled for a second-place finish after Kristen Gillman rallied to win two up in the 36-hole final.

Conners, who has experience at some PGA Tour Canada events, also entered the past two RBC Canadian Open tournaments as an amateur.

"It was pretty cool to be out there with the big boys, the guys that I look up to," he said.

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Conners is hopeful that he'll be picked to play for Canada at next month's world amateur team championships in Karuizawa, Japan. He may also get some sponsor invitations and hopes to get some starts at tour events over the next year.

In addition to his goal of one day turning pro, Conners is also intrigued by the possibility of playing Olympic golf. He acknowledges it'll be tough to crack the roster for the 2016 Games in Rio, but the 2020 Games in Tokyo could be a possibility.

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