SOUTH BEND, Ind. — This was kind of funny.
Brian Kelly, head coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, was not scheduled to meet with media on Thursday. But he wandered into the team meeting room in the Guglielmino Athletic Complex after Thursday’s morning practice. There reporters had gathered to hear from Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive coordinators.
Having an unexpected audience, Kelly decided to take the opportunity to talk some golf. He obviously had the Masters and Augusta National on his mind and wondered who everybody was picking to win.
Then he offered his own surprising pick to win: Masters rookie Corey Connors.
“The guy from Canada, why wouldn’t you pick that guy?” Kelly quipped. “Every tournament he’s been in he’s won. Why wouldn’t you pick that guy? I don’t even know his name. Connor or something. That’d be who I’d pick.”
The 27-year-old Conners, who is from Ontario, became the first player to win a PGA Tour event after Monday qualifying in nine years when he won the Valero Open in Texas last week. That victory qualified him to be in the Masters field this week.
Conners tends to play well whenever he tees it up. He won the Canadian Amateur in 2015, turned pro after missing the cut in the 2015 Masters and finished second last October in the PGA Tour’s Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi.
So obviously Kelly knows his golf. He is, in fact, an avid golfer and plays at Augusta National Golf Club almost every year. He is not a member.
“You have to win at least three national championships of some form for that,” Kelly joked.
Actually, Kelly plays there as the guest of Jimmy Dunne, a famous New York businessman and major Notre Dame benefactor who sits on the university’s Board of Trustees. Dunne was the subject of a terrific Golf Channel documentary about how golf helped him rebuild his life after his firm was devastated by the events of Sept. 11, 2001 at the Twin Towers.
Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long will be playing Augusta National with Dunne on April 30. It will be Long’s first visit.
“I just hope I don’t break a window,” Long said.
Said Kelly: “I’ll let you know how the greens are.”
UPDATE: Conners shot 2-under in first round and walked off the course in a tie for fourth with the second-lowest round of the day to that point.