CSU’s Connor Jones wins at TPC Colorado for his 3rd individual victory in his last 5 college starts; Rams claim 3rd team title in 3 tournaments to begin season
By Gary Baines – 10/19/2022
Few probably envisioned it at the time, but in retrospect, it’s remarkable how well things have gone for Coloradan Connor Jones and the Colorado State University men’s golf team since he transferred from the University of Denver to join the Rams a little more than a year ago.
The Westminster resident gave an already-strong Rams squad a big boost, and he’s gone from being a very good amateur player to an extraordinary one — particularly in the last six months, both in college golf and otherwise.
The latest accomplishment came on Wednesday when Jones claimed the individual title — and led the Rams to the team championship — in the TPC Colorado at Heron Lakes Collegiate, played at the same course that’s hosted Korn Ferry Tour events in Berthoud the last four years.
It marks Jones’ second individual victory in three tournaments so far this season as he also won the Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational at the Air Force Academy. In fact, going back to the end of last season, he’s earned three individual wins in his last five college starts, a stellar feat in high-level Division I golf.
“I’m trying to take it day by day. It’s just kind of happening,” Jones said. “I’m just going to kind of ride the wave as long as I can.”
To put Jones’ accomplishments in perspective, here are his finishes in big-time golf events — college and otherwise — since the beginning of May:
— Mountain West Conference Championship: Won.
— NCAA Regional in Bryan, Texas: 39th.
— CGA Match Play: Won.
— Trans-Miss, considered an amateur major: Second in playoff.
— Inspirato Colorado Open: third overall, setting an amateur scoring record for the event, and earning low-am honors.
— CGA Amateur: Won with what is believed to be a record-low scoring total.
— Gene Miranda Falcon Invitational: Won.
— Ram Masters Invitational: Fifth.
— TPC Colorado Collegiate: Won.
That’s arguably the best stretch of golf played by a Colorado amateur since Wyndham Clark won three times individually — including the Pac-12 title at Boulder Country Club — during a phenomenal final season at the University of Oregon before beginning a pro career that has made him a fixture on the PGA Tour. Clark was one of the very best college golfers in the nation in 2016-17.
As for Jones, it’s little wonder why he’s ranked No. 214 in the world among amateurs — and heading higher — and is in the top 50 nationally among college golfers (No. 13 according to Golfstat and No. 43 according to Golfweek).
Jones’ play over the last half year “is really special and the sky’s the limit,” new CSU head coach Michael Wilson said. “I don’t think anything would surprise me. His skills are all really good, but there are certain areas he can improve. That’s kind of the fun part: he hasn’t maxed-out his ceiling. And I think he knows that too. He’s decided to come back and play a fifth year (in 2023-24), so we’re really excited about that. Those competitive opportunities and experiences can only help.
“He’s right up there as one of the best guys I’ve been around” as a college coach.
This week, playing a TPC Colorado course set up in the very high 7,000s, yardage-wise, Jones posted rounds of 70-66-71 for a 9-under-par 207 total and a two-stroke victory over BYU’s David Timmins.
And he led the way as the CSU men claimed their third team title in as many tournaments under Wilson, their first-year head coach. It’s the second time in the last four years that the Rams have won three times in the fall as the 2019-20 team did so before the end of that season was scuttled nationwide by Covid-19 safety concerns.
Since Jones’ arrival at the beginning of last season, CSU has earned five team titles in 15 tournaments.
Prior to this latest victory, CSU was ranked 15th in the country by Golfstat and 18th by Golfweek.
“Winning in golf is hard,” Wilson said. “Anytime you win it’s a good day. The way they did it this time was really cool. One of our best players, Davis (Bryant), didn’t have his best round (shooting a final-round 81), but the other guys stepped up.”
The Rams prevailed by four strokes over BYU, with CSU putting three players in the top 10 individually: Jones (first), and Jay Pabin and Christoph Bleier (tied for ninth at 216). Bryant and Rasmus Hjelm shared 24th place at 222 after Hjelm holed out for eagle on his closing hole, No. 3, from 55 yards.
“Obviously it feels good to (win individually), but it’s awesome to do it with the whole team (also claiming a title),” Jones said.
The Rams will try to complete a perfect fall portion of their schedule — four team victories in four events — when they compete in the Saint Mary’s Invitational at Poppy Hills in Pebble Beach, Calif., Oct. 31-Nov. 2.
On Wednesday, after Jones took a four-stroke lead into the final round, the golfer from The Ranch Country Club seldom saw his advantage seriously threatened. Through 16 holes, he’d made five birdies and two bogeys. A missed green and a three-putt on the tough par-4 17th dropped his advantage to two. And a tee shot into the fairway bunker and an approach left well short of the green by Jones on No. 18 gave Timmins a little opening, but Jones got up and down for par, draining a 6-foot putt to wrap up the individual title.
“We do probably two-thirds of our qualifying out here (at TPC Colorado), so I felt real comfortable out here,” Jones said. “I’m sure I felt more comfortable than some of the guys that hadn’t seen this course. It’s a long, tough golf course and you’ve got to miss it in the right spots.”
As for this recent stretch of stellar golf, “It’s been great,” Jones said. “You can’t expect to win all the time. I’ve been playing well for the last six months or so and it’s just kind of carried over into the college season. It feels good.
“I don’t think I could have foreseen (how the last half year has gone). I’d been hoping it would happen at some point — kind of breaking through — but it’s a culmination of a lot of different things coming together at one time. I’ve had a lot of change over the last four years, and everybody along my journey has helped me in different ways. Now all the pieces are falling into place.”
It might seem sudden to many observers, but it’s been building, Jones said.
“I don’t think it’s like a switch that turned on and off,” he said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of different things — not only physical, like chipping and putting and whatever — but mental progression and maturity over the last year or two years that has helped me play the way I know I can play.”
Jones wasn’t the only Colorado-raised golfer to score a top-10 finish on Wednesday. Jack Castiglia of Lakewood and the University of Northern Colorado placed sixth, going 69-73-70 for a 4-under 212 total. It was Castigia’s second straight sixth-place showing in college tournaments.
Team-wise for local schools, in addition to CSU winning the 10-team event at 12 under par, UNC finished seventh (+36), the host University of Denver was eighth (+38) and Air Force was 10th (+52).
So what’s been the key for the Rams’ 3-for-3 start to the season?
“They’re a good group and really competitive,” Wilson said. “It’s not just the five of them, but the other guys who are beating down the door too. It’s competitive from top to bottom.
“The way we go about business every single day (is important). We make it the most competitive environment we can at home. We treat every day like a championship day whether it’s a practice or a qualifying round so that when we get out here, it just feels like any other day.
“That’s hard to do. It takes the right type of guys — ones who love to compete and are trying to be the best version of themselves every day. Then there’s their energy and who they are and the culture that they all bring, which is awesome. They’re hard workers, they’re super passionate about the game, they love golf and they care about one another. All those things add up to something special.”
For all the scores of the TPC Colorado college tournament, CLICK HERE.