9 notable golfers who advanced to the finals of Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying school (and 5 who didn't)
Copyright USGA/Michael Reaves
You’re forgiven if the sports-consuming part of your brain was focused on nongolf activities this weekend. There was no PGA Tour event, and the Korn Ferry Tour schedule doesn’t start up again until after the New Year. Unless you’re a big LPGA, European Tour or PGA Tour Champions fan, your attention was likely diverted by the Alabama-LSUs or Cowboys-Vikings of the world.
Yet while you were (maybe) away, an extremely impactful tournament did go down. The final four of five sites for the second and penultimate stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q School wrapped up. These are hugely important events for the guys playing in them, as getting through second stage and into the final stage guarantees you some form of status on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020. And that is the difference between a year where you’re one-stop removed from the PGA Tour … and a year of mini-tours and Monday qualifiers.
There were a number of noteworthy players on both sides of the coin last week. Here are some names you might recognize and some you might be surprised are fighting for Korn Ferry status, and how they fared.
Notables who advanced to finals
Chase Koepka — Golf’s unofficial most famous little brother is one step closer to joining big bro Brooks on the PGA Tour. The 25-year-old who has played the majority of his golf on Europe’s Challenge Tour actually made it through two weeks ago at TPC Craig Ranch in Texas, shooting eight under, good enough for a T-14. Most notably, he did it with Brooks’ caddie, Ricky Elliot, on the bag. With the final stage of Q school set for Dec. 12-15 in Florida, the same time as the Presidents Cup, Chase is going to need to find a new looper because Elliott will be with Brooks in Australia … unless Brooks’ ailing knee keeps them from heading Down Under.
Brandon Wu — The recent Stanford grad (photo at top), who impressed at the U.S. Open and played on the U.S. Walker Cup team this year, kept the momentum going and finished co-medalist at Bear Creek Golf Club in California.
Derek Ernst — Six years ago, a 23-year-old Ernst became one of the more unlikely winners when he triumphed at the Wells Fargo Championship. Fast-forward to today, and he’s outside the top 1,000 in the Official World Golf Ranking, but he took an important step toward getting returning to the PGA Tour by advancing through the Southern Hills Plantation site in Florida.
Spencer Levin — The notoriously fiery Californian has made 241 starts and more than $8.2 million on the PGA Tour, but he’s struggled significantly in recent years, missing 17 of 22 cuts on the Korn Ferry in 2018. Still, Levin, 35, finished T-12 at Southern Hills to make it to final stage.
Tommy Gainey — “Two Gloves” became a bit of a sensation when he broke out on the PGA Tour almost a decade ago thanks to his highly unorthodox swing, thick Southern drawl and the fact that he actually wears two gloves at all times (including putting). Gainey also had himself a nice little stretch in the early 2010s, including a victory at the McGladrey Classic in 2012. Now 44, Gainey is still grinding away and made it through the Alabama site.
Braden Thornberry — While we’re on the topic of unorthodox swings, the 2017 NCAA individual champion made it through by way of a T-5 at Southern Hills. The Ole Miss product took his time turning pro and earned conditional status on the KFT in 2019 but made just six of 14 cuts and finished 101st on the points list.
The Thompson brothers — Two more players with a famous sibling made their way through: Curtis and Nicholas Thompson, making their sister, Lexi, proud. Nicholas, 36, has made 228 starts and more than $5.7 million on the PGA Tour. Both advanced at the Plantation Preserve site in Florida.
Alex Kang — More famous siblings! Danielle Kang’s big brother played collegiately at San Diego State and finished T-14 at Bear Creek. The 29-year-old, who moonlights as an extra set of eyes for Danielle's swing, had made the cut in just 16 of his 44 career Korn Ferry starts.
Notables who didn’t advance to finals
Akshay Bhatia — The 17-year-old former top-rated junior golfer made news when he decided to forego college golf and turn pro after the Walker Cup in September. Subsequently, he has had a less-than-ideal start to his pro career, missing the cut in all three PGA Tour starts. He then suffered another setback last week, tying for 43rd at Southern Hills and failing to advance. Look for him to be able to use his remaining sponsor exemptions (he’s playing next week at the RSM Classic) in early 2020.
Dru Love — A frequent target for those complaining at the undemocratic use of sponsor exemptions, Davis Love III’s son also finished T-43 at Southern Hills and will likely need more sponsor invites if he is to play PGA Tour events in the near future.
Ricky Barnes — The 2002 U.S. Amateur champ and runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Open has more than 300 starts and $8.5 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour. He’s also played in four events on tour already this fall, making four cuts, but the 38-year-old was disqualified from the California site.
Norman Xiong — The former Oregon Duck who won the 2018 Haskins Award as college golf’s top player finished second at Q school last year to earn his Korn Ferry card for 2019. He then made just six cuts (and only two top-25 finishes) in 21 starts to lose his card. His struggles continued, as he finished T-69 out of 71 players at the Alabama site.
Michael Putnam — Putnam was first on the money list on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2012, but the older brother of PGA Tour winner Andrew wasn’t close to making it to final stage after a T-59 at TPC Craig Ranch.