Everything you need to know as the Korn Ferry Tour resumes its 2020-21 ‘super’ season
With one more win on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2021, Davis Riley would earn an automatic promotion to the PGA Tour.
The first Korn Ferry Tour event of 2021 takes place this week in Florida but you’d be wrong to call it the 2021 season opener. You’d also be forgiven, given the unusual circumstances facing the developmental tour.
Like all of pro golf, the KFT was impacted by COVID-19, forcing officials to combine the 2020 and 2021 schedules into a one wrap-around season that resumes this week after a four-month winter break.
The LECOM Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National Golf Club outside Bradenton, Fla., then, is the 24th of 46 tournaments on the 2020-21 slate. And while not technically the season opener, the first event of 2021 does mark an important point as players pick up where they left off in the season-long points race.
Here’s a look at where things stand, what’s ahead and what else to keep an eye on as the KFT gets going again.
Where they left off
The last time we saw the KFT in action was in early October when Trey Mullinax led by three going into the final round of the Orange County National Championship only to have to rally with two birdies over the final three holes—including a 40-footer on the 16th—to win by one over Brandon Wu and Stephan Jaeger. The victory was the second of the former University of Alabama standout’s career and more importantly vaulted him from 113th in the points race to 32nd. PGA Tour cards will be handed out to the top 25 in the standings after the Pinnacle Bank Championship this August, with another 25 awarded after the conclusion of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
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Will Zalatoris' strong play on the PGA Tour means he doesn't have to return to the KFT in 2021 despite being the tour's leader in the season-long points standings.
The top player on the KFT points list probably won’t play in 2021
If that sounds illogical, it helps to know the name of that player: Will Zalatoris. Before a late run in 2020 on the PGA Tour earned him special temporary membership on the big tour, the 24-year-old had racked up one win and seven top-fives in 16 KFT starts to jump to the top of the standings with 1,876 points, nearly 300 more than second-place Taylor Pendrith. Yet the former Wake Forest All-American has already earned enough FedEx Cup points to grab full PGA Tour status through 2022 so it’s unlikely that he’ll play again on the KFT this year.
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Jared Wolfe was going to give up on the dream of reaching the PGA Tour, but two KFT wins puts it within his grasp with some solid play in 2021.
PGA Tour members in waiting
Davis Riley and Jared Wolfe currently are Korn Ferry Tour members but might not be much longer. Both won twice in 2020, meaning one more victory in the wrap-around season would earn them an automatic promotion to the PGA Tour. The last time that happened was in 2016 when Wesley Bryan played his way up to the PGA Tour, and it’s only occurred 11 times in KFT history. The promotion was carried over when restructuring the KFT schedule as it became, effectively, the only way a player on the KFT could get to the PGA Tour after officials with both tours decided to freeze the status of all players on either circuit through 2021 because of the pandemic.
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Brandon Wu lines up a putt en route to victory at last year's Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
Waking up from winter hibernation
Speaking of Wu, he was on a roll before the KFT went dark. In his last six starts on the KFT, the 23-year-old former Stanford All-American had a win at the Tour Championship, two runner-up finishes and a tie for 10th. He wasn’t the only one KFT player on the roll. Stephan Jaeger also had a win, a runner-up and two other top-10s in his last six starts; Greyson Sigg had four straight top-15 finishes, including a runner-up and a T-4 at Orange County National; and Chad Ramey was T-3 and T-4 in his last two starts. Those finishes propelled all four players into the top 10 in the points standings, putting them in good position to move on to the PGA Tour later this summer.
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Nick Hardy hopes to keep the momentum he's built while making the cut in two PGA Tour starts in early 2021.
Golfers to watch
Other players to keep an eye on as the season resumes: Pendrith, who has 11 top-25 finishes, including five finishes in the top three, in 21 starts and is second in points this season; Nick Hardy, who Monday qualified into two PGA Tour events this year and made the cut in both (T-14 Sony Open in Hawaii, T-42 Waste Management Phoenix Open), is 15th in the KFT points standings; and Lee Hodges, who is sixth in the standings with a win and a third-place finish among his five top-10s.
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Florida State senior John Pak was low amateur at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
College stars set to join the tour in June
The resumption of the KFT also serves as a reminder of last year’s launching of PGA Tour University. Created to bolster fields and serve as a pipeline from the college game to the professional one, the top five players on the newly-created PGA Tour U ranking will gain full membership to the KFT following the NCAA Championship in late May. That will allow them to play in up to nine KFT events. If those players earn enough points to crack the top 25 in the season-long race, they’ll earn a PGA Tour card for the following season. The same holds true for the chance to play their way into the KFT Finals; top 75 on the points list get in. And for those who don’t break through on either, there is still direct entry into the final stage of KFT Q school later this year. The current top five in the PGA Tour University Ranking: Florida State’s John Pak; Arizona State’s Chun An Yu; Oklahoma State’s Austin Eckroat; Georgia’s Davis Thompson; and Texas Tech’s Sandy Scott.