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The bizarre twist of fate that gave this pro full PGA Tour status

When Jon Rahm jumped to LIV Golf, he was removed from the rankings. Suddenly, Carl Yuan reclaimed his card
July 04, 2024

After my first year on the PGA Tour in 2023, I finished No. 126 on the FedEx Cup points list; the top 125 keep their cards. I was disappointed to lose my card, of course, but I was focused on earning my status back. I was playing a practice round for Q school in December when Jon Rahm announced he was going to LIV Golf. He was removed from the rankings, and I was bumped to No. 125. Suddenly, I had full status on tour.

When I was growing up in China, my dad, who worked in the shipping industry, played golf. I was 7 years old when I started following him on the course. When I got tired, I would climb on my dad’s pullcart while the caddie would pull me and the clubs. A few years later, I started hitting balls, and my parents found me a local coach.

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Academics are intense in China, so I spent a lot of time at school. I fell in love with golf because after long days in school, I wanted to be outside. I hit balls as much as I could, usually off a mat at a range. There are far fewer courses in China than in the United States, so I didn’t get on the course often.

My coach took a group of us to Southern China when I was 10. After I shot 112 in my first tournament round, a snowstorm hit, and the tournament was canceled. It was my first time traveling without my parents, and I got stuck there for an extra day and a half because the roads were closed. We took a train home, which took another two days. It was a rough start to my competitive golf career, but it didn’t deter me.

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When I was 13, I went to Florida for a golf camp. It opened my eyes to the things we lacked back home. In the U.S., the practice facilities are tremendous, there is access to launch monitors and it’s easy to play on courses. I moved to Florida and went to boarding school in Orlando to focus on golf.

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I improved my ball-striking, so I was able to execute the shots that my creative mind saw. I was ranked among the top 100 amateurs in the world when I started looking at colleges. I really liked the University of Washington and Seattle, specifically, because there is a big Asian population and great food. It was there that I met Cathy, who was playing on the women’s golf team, and in 2022 we got married. For that alone, it was definitely the right place for me.

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Every year as a team-bonding exercise, we would go to a beach in Oregon in December. Our coaches built a golf course on the sand with whatever they could find: logs, trash, anything. We spent two days in a cabin, playing golf on the beach course. Whoever shot the highest score would jump into the freezing water. We were good friends, and my shot-making abilities developed because of the constant competition.

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I turned pro after my junior year in 2018. It was hard to leave my teammates, but I knew my game was ready. I played in China and in some DP World Tour events before getting onto the Korn Ferry Tour. After college, my wife played professionally, too, but she didn’t love competition enough to continue. Since she knows what it’s like to make a swing change and how it feels to miss a cut, she is able to really support me.

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After I turned pro, people on the internet started to notice my follow-through. All the motions I make after my swing aren’t intentional. My gyrations are a result of my body doing everything it can to hit the ball to the target. I’ve tried to stop, but it hurts my swing; overthinking and getting technical produces worse results for me.

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In 2021 on the Korn Ferry Tour, I was on the cusp of earning my PGA Tour card, but I had also qualified to represent China in the Tokyo Olympics. Going to Tokyo meant missing four events and likely my chance to get my card, but I felt a responsibility to be a role model for juniors in China. I finished T-38 at the Olympics, and I didn’t earn my tour card. It hurt, but I don’t regret my decision. I came back the next season with more confidence and earned my tour card. It proved that everything I’d done and the decisions my family and I had made had been right.

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Carl Yuan carries his wife across the water back to the tournament side during the second round of Myrtle Beach Classic at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club in 2024.

Tracy Wilcox

My wife took mental-game training courses to help me on tour. It was hard to not be jealous of the early success of guys like Viktor Hovland and Collin Morikawa. My wife tells me to be a turtle: Move forward at my own pace. With her help, I am making solid steps toward becoming the player that I want to be.

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During my first year, I learned the courses we play and how to build a schedule. I played too many weeks in a row, which is a mistake I won’t make again. I’ve started fishing during off weeks to relax. I wanted the chance to learn from my rookie year, and now that I have it, I’m not going to waste it.

EDITOR'S NOTE—Through the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Yuan has played in 17 events during the 2024 season, with two top-five finishes. The 27-year-old currently ranks 110th on the FedEx Cup points list.