In marathon season on Korn Ferry Tour, some are in prime position and others will play catchup
SOUTHAMPTON, BERMUDA - OCTOBER 29: Will Zalatoris of the United States plays his shot from the 17th tee during the first round of the Bermuda Championship at Port Royal Golf Course on October 29, 2020 in Southampton, Bermuda. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
When two seasons become one, as is the case on the Korn Ferry Tour after the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on a spectrum of sports schedules, a different mindset might be required for all the players vying for a berth on the PGA Tour. After all, the distinction of competing in the longest season in the history of professional sports, one spanning nearly 21 months, belongs to golfers on the U.S.-based developmental tour.
The usual odyssey, always a marathon and not a sprint, simply has been extended and inflated in terms of months and mileage. “Supersized” is the word PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan used in referring to a 46-event schedule that featured 23 tournaments this year and will have 23 more in 2021. The battle of patience and endurance, as well as performance, resumes Feb. 18 at the LECOM Suncoast Classic at Lakewood National Golf Club in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. Then the tour takes nearly a month off before the second event, the Chitimacha Louisiana Open, one of 10 tournaments that were canceled in 2020.
Of course, and unfortunately, we have to add that the season resumes, COVID-related developments permitting. Perhaps to protect as many events as possible on the reconstituted slate, the Korn Ferry Tour does not travel outside the U.S. this year. No Bahamas, Panama, Colombia or Mexico—stops that were part of the early 2020 schedule before the tour suspended play in March.
Whenever they play, and however many events they eventually get in, the goal is the same for all: to finish among the top 25 on the points list and earn a PGA Tour card. But the aforementioned mindset has changed, or at least it takes on varying mutations depending on a player’s certain status.
“We’ve known this whole scenario since we restarted the season in June, and for the most part it kind of felt like a normal season, but, obviously, didn’t get some of the rewards that you typically got,” said veteran Ben Kohles, who looks to rejoin the PGA Tour after a one-year stint in 2013. “What’s different is that I’m starting out the next year with a bit of an advantage, which we never had before. I’ll definitely take that and just try to build on the consistency I had this year.”
Kohles, 30, who in 2012 won his first two career starts on what was then called the Nationwide Tour, is referring to the carryover of the points list. With a pair of runner-up finishes as well as a T-3, Kohles sits 13th with 1,066 points. That hardly locks up a card on the PGA Tour with so many events remaining, but it beats having to play catch up.
Greyson Sigg plays a tee shot on the 15th hole during the first round of the Korn Ferry Tour Albertsons Boise Open.
“I guess you could say that all of 2020 was kind of like a warmup for 2021,” said Greyson Sigg, an Augusta, Ga., native who is ranked seventh on the points in his rookie campaign after spending three years on the Mackenzie Tour. “I have to say that I feel much better about where I stand compared to starting at zero. Yeah, it’s nice to have a head start, but, geez, the competition out there is at such a high level. It’s going to be intense, especially when nobody got to graduate this last year.”
Will Zalatoris, who finished T-6 in the U.S. Open as part of a late-season run to earn Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour, leads the Korn Ferry points list with 1,876, nearly 300 more than second-place Taylor Pendrith of Canada, despite playing in five fewer events. Zalatoris, a Wake Forest product, is eligible for unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the PGA Tour season, providing him two avenues to the PGA Tour for the 2021-’22 season. Zalatoris currently has 340 FedEx Cup points and would earn full membership by equaling or surpassing the amount of points (376) accumulated by the No. 125 player in the 2018-’19 FedEx Cup standings. Ranked 57th in the world, Zalatoris indicated in November that he would play as much as possible on the PGA Tour.
Ben Kohles plays a tee shot on the eighth hole during the third round at the Korn Ferry Tour's Korn Ferry Challenge at TPC Sawgrass.
Two players have a vastly different outlook. With two victories apiece this year, Davis Riley and Jared Wolfe can earn an immediate promotion to the PGA Tour with one more win. Currently third and fifth, respectively, on the KFT points list, they’re also sitting pretty, but can end any suspense of their future prospects with another victory—not that such a chore is simple, especially when considering that 18 different players won the 18 events after the tour resumed in June.
As for those outside the top 25, they might play more aggressively—and more often—knowing they have ground to make up, depending on what transpired this year and how events unfold in the coming months.
“I’ve told my friends and people I’ve spoken to about it that of all years to finish 26th in points, this is probably the best time to do it,” said 35-year-old Dan McCarthy of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. “I don’t have to rent a straitjacket or anything, given that we have all next year. I don’t want to say it’s irrelevant where we are on the points list right now, because it’s not, but we still have a great opportunity in front of us.
“I played well the final stretch of the season [three top-five finishes in five weeks] and I have to try to carry that momentum over. For other guys, they can reset and know they still have a chance to move up. If I play well out of the gate, I can lock this up early, and that’s what I’ll try to do.”
In addition to the top 25 off the regular season points list getting PGA Tour cards for 2021-’22, the KFT playoffs return with more PGA Tour cards on the line. Korn Ferry Tour Finals events were contested as regular events in 2020, but the official three-tournament playoff schedule returns in 2021, culminating at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship Sept. 2-5 at Victoria National Golf Club in Newburgh, Ind. The top 75 on the Korn Ferry Tour and players who finish 126-200 on the PGA Tour qualify for the Finals, where another 25 tour cards will be awarded.
Kohles and Sigg aren’t thinking of the Finals, and, in fact, wouldn’t mind skipping a portion of it, which they could do by keeping their positions in the top 25 after the regular season ends Aug. 15 at the Pinnacle Bank Championship in Omaha, Neb. “I might want to take some weeks off towards the back end, just knowing that there’s going to be a whole fall season for the PGA Tour right after our season,” said Kohles, who knows the drill. “I’d like to be rested and ready for that next step.”
“My goal is to try to win the points list, but I would prefer to just lock things up early and switch gears to what would be the next challenge,” Sigg, 25, said. “That is my mindset, and it wouldn’t have changed no matter where I would have started this year. In a way, we have to be grateful that we got to play and that we have a pretty full schedule this coming year. So, you know, just take advantage of it.”