PGA Tour

From Monday qualifying to champion? Rare tour feat could happen in Vegas after long shot scores 63

October 14, 2023
/content/dam/images/golfdigest/fullset/2023/salinda-caddie.jpg

Isaiah Salinda prepares for a shot in the third round. (PGA Tour photo)

For most golfers who Monday qualify for a PGA Tour event, that very feat will probably be their biggest accomplishment of the week. Making the cut and a decent check becomes the goal. Winning? Good luck. Only five players since 1980 have gone from open qualifying to lifting the trophy on Sunday, and only two (Arjun Atwal and Corey Conners) have pulled it off over the last 37 years.

Count Isaiah Salinda among those with the longest odds when he teed it up as one of the Monday qualifiers for this week’s Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas. The 26-year-old South San Francisco native and Stanford alum only had eight previous starts on the PGA Tour. He made the cut in half of them, and with full-time status this past season on the Korn Ferry Tour, Salinda notched just one top-10 and missed seven of the last eight cuts in a total of 21 starts.

Yet, in his new hometown, at the TPC Summerlin golf course he’s played frequently, Salinda has a shot at producing a life-changing result come Sunday. With a nine-birdie eight-under-par 63 in Saturday’s third round, Salinda climbed to 13 under for the tournament and is two strokes behind the leaders—defending champion Tom Kim (62), Adam Hadwin (63) and Lanto Griffin (68).

Salinda’s 63 was one shot better than his KFT season-best of 64 in the 64 rounds he played. His single-biggest paycheck on the PGA Tour and KFT is $34,415, and Salida could earn at least $228,900 with a 10th-place finish this week.

“We all kind of play for the same reasons, to have a chance,” Salinda said. “We'll see how that holds up. A lot of groups still to come in, but yeah, it's just a good round that I hope to build on [Sunday].”

Of his scoring third round on a perfect day to go low at Summerlin, Salinda said, “The birdies were flying.” He moved to Las Vegas in the past year and has practiced frequently with other pros at Summerlin, and his local knowledge showed as Salinda birdied the first two holes, made another birdie at 7 and turned in 32. His assault of the course truly began at 10, with four consecutive birdies, followed by two more at 15 and 16. The run included making a 54-foot birdie on the par-5 13th and a 66-footer at 15. Unfortunately, he closed the round with a bogey at the 18th.

"Tee to green was solid,” Salinda said. “I felt like I didn't even hit it great, but I gave myself a lot of chances.”

Salinda’s world ranking, at 652nd, would indicate he’s yet to find his feet as a pro, but he’s not without golf accomplishments. In 2019, after he helped Stanford win the NCAA Championship, Salinda he was selected to the Walker Cup team, and in the U.S. win at Royal Liverpool, Salinda beat Alex Fitzpatrick, the brother of U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, 2-up in the Sunday singles. The previous year, Salinda captured the prestigious Pacific Coast Amateur and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach, where he lost to Devon Bling in the championship eventually won by Viktor Hovland.

Those are experiences to lean on, though Salinda has never been in a position close to this.

“I think there's always a little more pressure playing out here,” he said. “On the weekend, I feel like you're playing a little bit more, but just try and treat it the same.”