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PGA Tour University race adds new dynamic to the NCAA men's postseason for college seniors

John Pak

Low amateur John Pak poses with his medal after the final round at the 2020 U.S. Open.

John Mummert

The next six weeks promise to be a whirlwind for John Pak as his college/amateur career comes to a close. It starts this weekend when the Florida State senior heads to Capital City Club’s Crabapple Course near Atlanta, where the Seminoles hope to win their first ACC Championship title since 2008 and Pak looks to grab a school-record ninth career individual title. Soon after, he will play for the United States at the Walker Cup, then rejoin his FSU squad, ranked No. 2 in the latest college coaches’ poll, in playing in the NCAA postseason.

How exactly he and his teams will fare is unknown, but Pak has a comfort to fall back on during this stretch. The 22-year-old from Scotch Plains, N.J., has a place to play when it’s all over and he embarks on his pro career.

When the latest PGA Tour University ranking for college seniors was revealed Wednesday, Pak was once more in the top spot, as has been the case for every week since the ranking debut this season. The top five in the ranking—which is based on tournament performances in college and pro events over the past two years—at the end of the NCAA Championship receive immediate membership to the Korn Ferry Tour for the remainder of the 2021 season. Statistically speaking it’s nearly impossible for Pak to fall out of the top five and unlikely he’ll be anything but No. 1 at season’s end. (The 200-plus point edge he has on the No. 2 player, Oklahoma’s Garett Reband, is the same difference the No. 2 player has over the No. 13 player.)

“It’s such an awesome thing to happen for college golf,” Pak said last summer about the PGA Tour U program. “To know you don’t have to fight for exemptions [into PGA Tour and Korn Ferry Tour events] takes a lot of pressure off your back.”

In contrast, for the golfers who round out the top five—Reband, Georgia’s Davis Thompson, Oklahoma State’s Austin Eckroat and Arizona State’s Chun An Yu—not to mention those chasing them, the finish to the 2020-21 college season will have an intriguing wrinkle added given the direct impact it will have on the start their pro careers.

Should one of them fall outside the top five, there’s still a reward. Players finishing between sixth and 15th in the rankings will get status on the PGA Tour’s developmental circuits in Latin America or Canada.

In its inaugural season, the PGA Tour U ranking has succeeded in giving college seniors a reward for staying in school. What remains to been seen is what kind of volatility the rankings might have during the NCAA postseason. Could a hot stretch in the final few events help players leapfrog up the rankings?

Since the start of 2021, only two players who began in the top 10 have fallen out. One is Texas Tech’s Sandy Scott, who has been dealing with a wrist injury and announced that he was changing his senior year status to the Class of 2022 after the NCAA granted another year of eligibility to all student-athletes due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The other is Auburn’s Jovan Rebula, who remains 13th in the most recent standings.

The biggest movers during the spring season have been a pair of Big Ten golfers. Iowa’s Alex Schaake started at 100th in January and has since moved up to No. 11 thanks to top five finishes in three of his four spring starts. Minnesota’s Angus Flanagan was 38th at the start of the year and now is No. 9.

The newness of the PGA Tour U program makes the anticipation of what’s to come and how things will play out as the season reaches its climax nerve-wracking but not something to become too consumed with.

“I’m definitely trying not to put pressure on myself,” Thompson said earlier this spring. “Good golf takes care of a lot of it. Obviously, the goal is to be in the top-five ranking, but you can’t fall in love with the ranking.”

But you don't want to ignore it either.