There is no equivalent of the NFL Draft in professional golf. Top college players have never been able to transfer their success playing for their alma maters into direct, full-time employment on the LPGA or PGA Tour. Sure, All-Americans earn sponsor’s exemptions into tour events based on their potential, but those auditions require players to quickly accumulate high finishes in order to gain permanent status on tour.
But that appears to be changing.
On Tuesday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, the PGA Tour Policy Board approved the creation of a college program dubbed PGA Tour University, according to Golf Channel. That program, according to sources who spoke with Golf Digest, gives college golfers finishing their senior years the ability to earn direct membership on to the Korn Ferry Tour based on their collegiate play over the previous two seasons.
The plan allows for the top five players on a new created collegiate player ranking, which will include only golfers playing in their fourth year of college eligibility, to gain immediate membership on the Korn Ferry Tour after the NCAA Championship in late May, allowing them to compete in the final eight or nine KFT events as full members. If these college players earn enough points in those tournaments to crack the top 25 on the KFT’s year-long points list, they will earn a PGA Tour card for the following season. They can also play their way into the top 75 on the points list and gain entry in the KFT final series. If a player doesn’t crack either threshold, they will still get direct entry into the final stage of KFT Q school later in the year.
Golfers ranking Nos. 6-15, meanwhile, will get to move directly to either the PGA Tour Latinoamérica or Mackenzie Tours, according to sources, and will also be given automatic entry into the second stage of KFT Q school. There will be no direct access to PGA Tour membership.
The program, which could begin as early as the 2020-’21 college season, has been in development for more than two years, with much discussion centered around how to build the proper ranking that will fairly identify and reward the top players. Sources say the tour is looking at a partnership with officials at the World Amateur Golf Ranking who would create a version of the WAGR that includes only college events from the previous two years, the most recent results weighted most.
Only college golfers who have played four years and have exhausted their college eligibility will be considered for the promotions, with the program aimed at rewarding college golfers who remain in school and work toward earning a degree. Last year, top college seniors included California’s Collin Morikawa, Stanford’s Brandon Wu and USC’s Justin Suh. Morikawa wound up getting PGA Tour sponsor’s exemptions after graduation and ultimately won the Barracuda Championship to earn his PGA Tour card for 2020.
PGA Tour officials did not comment on the plan or any of its specifics, but it is anticipated that the tour will formally introduce the program later in the spring, closer to this year’s NCAA postseason.