News & Opinion

Stars of tomorrow learn how to win today

The Portland Classic:  Second Round
29 August 14 Stone dead in Portland, Oregon.(photo credit : kenneth e. dennis/kendennisphoto.com)

It can make dreams come true. Or crush them. It can be a teacher. Or humble you. It can get your attention. Or cause others to pay attention to you.

But mostly, it gives hope to all who come to play. Because the Korn Ferry Tour is the primary avenue to the PGA Tour – and the place where players land who fall off the Tour – it’s the third-most important tour in world, behind only the PGA Tour and the European Tour.

No offense to the Asian, Japan or Australasian tours, but the Korn Ferry Tour has the best players and holds the most consequence. Play well enough and you can gain access to the biggest tour in the world. None of those other tours can say that.

And it has the best stories. Three weeks ago, at the WinCo Foods Portland Open, Scott Harrington came into the tournament 38th on the Korn Ferry points list. He needed a victory or a runner-up to get into the top 25 and secure his PGA Tour card – for the first time, at age 38. Harrington had been playing professional golf for 16 years, all on the minor tours.

To complicate matters, Harrington’s wife, Jennifer, contracted Hodgkin’s lymphoma and he missed much of last season caring for her. A GoFundMe page started by PGA Tour player Scott Langley has raised $127,000 to date for medical bills, and NBA star Steph Curry dropped $25,000 more on top of that when he heard about the Harringtons at the Ellie Mae Classic.

Harrington led after three rounds in Portland, and Jennifer, who is recovering after a successful bone-marrow transplant, flew from Scottsdale, Ariz., to watch her husband in the final round. He didn’t win, but a birdie on the final hole gave him second place and locked up his card for the 2019-20 season.

On Monday at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, England’s Tom Lewis won the tournament in his first start on the developmental tour, earning his PGA Tour card via the Korn Ferry Finals (scores). Lewis, who plays full-time on the European Tour, decided at the last minute to come to Indiana for the KFT finale instead of the Omega European Masters in Switzerland. He qualified for the event by finishing inside the top 200 on the FedEx Cup points list as a non-PGA Tour member by virtue of his tie for 11th at the British Open.

The Korn Ferry Finals is a three-event playoff run that offers the top 75 points earners on the Korn Ferry Tour and Nos. 126-200 on the FedEx Cup points list an opportunity to compete for 25 more PGA Tour cards. Jonathan Byrd, Harris English, Billy Hurley III and Johnson Wagner, all former PGA Tour winners, played in the finals but still lost their cards.

In 2013-14, Chesson Hadley was one of the top young players on the PGA Tour. He won the Puerto Rico Open and finished 49th on the FedEx points list. In 2015-16, he lost his card and went back to the then-Web.com Tour. He said he was embarrassed. The next year, he won twice on the developmental tour, led the money list and the combined money list for the finals. He was the tour’s 2017 player of the year.

Scottie Scheffler is in his first year of tour golf on the Korn Ferry Tour. He won twice, including the first finals event, the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. Scheffler was labeled as can’t-miss coming out of the University of Texas.

Doug Ghim also is in his first year as a pro and was another apparent lock for success out of Texas. Though he finished the Korn Ferry regular season at No. 52 on the points list, he tied for 19th at the Tour Championship and earned a PGA Tour card.

Young players who play the Korn Ferry Tour for the first time learn how to travel, where to stay, where to eat, when to practice and when to rest. Veteran players who return to the tour learn how to restore their basics, along with a healthy dose of humility, especially when it comes to appreciating how good they had it on the PGA Tour.

What successful players on the Korn Ferry Tour also find out is that the talent level is deep. Walk up and down the practice tee at an event and you wonder how all of those guys don’t win every week. They discover that low scores are required to win on the Korn Ferry Tour. It seems as if 20 under is needed to have a chance of winning.

That engenders a fearlessness that many players didn’t used to have when they came to the PGA Tour. For the longest time, players felt as if they need to pay some dues in order to be successful on the big tour. Now, they come off the Korn Ferry Tour ready to win on the biggest stages. They seem to be scared of nothing.

Maybe that’s why there are more veterans in the Korn Ferry finals, having been replaced on the PGA Tour by the top graduates. No matter where they stand in the pecking order, that should get everyone’s attention.

Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. Email: golfedit@gmail.com; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf