It’s hard to call them rookies, especially given that they have survived the grind of the Korn Ferry Tour and its final series to earn the right to play a full schedule on the PGA Tour for the first time in 2019-20
It’s hard to call them rookies, especially given that they have survived the grind of the Korn Ferry Tour and its final series to earn the right to play a full schedule on the PGA Tour for the first time in 2019-20.
Twenty-one rookies were among the 50 players who made it through the regular season and finals, and all 21 teed it up last week at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. Scottie Scheffler was the low rookie, tying for seventh. Viktor Hovland was next, at T-10 (scores).
But if getting a Tour card is difficult, keeping it is even tougher. The only rookie of the 21 who is fully exempt is Scheffler, who finished atop the combined Korn Ferry regular-season and finals points list, which also earned him a spot in the Players Championship.
One common misconception is that every player who gets a card is guaranteed access to the Tour. That’s not quite true. The other 20 rookies are ranked among the 50 who received cards, and it’s that ranking that determines whether those players will get Tour starts. The ranking is subject to periodic reshuffles during the season, according to FedEx Cup points.
For the record, Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa are no longer officially rookies, even though they just turned professional over the summer. Each earned his Tour privilege by finishing in the top 125 in FedEx Cup points at the end of the regular season. Both were Tour winners in 2019.
BEST RECORD: Scottie Scheffler. The 23-year-old University of Texas product was the best player on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2019. He won twice, including the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship during the finals, to make him No. 1 on the combined points list and earn a full exemption. Scheffler also had two runner-up finishes among 10 top-10s in 20 events, all in his first season as a professional. Scheffler has arguably the most talent and the biggest upside of all 21 rookies.
MOST HYPE: Viktor Hovland. The winner of the 2018 U.S. Amateur, Hovland was thought to be the best player coming out of college, playing on an Oklahoma State team that featured Wolff and fellow Tour rookie Kristoffer Ventura. Hovland, 21, of Norway, made the cut at the 2019 Masters and tied for 12th at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach as an amateur. While Wolff and Morikawa were winning their first Tour titles, Hovland was left behind, having to get his card through the Korn Ferry finals. Expect him to join the ranks of first-time winners in 2019-20.
BIGGEST NAME: Maverick McNealy. Formerly the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, McNealy was more famous for his family name than he was for his golf. McNealy’s father, Scott, was one of the world’s tech giants when he was running Sun Microsystems. Young McNealy even considered remaining an amateur after graduating from Stanford. Instead, he gave pro golf a try and learned that the game is harder when trying to make a living from it. He played the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018 and failed to get a PGA Tour card. He came back in 2019 and finished third in the Ellie Mae Classic, the final event of the Korn Ferry regular season, which was enough to get him onto the big tour.
UNDER THE RADAR: Matthew NeSmith. After finishing 46th on the Korn Ferry regular-season points list, NeSmith won the Albertson’s Boise Open en route to finishing second on the finals points list. He stands second on the priority list. NeSmith, 25, has been laboring on the Mackenzie and Korn Ferry tours since 2016 but was a highly-ranked junior when he was recruited to play at South Carolina.
MOST EXPERIENCED: Tom Lewis. The 28-year-old Englishman took a flyer by entering the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in a one-time effort to earn PGA Tour privileges. It was his first Korn Ferry tournament, and he got in by finishing in the top 200 on the PGA Tour points list as a non-member by virtue of his tie for 11th at the British Open. Lewis won the Korn Ferry Tour Championship and is fourth on the priority list. He also owns two European Tour victories, including the 2018 Portugal Masters.
MOST POTENTIAL: Doug Ghim. Another college star at Texas, Ghim was runner-up to Doc Redman at the 2017 U.S. Amateur and made the cut at the 2018 Masters. He also won the 2018 Ben Hogan Award as the best male collegiate golfer. He played in five PGA Tour events in the summer of 2018 after turning pro and failed to get his card. In 2019 on the Korn Ferry Tour, Ghim struggled, despite a T-3 in Colombia in his second event of the year. Ghim, 23, needed a 10-footer for par on the final hole of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship to earn a Tour card, an experience on which he’ll be sure to lean as a rookie.
BEST STORY: Scott Harrington. The 38-year-old, who had been chasing his dream since 2004, holds a PGA Tour card for the first time. What makes his odyssey more poignant is that Harrington took three months off from the Korn Ferry Tour in mid-2018 to attend to his wife, Jennifer, who has battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Jennifer is in remission, and a runner-up finish at the WinCo Foods Portland Open in his hometown of Portland, Ore., got the job done. Everyone should pull for Harrington.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mikepurkeygolf