News & Opinion

Vijay Singh has no business playing on Korn Ferry Tour

Yes, the hall-of-famer is eligible to compete in the developmental tour’s season restart next month, based on PGA Tour rules, but that misses the point, which is this: The Korn Ferry Tour should be the place for tomorrow’s stars to develop

I’ve got news for Vijay Singh. Korn Ferry Tour players are worthy of the PGA Tour’s old advertising slogan, “These guys are good.”

Singh committed to play in a new Korn Ferry (formerly Tour) tournament at TPC Sawgrass next month via the PGATourLinks website. Singh’s status doesn’t make him an absolute lock to get in, but if he plays, a bunch of players will beat him. Singh is 57. If he can’t win on the PGA Tour anymore, he can’t win on the KFT, either, because those players are that good.

Vijay Singh
Vijay Singh, whose name is on the field list for the Korn Ferry Tour’s season restart next month, has won 34 times on the PGA Tour, including 3 major championships, and $75 million in prize money. So, what’s a guy with those credentials doing on the Korn Ferry Tour?

A lot of Korn Ferry players will beat Singh at Sawgrass, but here’s my point: They shouldn’t have to.

The player who gets bumped from the field may be stocking grocery-store shelves to pay his mounting bills, such as what KFT player Erik Barnes has been doing at a Publix in southwest Florida during the coronavirus-imposed golf shutdown, just so Singh can get some “reps” to get ready when senior golf resumes.

Obviously, the rules say Singh can play. A PGA Tour player can dip into the KFT if he isn’t eligible to play in a PGA Tour event during the same week. Singh, a World Golf Hall of Fame member with a lifetime exemption, is not in the field at the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge on June 11-14 in Fort Worth, Texas. So, he can play his local KFT event, which is practically in his backyard. He lives in the Ponte Vedra Beach area and is a divot-making machine at the TPC Sawgrass range. Singh is within his rights to play, under tour rules, even if it’s like Phil Hellmuth showing up for the weekly $10 buy-in poker night at your neighbor’s house to “get some reps.”

Singh’s proximity to the TPC Sawgrass Dye’s Valley Course and the tournament almost makes me sympathetic. Then I remember that he has won a Masters and two PGA Championships among his 34 PGA Tour titles, and has pocketed $75 million from the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions, plus years of endorsement income … and the undisclosed settlement from the PGA Tour in his lawsuit regarding his use of deer-antler spray.

Singh certainly doesn’t need a $3,500 Korn Ferry check for finishing 30th. The guy he’s bumping from the field probably does. He might need it badly. That’s why Singh shouldn’t play. A $3,500 payday is two or three weeks of expenses, if done right.

Two years ago, I was a last-minute addition to a KFT tournament field in Omaha and hurriedly flew there on a Wednesday night. I had no practice round, no preparation and tied for 14th. That $9,300 check I earned was everything for me that year. It made up for some other disappointments.

Just so you know, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I lost my Korn Ferry conditional-exempt status last fall when I didn’t get through Q-School. So, Singh wouldn’t bump me from the tournament. The best he could do is cut in front of me at Chick-fil-A’s drive-through window … if he comes to Pittsburgh.

Brady Schnell, a KFT player whom I don’t know well, said via Twitter that Singh is a “complete turd” and a “true piece of trash” if he plays. (Schnell later apologized.) Uh, did I mention that I don’t know Schnell very well?

Schnell hasn’t had the best start. He missed the cut in five of the six Korn Ferry events played, but he understands the need for guys in his situation to get as many starts as possible. I disagree with his name-calling, but I agree that Singh doesn’t belong in a Korn Ferry event. There’s a place for 50-and-older players to compete if they don’t get into a PGA Tour field, and it’s not the Korn Ferry Tour. It’s called PGA Tour Champions.

Here’s an idea: The PGA Tour allows players who lost Tour status to play the Korn Ferry Tour at ages 48 and 49 to prepare for PGA Tour Champions. Those guys don’t go to Q-School to get that status, like the rest of us. They’re given that status because 10 years earlier, they were on the big tour. They earned it, theoretically, and their presence adds interest to Korn Ferry events, theoretically … but Steph Curry would be a bigger draw as a sponsor exemption.

I’d like to see those “pre-seniors” exempted instead to Q-School final stage, which is still a pretty big gift. Then they’d have to make the effort to earn their status. Also, they’re welcome to try Monday qualifying at their convenience.

Once a player reaches the Champions Tour, however, he should be cut off. The KFT should be where tomorrow’s stars develop, not where yesterday’s stars loiter. Why should seniors be able to cherry-pick from two other tours besides their own? This isn’t a buffet.

We never have a decent discussion on the merits of these issues, however. Because The Squares in golf have the same answer for everything: “Just play better.” The Squares think the players who get bumped from fields are dispensable, that they aren’t going to contend, anyway. They couldn’t be more wrong. It’s such a fine line, especially in the Korn Ferry world.

“Just play better” would be a fairer critique if the amount you had to “play better” didn’t increase every year, making each start that much more important. Over the years, Korn Ferry cards at Q-School have shrunk from 50 to 40 and Monday qualifying berths were cut from 14 to 12, and this year to eight.

That ferocious competition is why anybody in a Korn Ferry field can win. Every guy in the field played his ass off just to get that opportunity.

Just play better? Yeah, that’s the secret of the universe. But you can’t “just play better” unless you have the opportunity to play.

In 2003, Singh told the Associated Press this when asked about Annika Sorenstam teeing it up with the guys at Colonial: “What is she going to prove by playing? It’s ridiculous.… We have our tour for men, and they have their tour. She’s taking a spot from someone in the field.”

So, which is it, Mr. Singh? Were you wrong then? Or are you wrong now?

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