Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

Emerging Golfers to Watch in PGA TOUR’s International Tours

The PGA International Tours in Latin America, China and Canada each year produce strong, emerging golfers who move on to the Tour

A funny thing happened on Martin Trainer’s way to the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica in the spring of 2018. He stopped in at Leon Guanajuato, Mexico, to play in a Monday qualifier for the Tour’s El Bosque Mexico Championship. But if he went to knock off the rust, he surely got more than that.

Trainer not only got through the Monday qualifier, he won the El Bosque Mexico Championship.

Yes, it was goodbye PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, hello Tour status, only Trainer will never brush aside the Tour where his pro golf pursuits were validated. It was 2016 when Trainer finished seventh on the Latinoamérica Tour money list, behind the leader, Nate Lashley.

That Trainer and Lashley will cross paths in 2018-19 as rookie members on the PGA TOUR would be notable if it weren’t becoming somewhat routine. The Order of Merit leaders on the Latinoamérica Tour and Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada in 2017, Hank Lebioda and Kramer Hickok, respectively, will also be PGA TOUR rookies in 2018-19, and like Trainer and Lashley, they will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Aaron Wise, the Mackenzie Tour graduate who broke through for a PGA TOUR win in 2018.

In other words, foundations poured in Latin America, Canada and China continue to pay dividends.

PGA TOUR Series-China

By Laury Livsey

The nature of the PGA TOUR’s international tours is that the best players do not stick around from year to year. With that a fact of life, what makes each new season enjoyable is to see which players emerge as stars and who makes their way to the Tour through their Order of Merit finishes.

In October 2018, England’s Callum Tarren overtook Charlie Saxon on the final week of the season to win the PGA TOUR Series-China Order of Merit title. Both players—along with Nick Voke, Yuwa Kosaihira and Todd Baek—will play 2019 on the Tour. New Zealand’s Voke, with three wins in five starts, was clearly the breakout star.

That begs the question: With a strong contingent of players gone from the current roster, who, in the landmark fifth season of play, will step up once PGA TOUR Series-China resumes action in the spring of 2019?

“Wow. Five years. It’s amazing when I stop and think that we’re about to start our fifth season. It was just so good to play again, and 2018 was an incredible year,” said PGA TOUR Series-China Executive Director Greg Carlson, alluding to one-year hiatus the Series observed as the landscape of professional golf in China changed. “It was important for us to have the Ministry of Sport’s blessing to play, and because of that we were idle in 2017. Once we had that approval, we were ready to go, and this past season was so satisfying for a variety of reasons.”

The Tour held a record 14 tournaments in 2018, again playing outside Mainland China, with the season-ending Clearwater Bay Championship in Hong Kong. In addition, players visited Macau for the Macau Championship. “There’s an appetite for golf in this region, and we’re happy to provide players a platform, whether we’re in China, Hong Kong or Macau,” Carlson added.

One of those players who benefited from PGA TOUR Series-China is Yechun “Carl” Yuan, the second amateur to win a Series tournament. He will return for a second season. A few weeks after his seminal win, at the Qindao Championship, Yuan turned pro, and later in the year made his PGA TOUR debut at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

Motin Yeung of Hong Kong had a strong PGA TOUR Series-China debut season, as well, and, like Yuan, was also victorious. Those two players will headline a strong returning cast that also welcomes a new group of players to the circuit.

“It’s cool that I get to do something I love for a living. I just have to keep myself relaxed and do the things I always do. Other than getting a check, nothing much changes,” Yuan said about turning pro.

As for the Series returning in 2018 and getting ready for 2019? Nothing much changes.

PGA TOUR Latinoamérica

By Kevin Prise

Jared Wolfe displayed a steady game throughout the 2018 Tour season, making the cut in 12 of 21 starts, but failing to record enough high finishes to maintain status.

After a 114th-place finish on the money list, Wolfe needed to explore other avenues to regain Tour membership. Enter PGA TOUR Latinoamérica.

The 30-year-old Murray State alum was no stranger to success on the circuit, having finished second on the 2017 Order of Merit with a victory and two runner-up finishes.

Wolfe hoped to follow a similar script in the fall of 2018, and his campaign got off to a strong start with a T9 at the 65 JHSF Aberto do Brasil followed by a victory at the Volvo Abierto de Chile 2018. (In between, he earned medalist honors at First Stage of Tour Q-School in Nebraska.)

In just three starts, Wolfe moved to No. 16 on the Order of Merit with four events remaining, well positioned to make a late push toward a spot in Los Cinco.

For all players on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, the ultimate goal is Los Cinco, the top five spots on the Order of Merit. These players receive strong Tour status for the 2019 season, with the overall money leader receiving fully exempt status.

With four events remaining on the 2018 slate, Colombia native Nicolas Echavarria held the top spot on Los Cinco, on the strength of victories at the Sao Paulo Golf Club Championship and San Luis Championship. The 24-year-old found collegiate success at the University of Arkansas and aims to make a similar impact at the professional level.

Fully exempt Tour status provides a platform to do so, as evidenced by past Order of Merit winners Ryan Blaum, Julian Etulain, Nate Lashley and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez who went on to earn PGA TOUR cards.

Players like Echavarria and Wolfe aim to follow a similar script.

Mackenzie Tour—PGA TOUR Canada

By Robert Thompson

Eleven graduates won on the Tour. Tony Finau went to the Ryder Cup, and Aaron Wise managed to make it to the PGA TOUR’s TOUR Championship.

That’s only a few of the highlights for the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada in the past 12 months, with more players using the Canadian-based tour to kickstart their career.

“Our core goals remain the same as it has in the past—providing opportunities for the next generation of pros to develop, create a great schedule, and have a tremendous impact on the communities in which we play,” said Mackenzie Tour Vice-President Scott Pritchard.

The goal for the 2019 season follows that path—with the goal of having 12 tournaments across Canada, fueled by five qualifying schools that now sell out in minutes. Why? Because the Mackenzie Tour is now recognized for launching the careers of players like PGA TOUR winner Mackenzie Hughes, with the Top 5 players on the Order of Merit gaining status on the Tour, and the money leader having fully exempt status.

Last year the tour was dominated by Tyler McCumber, the 27-year old son of former PGA TOUR pro turned golf course designer Mark McCumber. An All-American at Florida State, McCumber’s progress was slowed somewhat by injuries, but he won three times on the Mackenzie Tour this year, carding a total of 68-under in those victories.

“It was really about perseverance on his part,” said Pritchard. “He came out of college as a highly-touted player, but battled with some issues. This year he was in a great spot and it showed.”

McCumber will head to the Tour, while there were eight regulars on the PGA TOUR who graduated from the Mackenzie Tour. And occasionally there are players who developed their games—like Australian Cameron Davis who won on the Tour and the Australian Tour—who didn’t play well on the Mackenzie Tour, but used it as a way to develop their games.

But for Pritchard, who continues to work on creating new tournaments across Canada, the key is giving back to communities. In 2018, more than $1.1 million was generated for local charities by tournaments across the country.

“Our goal remains the same—to give golfers the ability to develop their games and move to the next level, and to give back to the communities in which we play,” Pritchard said.

This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR December 2018-May 2019 issue, which can be read here.

See also: PGA Championship 2018: The Leading Contenders