If you want to know how the PGA TOUR’s three International Tours went this year, merely take a look at the three Tours’ best players.
Argentina’s Augusto Núñez and American Max McGreevy had eerily similar years. Although they each only won once—Nunez playing on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and McGreevy on PGA TOUR Series-China—neither missed a cut, and they were top-10 machines (Nunez with 10 and McGreevy with nine). Their consistency and level of play caused competitors to marvel at the seasons they enjoyed. Their finishes atop their respective Orders of Merit merely confirmed how good they were.
Paul Barjon, meanwhile, won two times on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada, and he earned more than U.S. $100,000. Yet the native of New Caledonia had to battle three other players who also had two wins, each passing the six-figure mark in earnings. By season’s end, though, Barjon was the best player on his Tour even though his Order of Merit title was in doubt until the back nine of the final tournament of the year.
Such were the differences among the best players on the PGA TOUR’s International Tours in 2019. Where things were the same in Latin America, Canada or China was in the tournaments and the competitions, 41 in all, events that featured thrilling finishes, tight battles and breakout stars who made the seasons the successes they were.
As Núñez, Barjon and McGreevy all prepare in 2020 for another chance to play on the Korn Ferry Tour, the three players have credited their 2019 seasons to their career development and continued quest toward PGA TOUR membership. The three also say they are a bit wiser, more experienced and confident things on the next level of golf will go better than they did the first time around.
The Order of Merit winners know their Tours prepared them well, allowing them to play on world-class courses set up to PGA TOUR standards, only the scale of the operations different. Look only at the competitions—72 holes, 36-hole cuts and deep, talented fields—and PGA TOUR events and International Tour tournaments are identical, which is why PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan’s words ring true more than ever: “We couldn’t be more happy with what is happening in Latin America, Canada and China,” he says. “Seeing these players develop their games while doing it in front of appreciative fans is exactly the reason we operate these Tours.”
PGA TOUR Series-China
By Laury Livsey
Max McGreevy had just lost his Korn Ferry Tour card and was thinking about next steps. The career of the former University of Oklahoma player had stalled following the 2018 season. McGreevy could hear the words of his former Sooner teammate, Charlie Saxon, ringing in his ears. “You should go to China. Go play over there.” McGreevy had at first resisted playing on PGA TOUR Series-China, but the more he thought about it, and the more Saxon, a four-time winner on that circuit, proselytized, the more the “China” idea grew on McGreevy.
Eventually, McGreevy pulled the trigger, signed up for the Qualifying Tournament, bought his airline tickets and went all in China.
It was quite an investment that paid off handsomely. McGreevy made his presence felt immediately, finishing second at his qualifier in Foison and then finishing fourth in his regular season debut. It was a position McGreevy’s fellow competitors came to expect. When the season was over, McGreevy had a win—at the Guangzhou Open—and nine top-10s in 13 starts. He finished with earnings of ¥974,154 to capture the Order of Merit title and Player of the Year honors. And, yes, he also took time to thank Saxon for the advice.
“I’m super happy with the season. It was really consistent,” said McGreevy. “Unfortunately, I didn’t win as much as I thought I could have this year, but I can’t really put it into words how good I played this year. I just made birdies when I needed to and limited the mistakes all year long. Luckily, I was able to finish up on the leaderboard nearly almost every week.”
McGreevy was clearly the best, and most consistent, player in 2019, leading a group of five players—Americans Trevor Sluman and David Kocher, France’s Cyril Bouniol and South Korea’s Luke Kwon—as 2020 Korn Ferry Tour members.
“Max played great for a whole year, and you really don’t see that much on any Tour,” Sluman said. “It was very impressive, and I’m really happy for him. He’s a great guy and is going to have a great year next year.”
Sluman will see plenty of McGreevy on the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour, with Sluman in his first season and McGreevy making what he hopes will be a triumphant return to the Tour he formerly called home. If McGreevy plays in 2020 like he did in China, it will be.
By Kevin Prise
Tom Whitney is no stranger to high-pressure situations. Prior to pursuing a career in professional golf, the 30-year-old fulfilled a four-year term on Air Force active duty as a nuclear missile operator.
The California native has spent time on the Korn Ferry Tour and various tours across North America in pursuit of his PGA TOUR dreams. This season, he has turned his attention to PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, a decision that has proven fruitful.
Whitney recorded seven top-25s in his first 10 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica starts of 2019, highlighted by a victory at the 88 Abierto OSDE del Centro presentado por FiberCorp-Telecom in late April. With one event to play on the 2019 calendar, he stood No. 2 on the Order of Merit (Los Cinco), well positioned to earn another Korn Ferry Tour opportunity in 2020.
Each year on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, players crisscross countries such as Peru, Argentina, Chile and Mexico with an eye on the No. 1 spot on the Order of Merit and fully exempt Korn Ferry Tour status for the following season. Nos. 2-5 receive high-level conditional status, at minimum, on the next year’s Korn Ferry Tour, with an opportunity to better that status at Final Stage of Q-School in December. Nos. 6-10 also earn a trip directly to Final Stage, and some Korn Ferry Tour status at minimum.
With the season-ending Shell Championship remaining to be played, Argentina’s Augusto Núñez led Los Cinco on the strength of 14 top-25s in 15 starts, including a victory and two runner-up finishes. The 26-year-old played full seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2017 and 2018, with a runner-up at the 2017 Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship, and would love for another opportunity.
Whitney has made 30 career Korn Ferry Tour starts, his best showing a T5 at the Lincoln Land Championship two years ago. A strong finish in South America could bring an appreciative return.
Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada
By Robert Thompson
Ask Taylor Pendrith about the quality of play on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada, and the long hitter who finished second on the tour’s Order of Merit will give you the straight goods—the competition is as strong as you’ll find anywhere.
“Every week out here you’ll find someone who would be playing well on the PGA TOUR,” said Pendrith just prior to the tour’s Canada Life Championship in London, Ont. “They might not win on the PGA TOUR, but they’d be right there.”
Pendrith is the latest success story on the Mackenzie Tour, which has quickly become a training ground for golfers making the transition from college into the professional ranks. He was one of four players to eclipse the $100,000 mark in earnings for the year, with the tour being led by France’s Paul Barjon. Pendrith, who had previously had status on the Korn Ferry Tour but has battled injuries, is just the latest example of golfers using the Mackenzie Tour to reinvigorate their professional possibilities.
Among the highlights of 2019 was the emergence of Doc Redman, who finished 23rd on the Order of Merit. His place on the money list didn’t capture his success—he only played a handful of Mackenzie Tour events before finishing second at the Rocket Mortgage Classic on the PGA TOUR, grabbing status along the way. He later finished in a tie for 20th at The Open Championship, making more than $1 million in only six PGA TOUR starts.
The 2020 season will see the tour continue to play to its strengths—tournaments across Canada in mid-size cities. Tour officials say 12 tournaments is the goal for the year, with events ranging from Victoria in the west to Halifax, culminating in the small field, no-cut Canada Life Championship in September. Scott Pritchard, vice president of the Mackenzie Tour, says there might be some changes in dates and locations, but with the tour’s qualifying schools selling out in record time, it is clear there is a significant appetite for what’s being offered north of the U.S. border. “I think the number of winners on the PGA TOUR—like C.T. Pan, Tony Finau and Mackenzie Hughes—that have come through Canada showcases that this tour has really worked,” Pritchard says.
This article first appeared in the PGA TOUR December 2019-May 2020 issue, which can be read here.