Adding to the excitement of the new season, the introduction of promising young players from the college ranks delivers an intriguing spark
By Kevin Prise and Sean Martin
In most professional sports, high-achieving collegiate athletes are rewarded with high draft positions, and the inherent opportunity to swiftly progress to the highest level.
Prior to 2020, golf provided no such gateway, with most every graduating senior facing a similar scenario for his first professional summer: play a hodgepodge of mini-tour events and Monday qualifiers, or attempt Q-School for one of the PGA TOUR’s International Tours. However, PGA TOUR University bridges that gap.
Path to the PGA TOUR
Players eligible for the PGA TOUR University Ranking list will be NCAA Division I golfers who complete a minimum of four years in college.
Beginning with the next class of graduating seniors (May 2021), the top-15 players on the PGA TOUR University Ranking will receive direct access to PGA TOUR-sanctioned Tours for the remainder of that season.
Finishers 1-5 from the final PGA TOUR University Ranking will receive Korn Ferry Tour membership and will be exempt into all open, full-field events following the conclusion of the NCAA Division I Men’s National Championship, through the regular season.
Players finishing 6-15 will earn membership on an International Tour for the balance of the season (each player’s choice of either the Mackenzie Tour–PGA TOUR Canada, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica or PGA TOUR Series-China).
PGA TOUR University
In June 2020, the PGA TOUR announced a new program designed to strengthen and elevate the path for players to reach the PGA TOUR through the Korn Ferry Tour, Mackenzie Tour–PGA TOUR Canada, PGA TOUR Latinoamérica and PGA TOUR Series-China.
PGA TOUR University rewards elite collegiate play with varying levels of playing access to Tours operated under the PGA TOUR umbrella, while upholding the principles and virtues of collegiate athletics. Players eligible for the PGA TOUR University Ranking list will be NCAA Division I golfers who complete a minimum of four years in college.
PGA TOUR University Ranking
The Ranking comprises NCAA Division I men’s golf events and official PGA TOUR events, and was developed as a collaboration between the PGA TOUR and World Amateur Golf Ranking.
PGA TOUR University directly rewards high-achieving college players with guaranteed starts as they embark on a professional career in chase of their ultimate TOUR dreams.
A young player’s opportunity
“This is a tremendous opportunity for these players to begin their professional careers on a path to the PGA TOUR,” said Korn Ferry Tour President Alex Baldwin. “Just as importantly, we are able to continue building on the great momentum the Korn Ferry Tour and our International Tours have enjoyed in recent years by strengthening the field of competition with the addition of these collegiate stars.”
The system, which requires players to complete a minimum of four years in college, has the potential to fundamentally recalibrate how high-achieving college golfers set their timeline for turning pro.
“It will definitely incline guys to stay for four years,” said Alabama alum Davis Riley, who turned professional midway through his senior season (December 2018) and found success in Monday qualifiers, earning Korn Ferry Tour membership in summer 2019.
“And if they’re on the fence about leaving after their second or third year—unless you’ve got guaranteed starts, and it’s hard to guarantee anything—I think it’ll incline guys to stay, which is great.”
Hard work pays off
The inaugural PGA TOUR University Ranking was announced on July 22, with Florida State senior John Pak holding the top position. “It shows that a lot of hard work is paying off,” Pak said.
Pak maintained the No. 1 spot in the November 1 ranking, followed by Arizona State’s Chun An Yu, Alabama’s Davis Thompson, Oklahoma State’s Austin Eckroat and Texas Tech’s Sandy Scott.
Here is a look at a few PGA TOUR University players positioned to make a quick impact on the professional scene in summer 2021.
CHUN AN (KEVIN) YU
Yu, 22, (seen top of page) now a fifth-year senior at Arizona State, began his college career with no shortage of accolades. Yu earned the gold medal at the 2013 Asian Youth Games and won the 2015 Western Junior and Junior PLAYERS. The Chinese Taipei native has not slowed down at Arizona State. He recorded the second-lowest freshman scoring average in program history (behind Jon Rahm), and has won three individual titles at Arizona State, also finishing third individually at the 2019 NCAA Championship. Yu also qualified for the past three U.S. Opens.
As of December 20, Yu held the No. 2 position on the PGA TOUR University Ranking, his sights set on a top-five position next spring and direct Korn Ferry Tour access. He describes fellow Chinese Taipei native C.T. Pan as a role model, “like a big brother,” and it would be no surprise to see Yu follow in Pan’s footsteps as a TOUR winner.
Thompson already has proven he can compete on the PGA TOUR. Now, he hopes to do it more often.
Thompson finished T23 in his PGA TOUR debut at the 2019 RSM Classic. He earned attention in 2020 as the early leader at the U.S. Open after reaching 4-under in his first round (he eventually missed the cut by one).
Thompson also has a sterling amateur resume. He was a first-team All-American in 2019 and won the prestigious Jones Cup (past champions include Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed) by nine shots.
Thompson’s father, Todd, is the tournament director for The RSM Classic. He’s had the opportunity to play and practice with the likes of Davis Love III, Harris English, Brendon Todd and other TOUR players.
“He’s just been very disciplined since day one,” Brendon Todd said. “He practices efficiently. He has a very easy-going temperament, doesn’t seem to get too mad.”
Scotch Plains, N.J.
Pak’s work ethic was instilled in him by his father, Kwang Pak, who owned two grocery stores.
“He spent hours and hours picking up the produce, spending time at the store, making sure the business was run properly,” Pak said. “He worked a lot of hours and retired at 52. He disciplined himself and that’s translated into my golf game.”
Pak has made a steady progression through his golf career, and now is poised to earn Korn Ferry Tour status through PGA TOUR University. Pak was the No. 1 player in the rankings when they debuted in 2020, and he earned low amateur honors at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
“It’s such a difficult game. When things aren’t going right, I need to practice and work at it until I get it right,” he said.
Like father, like son.
The fifth-year Texas Tech senior had originally planned to turn pro after the spring 2020 collegiate season. But after the COVID-19 pandemic limited playing opportunities, the two-time second-team All-American opted to return to school. He stands No. 5 on the PGA TOUR University Ranking as of December 20. The native of Nairn, Scotland, won last year’s Carmel Cup and also helped Team Great Britain & Ireland to the 2019 Walker Cup title, posting a 2-0 mark in singles play, defeating Andy Ogletree and Brandon Wu.
Texas Tech coach Greg Sands describes Scott as a “leader in the clubhouse,” and that his return to the team for a fifth year is like “having an extra coach around.” With four full collegiate seasons under his belt, and invaluable big-stage experience such as the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, Scott aims to maintain strong form as he prepares to embark on his professional career.