Essential Golf: A passion for the Game Tour players make it to the PGA TOUR

Jim Knous played collegiate golf at the Colorado School of Mines, honing his game at the Division II level while receiving a comprehensive education in civil engineering. He became one of the successful golfers to make it into the PGA TOUR by first playing the Tour.

The native of Basalt, Colo., was encouraged by the substantial level of success he enjoyed as an Oredigger and decided to give the professional game a shot.

Knous knew it wouldn’t be easy. Upon turning pro in 2012, he spent five years playing a variety of mini-tours, before breaking through at Final Stage of the 2016 Tour Qualifying Tournament, where he secured guaranteed starts for the first time.

In his second Tour season, the 28-year-old arrived at the Regular Season-ending WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft-Heinz at No. 74 on the money list, needing a strong week to secure a spot in the top 75 and his first Tour Finals berth. He finished T4, comfortably advancing to the Finals.

With wife Heidi and infant son Brady in attendance at the Tour Championship—as well as his parents, who flew in from Colorado—Knous began the week at 17th on The Finals 25 money list, well positioned to earn his first TOUR card.

Late Sunday afternoon, though, Knous found himself squarely on the bubble.

A distinct scenario emerged. If close friend Justin Lower made birdie on the 72nd hole, Lower would receive the 25th and final TOUR card, bumping Knous.

If Lower made par or worse, Knous would receive the spot.

Lower’s 8-foot birdie putt lipped out, and Knous became the first Colorado School of Mines alum to earn a TOUR card.

Bubble drama is a prevalent theme on the Tour, and has been since the Tour’s inception in 1990. While the number of available TOUR cards has steadily grown from five to 50 (via The 25 and The Finals 25), the emotion of the accomplishment remains constant.

Young golfers begin their careers with their sights set on the PGA TOUR, and aside from generational talents such as Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm who have been able to secure TOUR cards via peak performance on sponsor’s exemptions, the Tour has asserted itself as the foremost gateway to the PGA TOUR.

Each year, the Tour graduating class includes an eclectic mix of up-and-comers and veterans, and 2018 was no different.

South Korea native Sungjae Im won the season-opening The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay and never looked back, becoming the first player to lead The 25 money list wire-to-wire.

With his win in the Bahamas, Im became the second-youngest winner in Tour history (19 years, 9 months, 17 days), behind only Jason Day. He finished the season a combined 192-under par, the second lowest on Tour since 2011, and recorded 397 total birdies, the most since 2011. He was properly rewarded at the end of the season by earning Tour Player of the Year honors.

Fellow rookies to join Im and Knous on the 2018-19 PGA TOUR include University of Texas alum Kramer Hickok, Georgia Tech alum Anders Albertson and Texas A&M alum Cameron Champ.

Hickok asserted himself on the professional scene with a multi-win season on the 2017 Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada, winning the Order of Merit to secure fully exempt Tour status in 2018. The avid fly fisherman took advantage with six top-10s this season, including a victory at the DAP Championship presented by NewBrick, and ultimately finished second on The 25.

In his third full Tour season, Albertson asserted himself with a victory at the Lincoln Land Championship presented by LRS, part of a streak of 41 consecutive rounds of par or better. He finished the season a combined 183-under-par, the fourth-lowest aggregate since 2011.

Champ has gained acclaim early in his pro career with prodigious length off the tee, first noticed on a national scale at the 2017 U.S. Open. The California native has all the skills to score, which he displayed during a summer stretch of five consecutive top-eight finishes, capped off with a victory at the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank.

For the season, Champ averaged 343.1 yards off the tee, an all-time Tour mark.

Whether you’re a first-timer like Im, Hickok, Albertson, Champ or Knous, or a veteran returner like Scott Langley, Josh Teater or Roberto Castro, the path to the PGA TOUR is immensely satisfying.

The TOUR card is just the beginning, though. Plenty is left to prove.

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

See also: PGA TOUR to Stream 140 Hours of Golf on Twitter