This weekend, you have a choice between streaming a guaranteed-payout tour and watching players compete for financial stability. The first will be available wherever you get your YouTube. The latter will air on Golf Channel—the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
The third and final Korn Ferry Tour Finals event, the KFT Championship will hand out 25 PGA Tour memberships on Sunday at Victoria National. Eight players—including Will Gordon, David Lingmerth, Philip Knowles, Austin Cook, and Joseph Bramlett—have already locked up their PGA Tour cards by performing well in the first two events. A handful of others are in great shape, including University of Illinois studs Thomas Detry (10th) and Nick Hardy (T-13). Also high in the standings are Justin Lower (ninth), who finished 126th in this year’s FedEx Cup in heartbreaking fashion; and 2017 U.S. Am champ Doc Redman (17th).
But those are the happy stories. The potentially-not-so-happy ones are more telling about how the Korn Ferry Tour needs to adjust to this new, uncertain era in the pro game.
On the bubble this week is Chris Gotterup (T-27), who won last year’s Haskins Award for his outstanding play at the University of Oklahoma. His name might ring a bell, as he has been making waves in the pro game since leaving Norman. Gotterup qualified for the KFT Finals by virtue of his T-4 finish at the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic. Clearly he can compete on the big tour’s level; he could even win an event in the near future.
So it’s bizarre that Chris Gotterup in danger of spending a year on the KFT. But this is the system on which the Tour operates.
Another potential casualty is Pierceson Coody, who clocks in at 44th in the KFT Finals standings. He needs an excellent week to earn his PGA Tour card. That’s ludicrous. Coody finished No. 1 in PGA Tour University, the college-player ranking that the PGA Tour created in 2020 to help move young stars to the next level. Apparently it’s not working that well. After turning pro in June, rejecting a multi-million-dollar LIV offer, and joining the KFT, Coody has been exceptional, winning in Maine and racking up two other top 10s in eight starts. He climbed to 32nd on the season-long points list in spite of playing only a third of the season. If you extrapolate Coody’s points per start from eight to 20 events, he would rank second in “The 25.” Coody has demonstrated through his play on the Korn Ferry Tour and his years of outstanding amateur golf that he is a PGA Tour-level player, but the current system doesn’t recognize him as such.
The Tour has to figure out how to accelerate the careers of guys like Coody and Gotterup. Otherwise, more and more of them will leave college before the spring season or, worse, feel like suckers for not taking LIV’s money.
The Tour, to its credit, is taking baby steps in the right direction. It announced that next year 30 cards instead of 25 will be awarded to KFT players. This is helpful, but it’s not enough.
Why can’t the Tour move to a system that promotes a free flow of players into and out of the Korn Ferry Tour? Why can’t promotion and relegation become a monthly, even weekly storyline? If the Tour is serious about delivering a better week-to-week entertainment product, this change seems like a no-brainer.
Scottie Scheffler and Sungjae Im are just the most recent, glaring examples of players who toiled away on the KFT for an unnecessary amount of time—a full year, in both cases. I’d hate to see Coody and Gotterup go through a similar waiting period. Both Scheffler and Im made an immediate impact on tour, and they wouldn’t have done any differently if their chance had come six months or a year earlier.
The current structure of the Korn Ferry Tour is archaic. It’s not how any other developmental sports league operates. If a baseball player is hitting .400 in AAA baseball, he gets called up. If an NBA G-League player is averaging 30 points, an NBA team will sign him. The Korn Ferry Tour keeps players on the bench until the end of a full season. It’s silly and unnecessary, and it needs to change.
This piece originally appeared in The Fried Egg Newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.