By Adam Stanley, PGATOUR.com
10 players to watch on 2023 Korn Ferry Tour
The Korn Ferry Tour’s inherent beauty lies in its unpredictability.
Will next year’s graduating class consist mostly of early-20s pros, veteran grinders, or an even mix? Will the Player of the Year be a longtime junior and amateur standout on a launching pad, like Scottie Scheffler in 2019, or a plucky, seasoned pro like Stephan Jaeger in 2020-21? Will someone capture the magic of a Wesley Bryan in 2016 and attain a Three-Victory Promotion, or will parity reign with scarce multi-winners?
The makeup of the cream of the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour crop is anyone’s guess, and there’s no scientific way to produce a list of players to watch. That being said, we figured we’d give it a run.
The 2023 Korn Ferry Tour season is set to commence at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay in January, as players chase 30 available PGA TOUR cards via the season-long standings. The Finals 25 era is no longer, as season-long merit is the ultimate avenue to earn a spot at the game’s highest level.
Here are 10 players positioned to play an integral role on the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour.
10. JEREMY PAUL
Perhaps buoyed by twin brother Yannik Paul’s breakthrough victory on the DP World Tour in October, Jeremy Paul is set to build off his solid Korn Ferry Tour campaign in 2022 to hopefully earn a PGA TOUR card in 2023.
Paul, who finished 37th on the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List, had three top-10 finishes in 25 starts this past season. His best result was a tie for third at The Ascendant presented by Blue. He went nine straight events without missing a cut, steadiness that was rewarded with a fine finish on the Points List and full Korn Ferry Tour status for 2023.
Paul, who is the older twin by one whole minute, finished T11 at Final Stage of Q-School in 2021 to set the stage for his breakout campaign.
This season was the first since 2017 that he and Yannik did not play the same professional golfing schedule. There didn’t seem to be much of an impact on either brother, however, with Yannik notching his first DP World Tour title and Jeremy establishing himself as one of the Korn Ferry Tour’s consistent contenders.
Paul was one of the Korn Ferry Tour’s elite ball-strikers last season, sitting 12th in greens in regulation, and was 23rd in total driving. Despite being 78th in putting average, Paul ranked No. 23 in scoring average.
He’s trending toward putting all the pieces together for a solid season, and perhaps we’ll see both Paul twins on the PGA TOUR sooner rather than later.
9. KEVIN DOUGHERTY
Kevin Dougherty has never had full PGA TOUR status, but he continues to be a constant presence on the Korn Ferry Tour and is inching ever-closer to realizing his dream.
Dougherty, 31, finished 42nd on the Korn Ferry Tour’s Regular Season Points List on the back of four top-10 finishes. He started the year with a tie for seventh at The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club before holding steady through the balance of the season.
His best result of the year came at the Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna, when he finished tied for third.
Dougherty was this close to earning PGA TOUR status via the Regular Season Points List this year as a win at the Pinnacle Bank Championship would have done just that. He made birdie on Nos. 13-15 in the final round, but bogeyed No. 16 which quashed his chances.
The Oklahoma State alum put together as fine a season tee-to-green as any on the Korn Ferry Tour, sitting first in driving distance at 328.6 yards per pop, and was ninth in greens in regulation.
2022 marked Dougherty’s fourth consecutive season inside the top 75 on the Korn Ferry Tour (he snuck in at No. 74 during the 2020-21 combined season) and now he’s hoping that his near half-decade of experience will be rewarded with a trip to the PGA TOUR for the first time.
8. WILLIE MACK III
Q-School is always chalk full of emotion and pull-at-your-heartstrings moments – such is the golfing pressure cooker when your job is on the line.
Willie Mack III provided, perhaps, one of the best.
The 34-year-old finally earned guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour for this season after a 5-under 66 in the final round at Final Stage of Q-School. Mack will have eight guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2023 after finishing tied for 12th at Final Stage.
Mack, who played at Bethune-Cookman – a historically Black college – and won 11 times while there, has made six PGA TOUR starts and four Korn Ferry Tour starts. A story of perseverance, Mack spoke eloquently about his parents’ sacrifices while growing up, coupled with his own struggles. He’s had to sleep in his car for a time after turning professional. That car caught fire and he saved only his golf clubs. He’s not young, certainly by comparison to plenty of can’t-miss stars right out of college these days, but he’s got a laser-like commitment to following – and hopefully achieving – his dream of earning a PGA TOUR card.
Mack has won more than 70 tournaments in his career on various mini-tours and will certainly be someone to watch on the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour.
7. FRANKIE CAPAN III
A lengthy and impressive journey for Frankie Capan III through Q-School was rewarded with guaranteed starts for the upcoming Korn Ferry Tour campaign – and likely no one is prouder than Capan’s mother.
Charlynn Capan was along for the ride all the way from pre-qualifier to Final Stage as her son’s caddie. He was one of only eight to go all the way from that initial starting line to Final Stage, and one of only four who ended up earning guaranteed starts.
Capan, who was named the Minnesota Golf Association Player of the Year in 2020, has made only one PGA TOUR-sanctioned start in his career, a missed cut at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open.
The Florida Gulf Coast University alum showed plenty of tenacity and grit through each stage of Q-School. He finished third, first, and T1 at pre-qualifying, First and Second Stages respectively, including an eight-shot triumph at First Stage. He couldn’t take his mom off the bag after that.
Capan was never named an All-American while at college and notched just one win. He played a collection of amateur events this summer to get ready to play Q-School.
While it remains to be seen if Charlynn will be back on the bag once the Korn Ferry Tour season kicks off in January, one thing’s for sure – she’ll be her son’s biggest supporter, inside the ropes or out.
6. WIL BATEMAN
A Canadian hadn’t topped PGA TOUR Canada’s season-long Fortinet Cup since Mackenzie Hughes in 2013, and Hughes’ career has worked out quite alright.
Wil Bateman, of Edmonton, Alberta, had four top-10 finishes on PGA TOUR Canada this season, including two victories, and cruised to the No. 1 ranking for 2022 – earning full Korn Ferry Tour status for 2023.
Bateman played two Korn Ferry Tour events in 2022, making the cut in both (his tie for 18th at the Veritex Bank Championship was punctuated with a closing-round 64) and will certainly be a notable name to watch in 2023 as he hopes to follow in the Canadian footsteps of Hughes, Corey Conners, Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor, Adam Svensson and Taylor Pendrith as recent Korn Ferry Tour alums who have found plenty of success on the PGA TOUR.
Bateman’s first win of 2022 came in his hometown, Edmonton, and that set him up for his solid Canadian campaign – which featured no missed cuts. Bateman also captured the season-ending Fortinet Cup Championship and very nearly won two weeks prior at the CRMC Championship presented by Gertens after a Sunday 62.
Bateman was No. 4 on PGA TOUR Canada in scoring average and No. 5 in birdie average, proving he’s no stranger to going low – exactly what he’ll need when teeing it up on the Korn Ferry Tour next season.
5. MITCHELL MEISSNER
The top player on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica is hoping to tap into a new approach to the game in 2023 while he makes his debut on the Korn Ferry Tour – alongside his younger brother.
Mitchell Meissner will have full-fledged Korn Ferry Tour status for the first time in his career after winning the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica Totalplay Cup and Player of the Year honors. He notched nine top-10s in 12 starts, a picture of consistency from the Rice alum.
He’ll join his brother, Mac Meissner, on the circuit next season. The younger Meissner finished 46th on the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List.
Mitchell Meissner had as complete a season as any on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, despite not finding the winner’s circle. At one point in the summer he did everything but win, running off a T3-T2-T3-2 string of results.
He finished first on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica in scoring average and was first in total birdies.
Meissner had a mental shift in the way he was approaching things day-in and day-out on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica in 2022. He was no longer just trying to make a cut and find a result come Sunday afternoon, but instead, he was playing to win. His second-round scoring average, he noticed, was about a shot better than the next-closest on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica this year, and that attitude helped pay off in a big way.
Meissner (who swings right-handed but putts left-handed) is now hoping that mindset change continues into the Korn Ferry Tour season, and he has a good feeling both he and his brother will be on the PGA TOUR by calendar’s end.
4. NORMAN XIONG
Norman Xiong’s career since turning professional after being a celebrated amateur and college star – if not the brightest of young guns to come along in decades – has not gone the way he’s liked. And he’ll be one of the first to admit that.
However, Xiong had a fabulous highlight on the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour – he won the Wichita Open Benefitting KU Wichita Pediatrics after Monday qualifying.
Xiong fired a 26-under 254 in Kansas for a five-shot victory (66-61-64-63) for the second-lowest 72-hole score in Korn Ferry Tour history. Xiong added a tie for 14th at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship as a notable result in his 2022 campaign (he’s fully exempt through 2023 thanks to his win).
While Xiong hasn’t yet lived up to his can’t-miss billing coming out of college, a win on the Korn Ferry Tour – especially in such dominating fashion as the way he did it this past summer – and the fact that he’s got locked-in status for the balance of 2023 will hopefully be the spark he needs to take a big step on golf’s ladder.
3. AKSHAY BHATIA
Akshay Bhatia couldn’t have asked for a better start to his 2022 Korn Ferry Tour campaign, winning The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay by two shots – the first event of the season.
With the win, Bhatia was the third-youngest player (and third teenager) to ever win on the Korn Ferry Tour. He’ll still be one of the youngest guys on the Korn Ferry Tour as he enters his second full campaign on the circuit come January; he’ll celebrate his 21st birthday on Jan. 31.
While Bhatia didn’t keep the momentum going the rest of the year (he did notch two other top-20 results, including a T14 at the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank), Bhatia ended up 30th on the Regular Season Points list, just a sniff outside earning a PGA TOUR card.
He made two PGA TOUR starts this fall and made the cut in both, finishing tied for 17th at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship and 45th at The RSM Classic.
With a bit more experience under his belt (and a trophy on his shelf), Bhatia will look to tap into some of the game that earned him plenty of praise as a heralded junior and amateur player, ascending into the top five of the World Amateur Golf Ranking before turning pro.
2. PIERCESON COODY
The reigning No. 1-ranked player on PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global turned pro with a superstar profile – and there’s no reason why Coody won’t be able to continue that effort into 2023.
While there was a concerning wrist injury that prompted him to withdraw from the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance, a lengthy offseason will likely be enough to get Coody raring to go again in 2023.
The list of accomplishments for Coody are long and impressive, but we’ll start with the big one on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 – the victory. Coody, in just his third start as a professional, won the Live and Work in Maine Open by five shots. He had the outright lead through two rounds thanks to tying the Falmouth CC course record with a 9-under 62 on Friday. He built up a seven-shot lead at one point Sunday (after opening with a 7-under 28 on the front nine) and cruised to victory – this after finished T4 the week prior, in just his second career start as a pro.
The 2022 University of Texas graduate added one more top-10 result this season and ended up 32nd on the Regular Season Points List after just 11 tournaments. While the number of rounds Coody played didn’t get him officially listed on the Korn Ferry Tour’s season-long stats, his scoring average of 68.55 would have had him third on Tour had he continued at that same pace, while his birdie average of 4.48 would have had him at 14th on Tour.
With big-stage chops, a no-fear attitude, and a hefty resume (plus a win already), it’s going to be exciting to see what Coody will be able to accomplish in his first full season on the Korn Ferry Tour.
1. CHRIS GOTTERUP
If you told Chris Gotterup at the beginning of the week of Final Stage of Q-School that he’d finish tied for third and would notch a dozen guaranteed starts for 2023, he would have taken it.
But since he had a chance to win the whole thing heading into the final round and didn’t get the job done, he said he’s got a “bit more” motivation for the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour season.
The 2022 Haskins and Jack Nicklaus Award winner made a hearty impression on both his PGA TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour colleagues this summer, and after a T3 result at Final Stage, he’ll head into 2023 as our No.1 Player to Watch.
Gotterup, who had a solid four-year effort at Rutgers (he was named the 2019-20 Big Ten Player of the Year) and then went to the University of Oklahoma as a redshirt senior, ripped through the competition in his final year of college. A first-team All-American, Gotterup was named the Big 12 Golfer of the Year and closed the 2022 campaign ranked the No. 1 golfer in the country after two victories.
Gotterup finished tied for seventh at the PGA TOUR’s Puerto Rico Open, competing as an amateur (the best result on TOUR by an amateur since Sam Burns at the 2017 Barbasol Championship), before turning professional and debuting at the RBC Canadian Open.
Despite a missed cut there, Gotterup had earned a spot in the following week’s U.S. Open, where he made the cut after a Friday 69.
“On the driving range that week you’ve got … you name it, and they’re not that different than you are. They make more putts per round, maybe they hit it 10 feet closer a few times, everyone is so close,” said Gotterup. “I definitely learned that week that I could play in front of whoever it was.”
Gotterup notched his best result of the season in early July at the John Deere Classic, a tie for fourth. He earned his way into the Korn Ferry Tour Finals but couldn’t convert that opportunity into a PGA TOUR card.
Still, he had a collection of solid results on TOUR through the latter half of 2022 – and had plenty of learning experiences as well.
“’Learning experience’ is kind of how the whole summer was,” said Gotterup. “To have the opportunities I did was amazing and obviously there were a lot of them in a short period of time. I definitely put my body through the ringer and definitely learned what I can handle and how to manage myself and my time tournament-wise, which is nice.
“(Pro golf) is the same as college … but it’s not. I figured how to play and how to score, and then you had to re-learn it all even though it’s golf. It’s a different mentality.”
In talking with the guys at Final Stage, Gotterup realized how important each week was through the Korn Ferry Tour season. You always heard, he said, about guys who missed a PGA TOUR card by a shot or two throughout the season-long standings or Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
For his part, Gotterup said he’s going to try to make sure each shot in 2023 has purpose. He’s hoping for a hot start, but he’s also got the mental awareness to know it’s not a short season, either. He’s laser-like on keeping it simple: work hard, do the best he can, and hope for some nice results.
Solid results have always come for Gotterup.
When he played golf in high school or for fun, he always knew he was “OK” at the sport, he said. He played lacrosse and other sports growing up but wasn’t as good as when he was on the course. When he got to Rutgers, he took golf seriously enough but still didn’t know how things would pan out – especially after needing surgery on his left hand in April 2020 for a partially torn ligament (plus a bone graft procedure) after a few solid campaigns at the school. He came back not knowing if he was going to get back to the level he hoped for, but he did. And of course, he had his all-time collegiate effort when he transferred to Oklahoma.
“I finished off amazing at Oklahoma and I thought, ‘(Oh man), I have to take this for real now,’” he said with a laugh. “There were times when I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is for me,’ and there were times when I was like, ‘I can do this for sure.’”
With plenty of guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour, and the No. 1 spot in our Players to Watch list, now’s the time Gotterup is hoping to prove exactly that.