By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.com
10 stories to remember: 2022 Korn Ferry Tour
It’s hard to find a more meritocratic system than the Korn Ferry Tour.
The directive is simple. Shoot the scores, post the results, earn a PGA TOUR card.
It sounds straightforward, but the process is anything but. On a Tour that gets deeper every year, players travel across states and countries in pursuit of enough made cuts, points and high finishes to earn a TOUR card via the season-long points race.
The 2022 season was no exception, as a mix of rising stars and wily vets earned TOUR cards across a series of emotional #TOURBound moments.
Australia’s Harrison Endycott was one of the 25 players to earn a TOUR card through the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season. At the card ceremony in Omaha, his dad Brian punctuated the moment.
“You buy lottery tickets all your life, you can’t win a prize, and then one day you get a ticket and you win it,” Brian said at the ceremony. “That ticket came true. Harrison’s won his dream to get on the PGA TOUR. He’s done it.”
The Korn Ferry Tour was founded in 1990, with former TOUR Commissioner Deane Beman delivering a prediction that has stood the test of time.
“This is not just a new Tour that will be here a while,” Beman said at the Korn Ferry Tour’s opening ceremony in spring 1990. “We’re committed that this Tour is going to be here forever.”
Here are 10 of those “forever” stories from the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour.
Justin Suh earned Korn Ferry Tour starts via 2021 Q-School, making amends from the sting of missing at First Stage in fall 2019. It wasn’t the career launch that the former top-ranked amateur had envisioned, and the COVID hiatus didn’t help matters.
But once the cool Californian had a full schedule to work with, it was the proverbial all gas, no brakes. Suh, 25, recorded 16 top-25 finishes in 24 starts, punctuated by a victory at the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance.
Not only did Suh earn the most points during the three-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals, his season-ending victory moved him atop the season-long points race. The Southern California alum earned fully exempt TOUR status in 2022-23, as well as exemptions into the U.S. Open in his native California and THE PLAYERS Championship.
Things came full circle at The RSM Classic, where Suh was awarded Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year via a vote of his peers. He learned the news through a letter from his older sister Hannah, captured on video weeks earlier and shown to Suh at Sea Island. He was then awarded the Player of the Year trophy by his longtime friend and mentor Joseph Bramlett. Hearts were warm all around.
It’s one thing to finish one position shy of a TOUR card via a season-long points race. It’s another thing entirely to finish one position shy of a TOUR card just three weeks later.
“I didn’t think it was possible to finish 26 twice,” laughed Taylor Montgomery.
If Montgomery’s results across the 2020-21 combined season were hard-luck – No. 26 on the Regular Season Points List; No. 26 on the Finals Points List – karma circled back in 2022. The Las Vegas native notched nine top-10s in 17 starts, including two runner-up finishes, to comfortably earn his first TOUR card via The 25.
The UNLV alum hasn’t stopped, either. He’s 7-for-7 in cuts made to begin his career as a TOUR member, with a remarkable six top-15 finishes. He enters the TOUR’s winter break at No. 11 on the FedExCup and is positioned as one of the game’s brightest young stars. His attitude is a central reason why.
“You’re always trying to get better, but sometimes you try to get better and it makes you worse,” Montgomery said this fall. “Some days golf is really hard, some days golf is easy; I just wake up, and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Lots of good happened for Montgomery in 2022.
Golf was Ben Griffin’s north star for his entire life, through a state championship-winning high school career and a sterling University of North Carolina collegiate career. Until it wasn’t. Embattled by mini-tour struggles and dwindling income, Griffin opted to step away from the game in spring 2021, spending time as a mortgage loan officer in his native North Carolina.
The mental reset worked wonders. Griffin returned to professional golf that fall and advanced through three successive stages of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School to earn guaranteed starts. He kept the ball rolling throughout the 2022 season, recording three runner-up finishes to comfortably earn a TOUR card via The 25.
Griffin, 26, hasn’t slowed down in his transition to the TOUR. He has made six cuts in seven starts this fall, including a T3 at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, and he enters winter break at No. 29 on the FedExCup.
“Regardless of what you do in life, it’s important to step back and take a breath,” Griffin said. “People always say, ‘Get your mind off it. Breathe.’ Golf is what I needed to be playing all along.”
Akshay wins Exuma at age 19
There haven’t been many 17-year-pros who have captured the imaginations of golf fans like Akshay Bhatia when he broke onto the scene at the 2019 Valspar Championship. A memorable exchange occurred at a press conference early that week outside Tampa, when Bhatia was asked how he planned to handle adversity moving forward.
“Can you explain adversity to me?” Bhatia asked the reporter.
Bhatia, who hails from the Raleigh-Durham metroplex, experienced no shortage of adversity in his first few years as a pro, learning how to budget the off-course demands of professional golf while continuing to fine-tune his game for the highest level of competition.
Bhatia’s experience coalesced at the Korn Ferry Tour’s season-opening The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay. With his girlfriend Presleigh on the bag, he became the third youngest winner in Korn Ferry Tour history (19 years, 11 months, 19 days) behind only Jason Day and Sungjae Im. His week in the Bahamas was punctuated by a wedge to inside a foot on the 72nd hole, allowing for a walk of appreciation before tapping in for the winning birdie.
Bhatia fell just short of a TOUR card via the season-long points race, but his sophomore Korn Ferry Tour campaign can’t come fast enough.
PGA TOUR U No. 1 Coody romps in Maine
There’s never a definitive correlation between college stardom and quick professional success. The learning curve of managing time, travel, finances and countless other factors can cause even the most talented prospects to garner some reps before seeing the full game come together in professional competition.
That wasn’t the case for Pierceson Coody, who helped lead the University of Texas to the 2022 NCAA Division I men’s golf national title and finished No. 1 on the PGA TOUR University Velocity Global Ranking. By virtue of his top-five finish on PGA TOUR U, Coody earned full Korn Ferry Tour membership upon graduation, and he quickly took advantage. The third-generation professional golfer won the Live and Work in Maine Open in just his third Korn Ferry Tour start as a pro, carding a 20-under total at Falmouth CC to finish five strokes clear of the field.
Coody fell just short of a TOUR card via the Regular Season Points List, then was forced to withdraw from the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship due to a wrist injury. With a four-month offseason to prep for his first full Korn Ferry Tour campaign in 2023, odds are he’ll return to action with no shortage of motivation.
Pennsylvania native Brandon Matthews has long been known as one of golf’s preeminent drivers of the golf ball. Even his staunchest supporters might not have anticipated what happened during the second round of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance.
Needing eagle at the 432-yard par-4 18th hole at Victoria National GC to make the cut, Matthews took dead aim at the green, a line that required a carry of approximately 330 to 340 yards.
Matthews pulled it off, the ball landing on the green and releasing to 15 feet.
He could not convert the eagle attempt, but having earned a spot in The 25 via the Regular Season, he departed southern Indiana with the Korn Ferry Tour’s ultimate prize nonetheless: a PGA TOUR card.
Xiong wins as Monday Q
Norman Xiong was a highly touted prospect from the University of Oregon in 2018, having received the Fred Haskins Award as most outstanding collegiate golfer. The sky appeared the limit.
But progress in golf is not always linear, and Xiong made just five cuts as a Korn Ferry Tour rookie in 2019 en route to losing his card, and he arrived at this year’s Wichita Open Benefitting KU Wichita Pediatrics with zero Korn Ferry Tour status.
Then he executed one of golf’s rarest and most notable feats, winning the event as a Monday qualifier. Xiong, 24, did it in style too, carding a 26-under total for a five-stroke victory.
Xiong fell short of a TOUR card via The 25, but he’ll enter 2023 with full Korn Ferry Tour status. No Monday qualifiers needed as he pursues his first TOUR card via the season-long points race.
Knowles from verge of Q-School to TOUR card
Every year on the Korn Ferry Tour, there seems to be a shining example of golf’s fine line, the ever-present fork in the road.
That distinction in 2022 went to Philip Knowles. The University of North Florida alum arrived at the Regular Season-ending Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna at No. 88 on the Points List, needing to finish inside the top 75 to earn a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and elude the uncertainty of Q-School. Having never previously recorded a top-10 on the Korn Ferry Tour, he finished T10 in Omaha to punch his ticket to the Finals.
Then at the Finals-opening Albertsons Boise Open presented by Chevron, Knowles finished runner-up to earn his first TOUR card via The Finals 25.
“To stand here now and think that I’ve got a PGA TOUR card is crazy,” he said in Boise.
“I’m married, I’ve got a kid on the way, and that dynamic of trying to plan things … family vacations, vacations with friends … for a couple of years now, I haven’t been able to plan. Everything’s been spur of the moment, because I couldn’t tell you where I was going to be next week, or a month from now … To have experienced that, to play well last week when I had to was incredible. It’s what I felt like was coming.”
Life happened fast for Knowles this fall. To say the least.
Shelton the only multi-winner
The first 22 events of the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour season produced 22 different winners. It’s a testament to the Korn Ferry Tour’s parity and depth. It’s tough to win, and most anybody in the field has the potential to win during any given week.
At the Regular Season-ending Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna, Alabama alum Robby Shelton became the circuit’s first and only two-time winner of the season.
Shelton, 27, followed his playoff victory over Ben Griffin at the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by TD SYNNEX with a win at The Club at Indian Creek outside Omaha, putting an explanation point on a season of redemption. After losing his TOUR card in 2021, Shelton retooled his game, went back to old feels from his amateur days and displayed form indicating that the best could be yet to come.
“I felt like I had this monkey on my back telling me to hit a cut shot, and I have never done that in my life,” Shelton told Alabama Golf News. “I’ve always hit a baby draw, baby draw, baby draw. If I miss, it’s going to hang out to the right. I went after (the cut shot) and the clubface didn’t match what my mind wanted it to.”
Back to the roots and double the vindication.
Farewell to The Finals 25 era
The 2022 Korn Ferry Tour season marked the end of an era. Since 2013, the top 25 players on the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List would earn PGA TOUR membership at season’s end, with another 25 cards awarded via the Korn Ferry Tour Finals series.
The Korn Ferry Tour will undergo structural changes into 2023. Moving forward, the top 30 players on the season-long standings will earn TOUR membership, in addition to 10 cards from the DP World Tour and five cards (and ties) via Final Stage of Q-School. The top-ranked player on the PGA TOUR University Velocity Global Ranking will earn TOUR membership as well.
The Korn Ferry Tour Finals series will still exist, but will no longer bring together finishers 126-200 from the FedExCup and non-members. The Finals (now four events) will be comprised solely of Korn Ferry Tour members, with elimination after each event.
The Finals rotation into 2023: Albertsons Boise Open presented by Chevron (156 players), Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation (144 players), Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship (120 players) and Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance (75 players, no cut).
In 2023, Korn Ferry Tour members will compete for $28 million in total prize money, marking the highest purse in Tour history and a 37.6 percent increase from the previous season ($20.35 million in 2022).
“As we enter the 2023 Korn Ferry Tour season, I am thrilled with the momentum we’re carrying into this next chapter of our Tour’s history,” said Korn Ferry Tour President Alex Baldwin, who is entering her fifth season overseeing the Tour. “The Korn Ferry Tour continues to play a vital role in consistently delivering future PGA TOUR stars and we’re proud to see our members compete for a record purse in 2023.”
Even Beman might not have anticipated what was ahead for the circuit that delivers dreams.