Marty Dou and Kevin Yu lead charge as Asia’s aspirants chase PGA Tour cards
- Players vying to follow Carl Yuan, An Byeong-hun and Kim Seong-hyeon in securing cards, with five tournaments left in regular Korn Ferry Tour season
- Lure of tour increases further as it announces bigger purses for eight tournaments next year
Asia’s glory-hunters have five tournaments left in the regular Korn Ferry Tour season, plus the three-event tour finals, as they target places on the PGA Tour.
China’s Carl Yuan and South Korean duo An Byeong-hun and Kim Seong-hyeon are among those who have already succeeded in getting there, with the top 25 players being awarded PGA Tour cards and a further 25 cards available at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
The trio may be rubbing their hands gleefully in anticipation of next season following PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan’s announcement last week of “substantial changes”, which will include eight tournaments enjoying greatly enhanced purses, revised field sizes for the FedExCup Playoffs, and an autumn schedule featuring up to three no-cut, limited-field international events.
If there was not already enough motivation for the other Asian hopefuls still in the chase, the time is now ripe for the likes of China’s Marty Dou and Kevin Yu of Taiwan to try to secure their cards, with both of them hovering around the top 25.
The already established Asian stars have been making their PGA Tour places count, with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama winning twice so far this season to equal K.J. Choi’s record of eight victories by an Asian golfer, and South Korea’s Im Sung-jae and K.H. Lee each winning once to raise their career tallies to two apiece.
And there was also an eye-catching runner-up finish by Anirban Lahiri of India at The Players Championship in March, for which he pocketed a handsome US$2.18 million, his biggest pay cheque to date.
Kim Si-woo, a three-time tour event winner, and C.T. Pan have also performed well to virtually seal their places in the FedExCup Playoffs this August. As yet, no Asian has held aloft the ultimate prize on the tour.
In broad strokes, next year’s FedExCup Playoffs will feature revised field sizes. The top 70 will make it into its first event, the FedEx St Jude Championship at TPC Southwind in Memphis. The top 50 will qualify for the BMW Championship, and the top 30, as usual, will compete for the FedExCup at the Tour Championship at East Lake.
The rewards awaiting those who perform are considerable – more so after the purse increases being announced for 2023. The season-long FedExCup prize pot currently offers US$75 million in bonus pool, with US$18 million alone going to the winner.
Although there will be more money than ever to shoot for, Rory McIlroy, a 21-time PGA Tour winner, has said that it is about playing to build a “legacy”, as well as to join the lists of winners of decades-old tournaments in the schedule: Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Woods and the rest.
“It’s very important to me,” the four-time major winner said. “It means a lot, going back to history and tradition and putting your name on trophies that have the legends of the game on them.”
The likes of Yuan, An and Kim will have the same opportunity to chase golf history. For Yuan, the promotion to the tour brings him a personal reward after he last year cut short his campaign to represent China in the Tokyo Olympics.
The 25-year-old needed just seven tournaments this time around to become the first from the Korn Ferry Tour class to secure PGA Tour status.
“I know I have the ability … I shouldn’t be afraid to dream big,” said Yuan, who won once and posted three other top-10 finishes to surpass the projected points threshold, and is currently ranked No 1.
“I had a pretty good year last year, a few high finishes, played some good golf and gained a lot of confidence. I had no regrets playing in the Olympics. It meant a lot to me personally, because it is every athlete’s goal to be in the Olympics.”
The University of Washington alumnus has now become only the third mainland Chinese golfer, after Dou and Zhang Xinjun, to hold a PGA Tour card.
An’s world collapsed briefly when he lost his PGA Tour card last year, but he has since said it was a timely wake-up call. Once ranked as high as 29th in the world and previously a regular name in the top 100, he rededicated himself to the game with new coach Sean Foley and in his third start on the Korn Ferry Tour claimed the victory that helped seal a quick return to the main tour.
“The motivation is always in me,” the 30-year-old said. “I always want to be the best golfer in the world. That’s what everyone is playing for.
“I had a terrible season [in 2021] and then it kind of hit me, and I’m like, ‘OK, let’s try to spend more time [on] golf and see what it feels like to work harder.’”
Monahan revealed plans to return to a calendar-year schedule from 2024, saying: “These changes will further strengthen the FedExCup and create a strong, coordinated global schedule, offering a more compelling product for our players, fans and partners.
“On the PGA Tour, our members compete for the opportunity to add their names to history books, and, yes, [gain] significant financial benefits, without having to wrestle with any sort of moral ambiguity. And pure competition creates relevancy and context, which is what fans need and expect in order to invest their time in a sport and in a player.”
Asia’s flagbearers will be chasing their own slice of history as well.
Chuah Choo Chiang is senior director of marketing and communications for the PGA Tour and is based in Malaysia.