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Future shock: Michael Thorbjornsen, Luke Clanton continue ascent at ISCO Championship

5 Min Read



    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    Call it youthful fearlessness or the inevitable technological evolution, or some of both. Whatever it is, the future is now and it’s on display at this week’s ISCO Championship.

    The ISCO Championship’s top two betting favorites are 20-year-old Luke Clanton and 22-year-old Michael Thorbjornsen – a rising Florida State junior and recent Stanford grad respectively. The odds are with them for a good reason. Clanton and Thorbjornsen shared second place at last week’s John Deere Classic, each narrowly missing a spot at The Open (which went to fellow co-runner-up C.T. Pan via an Official World Golf Ranking tiebreaker). They pushed each other as playing partners in the John Deere Classic’s final round, and although they’re not paired together to begin the ISCO, don’t be surprised to see another pairing late Sunday afternoon in Kentucky.

    “Being able to play with (Clanton) on the last day … fellow college player, I guess not so much anymore … but it was really cool to see him do well,” Thorbjornsen said Wednesday at the ISCO Championship. “We were pushing each other for a good finish. Yeah, last week was tremendous … I remember watching (the ISCO Championship) on TV last year, so excited for a good week.”

    Michael Thorbjornsen on goals for remainder of year

    “It’s been one heck of a month,” Clanton agreed Tuesday. “To be here this week and playing another PGA TOUR event is awesome.”

    Much of the golf world’s attention might be on the Genesis Scottish Open across the pond, but for those in attendance at the ISCO Championship, it’s a golden opportunity to watch two players who could factor at the game’s greatest events for the next decade, maybe sooner than we think.

    Clanton and Thorbjornsen took separate paths to this point – Clanton grew up in South Florida, Thorbjornsen in Massachusetts, and their colleges are situated on different coasts – but the similarities are striking. They expect to contend on TOUR, now and in the future, employing a fearless brand of golf with the requisite high ball and clubhead speeds that represent the game’s youth movement. Clanton has ascended to the No. 2 spot on the World Amateur Golf Ranking and has accrued 10 points on PGA TOUR University Accelerated, halfway to the 20 points required to earn automatic TOUR membership following the next academic year (he has expressed intent to return to Florida State for his junior season and tend to unfinished business of a Seminole national championship in men’s golf). Thorbjornsen earned automatic TOUR membership as No. 1 on this year’s PGA TOUR University Ranking for graduating seniors, finalized after the NCAA Championship, and the John Deere marked just his third professional start.

    They’ll compete at Keene Trace Golf Club (Champion Trace) with similar, deserved expectations – they believe they can compete and win – but under different circumstances. Clanton is producing one of golf’s more memorable amateur summers in recent memory, gaining valuable experience for when he does decide to turn pro; he made the cut at the U.S. Open, then became the first amateur in 66 years to record back-to-back TOUR top-10s (T10 at the Rocket Mortgage Classic followed by T2 at the John Deere Classic). Clanton isn’t eligible for perks like non-member FedExCup points or top-10 exemptions into the next event, but after qualifying for the U.S. Open via 36-hole Final Qualifying, he has taken advantage of sponsor exemptions the past two weeks (and looks to do so again this week).

    Luke Clanton on back-to-back top 10 finishes

    Thorbjornsen, on the other hand, has an eye on qualifying for the FedExCup Playoffs. The John Deere Classic runner-up vaulted him from No. 200 to No. 121 on the season-long FedExCup standings, with the top 70 after next month’s Wyndham Championship qualifying for the Playoffs. It’s a lot of ground to make up in the next four weeks, but the fearless 22-year-old looks forward to the challenge.

    “Honestly, just play as many tournaments as I possibly can,” Thorbjornsen said of his short-term goals. I want the body to hold up throughout these next few weeks as well … As for something tangible, obviously, we're going to try and make the Playoffs. Last week definitely kept us in form for that goal. We have three, four more events left, so a couple good more finishes and who knows, we'll see.”

    Michael Thorbjornsen on goals for remainder of year

    The beauty of this opportunity? There’s not much to lose. Clanton is excited about his junior season at Florida State and will be better served to contribute to the Seminoles’ cause after a spectacular summer on TOUR. Thorbjornsen will be exempt on TOUR for the 2025 season regardless of how this year unfolds. They’re playing with house money, and their free-flowing efforts at the John Deere Classic (24-under 260 totals) align with that perspective.

    Keene Trace Golf Club will likely require low scores; the winning total has fallen between 21 under and 26 under in each of the event’s five iterations at the Lexington, Kentucky-area venue. These guys have no problem chasing birdies in bunches, with no reason for that to change anytime soon.

    Early this week, Clanton even made a hole-in-one at the ISCO Championship Par-3 Challenge. After the youthful duo produced fireworks throughout the week at the John Deere, look for more in the Bluegrass State.

    “We took it pretty low there last week, so I'm guessing it's going to be pretty similar where you're going to be attacking at some pins,” Thorbjornsen said. “Obviously try and get the ball in play and give yourself the best possible look at birdie off the tee. I think that's the biggest thing, just setting yourself up for the next shot … We’ll just see where we stack against the field each day.”

    “If we get the putter rolling pretty well and just get the speed right on these greens,” Clanton added, “I think we'll be in a pretty good spot.”

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.

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