Finals update: Ben Kohles eyes automatic TOUR call-up Sunday in Boise
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The two-time winner this season could earn a Three-Victory Promotion to FedExCup Fall.
Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
BOISE, Idaho – Ben Kohles had a chat with his longtime caddie Hylton “JJ” James before hitting the road for the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Chevron. The 33-year-old Kohles was starting the first leg of the four-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals with a chance at a Three-Victory Promotion to the PGA TOUR.
Kohles told James (now retired from caddying) that he was shooting for 30 birdies this week at Hillcrest Country Club, a familiar venue where he had made eight prior competitive starts.
“I said 30, and he’s like, ‘30?’” Kohles said with a laugh, winding down from a third round that included six consecutive birdies on Nos. 2-7.
“I’m like, ’30.’ And that was our goal for the week, to make 30 birdies or more.”
Kohles is tracking well toward that goal, but the thing is, he might even need more – and he knows it. He’s recorded 19 birdies and three eagles through three rounds in Boise – including a 222-yard ace on the par-3 eighth hole during Friday’s second round – and he’ll begin Sunday in solo second at 19 under, two strokes back of 54-hole leader Chan Kim, who’s searching for his second Korn Ferry Tour victory in as many weeks.
Chan Kim leads heading into the final round at Albertsons Boise Open
Kohles knows all about going back-to-back on the Korn Ferry Tour. In summer 2012, he won his first two professional starts – the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship and Cox Classic – to become the first player on record to win his first two pro starts on either the PGA TOUR or Korn Ferry Tour. He earned his first TOUR card for 2013, but he’s alternated between the TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour throughout his career, striving to find that extra edge that will allow him to stick on TOUR once he gets back there.
Kohles will be back on TOUR for 2024 – a win in Boise could just expedite that return. On the strength of two wins this season, the Astara Chile Classic and HomeTown Lenders Championship, he arrived in Boise atop the season-long Korn Ferry Tour Points List. He has secured his 2024 TOUR card via the top 30 on the season-long standings (finalized after the Korn Ferry Tour Championship), but a Three-Victory Promotion would allow him to play the FedExCup Fall, which could serve as a tune-up leading into a full season in 2024.
The last player to earn a Three-Victory Promotion within a calendar year: Wesley Bryan in 2016. (Mito Pereira won three times in the 2020-21 combined season.)
Ben Kohles' hot putter leads to eagle at Albertsons Boise Open
Winning three Korn Ferry Tour events in a season is no easy task. This, Kohles knows. But neither is winning your first two professional events or assuming the No. 1 spot on the season-long Points List into the four-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
The University of Virginia alum has proven himself in various ways throughout his career. Now married with a young daughter, he takes aim Sunday at another distinction in golf’s pantheon.
“It’s by far the best year of my career,” said Kohles, noting the longevity of maintaining form throughout 2023, compared to his torrid summer back in 2012. “I feel like I’m just in a really good space mentally; I think that’s been the biggest thing … I’m able to take a step back. As long as I’ve been doing this, I’m able to finally see that it’s just a game.
“I was putting so much pressure on myself to perform, and especially when you don’t get off to a good start early on, especially in the TOUR season … you always feel like you’re fighting from behind.”
Come Sunday, Kohles will be fighting from behind, but with just one player (Kim) in his way. As he spoke in the Hillcrest CC locker room Saturday evening, his eyes widened with excitement when asked a direct question: Is this fun?
His body language answered in the affirmative.
“I might win, I might not, and either way it will be good,” Kohles said. “I get to go home and see my family. It’s a win-win. Being in the last group, like I told myself today, this is exactly where I want to be on the TOUR next year. I want to be in the last group, I want to have the most people watching, and that’s when you’re the most uncomfortable.
“That’s what I think I’ve learned over the last 11 years; you’ve just got to take what the game gives you and kind of let it happen. You can think all you want and try all you want, but that’s not going to help you right now. I think that’s what I’ve been doing well at this year, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Chan Kim (No. 12 on Points List, projected No. 2): After winning last week’s Magnit Championship in New Jersey, the 33-year-old is keeping the pedal down in the Potato State. Kim carded a third-round, 7-under 64 at Hillcrest CC to break free from a 36-hole tie with Kohles and take the pole position into Sunday’s final round. Kim stands 21 under, two strokes clear of Kohles.
Two weeks ago, Kim was outside the top 50 on the Points List and talked about focusing on just solidifying his full Korn Ferry Tour card for 2024. Now the South Korea native is one day away from cementing his first TOUR card. A win would also bring the season-long No. 1 spot into play, which offers fully exempt TOUR status and spots in next year’s U.S. Open and THE PLAYERS.
Davis Chatfield (No. 70, projected No. 62): It was a special Saturday for the Notre Dame alum: He was paired alongside Camilo Villegas, one of his childhood heroes. Chatfield and his brothers would frequently follow Villegas while attending the TOUR stop outside Boston as kids, and the Chatfield family group text was buzzing when the pairing was finalized Friday night.
Chatfield went out and shot 3-under 68 (two better than Villegas), and he enters Sunday in a tie for seventh at 15 under. Chatfield, 24, has produced a solid if unspectacular season as a Korn Ferry Tour rookie; he’s made 16 cuts in 22 starts but is without a top-10 finish. With elevated points available in the Finals, his strong play in Boise comes at an opportune time as he looks to cement full Korn Ferry Tour status for 2024 – and maybe even challenge for a TOUR card.
Tom Whitney (No. 19, projected No. 15): The Air Force alum had a dream start to his third round, making back-to-back eagles on the par-5 second and third holes, en route to a 7-under 64 that propelled him into a tie for fourth at 16 under. It has been a special week for Whitney, as the United States Air Force Thunderbirds have been in town for the Gowen Thunder Airshow – with planes passing over Hillcrest CC throughout the week.
Whitney separated from the Air Force in 2014 and has gradually climbed the ladder of professional golf. A strong Sunday could push him to the verge of his first TOUR card – potentially even solidify it.
“If I didn’t choose to try to give golf a chance, I’d probably still be in the Air Force … but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t give this a go,” he said Saturday.
Whitney is certainly giving it a go.
Joel Thelen (No. 162, projected No. 139): It was an adventurous final hole Saturday for Thelen: His approach at the par-4 18th found a collection of coffee creamer at a stand behind the green, but he received TIO relief and saved par, preserving a bogey-free third round as his wife Anna and son Reese roared their approval.
Thelen stands T19 for the week at 13 under, fighting to keep his season alive. The 33-year-old admits his season hasn’t gone quite to plan. He was hindered by a wrist injury in June and knows he will eventually need surgery, but so far in Boise, he’s playing like there’s no tomorrow. With a strong Sunday, he could punch his ticket to Nashville (for next month’s Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation, the second Finals event) and preserve a late run at maintaining Korn Ferry Tour status and eluding Q-School.
The Korn Ferry Tour Finals features progressive field reductions after each event, with the second Finals event – the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation – featuring a 144-player field filled directly off the season-long Points List.
Nos. 139-144 on the Points List all missed the cut in Boise, while six players outside the top 144 advanced to the weekend, with an eye on qualifying for the Simmons Bank Open.
Players who can guarantee themselves a spot at the Simmons Bank Open:
No. 146 Willie Mack III (T67; 6 under)
No. 154 Alex Weiss (T61; 7 under)
No. 161 RJ Manke (T39; 10 under)
No. 162 Joel Thelen (T19; 13 under)
No. 166 Vince Whaley (T4; 16 under)
No. 173 James Nicholas (T19; 13 under)
For the first three Finals events, the Points List will extend to fill the field to the corresponding numbers of players (e.g., the field for the 156-player Albertsons Boise Open extended to No. 173 James Nicholas, as 17 eligible players elected not to compete).
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.