Finals update: Jamie Lovemark fights to extend career at Simmons Bank
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Among five co-leaders into Sunday at second leg of Korn Ferry Tour Finals
Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
COLLEGE GROVE, Tenn. – Jamie Lovemark knows the stakes. He’s playing for his job this week.
He’s not hiding it. Rather, the former world No. 1 amateur is relishing the challenge.
“Obviously I need a good week,” Lovemark said Saturday. “Everybody knows that, myself included.”
Lovemark, now 35, shares the 54-hole lead at the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation, part of a five-way tie at 12 under at The Grove. With his past champion status set to expire, the University of Southern California alum couldn’t have dreamed up a much better time to author this type of performance.
Jamie Lovemark fights for his career into Sunday at Simmons Bank
Lovemark entered the Simmons Bank Open, the second leg of the four-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals, at No. 130 on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List. Next week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship will feature a 120-player field, with the top 75 after next week cementing full 2024 Korn Ferry Tour membership and advancing to the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance – after which the top 30 will earn 2024 PGA TOUR membership.
Entering this week, Lovemark knew there was no tomorrow. Miss the cut or play poorly on the weekend and his season would likely be over. This also marks the final season on his past champion status (his last victory came at the 2013 AdventHealth Championship), and he has no current medical extension status.
There’s something freeing in that ultimatum, and it’s allowing Lovemark to play a bit more like a kid this week. Through the last month, he has worked on staying tall through his shot – which he admits doesn’t come as naturally under the pressure of tournament golf. But the feel has withstood the rigors of 54 holes in Music City, and he looks forward to seeing how it holds up Sunday. “Tomorrow I’ll have to overexaggerate that to keep it going, but I think I can do that,” he said.
Lovemark received a sponsor exemption into this year’s AdventHealth Championship – the 10-year anniversary of his title – and made the cut, earning points for the reshuffle and setting up his summer. He finished 10th at the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank in early August to move inside the top 156 on the Points List – earning a spot in the first Finals event, the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Chevron, where he carded a final-round 64 to finish T35 and solidify his spot in this week’s field.
The wily veteran has maximized this year’s reimagined Finals format and is grateful to be in this position, during a roller-coaster career that included 2010 Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year honors, shortly after finishing runner-up at the 2009 Fortinet Championship as a newly minted pro. He has been derailed by injuries at times: he cracked a rib in college, underwent back surgery in 2011, and has suffered a torn labrum and fractured tailbone.
Now as he faces a Last Chance U of sorts in College Grove, he has carded rounds of 68-69-67 at the Simmons Bank Open and earned a fighting chance Sunday to keep his season alive.
Five players share 54-hole lead at the Simmons Bank Open
What’s the significance of Sunday’s opportunity in Music City?
“It means a lot,” he said. “I’m in contention to win a golf tournament, (Finals) event on a great golf course … I feel like we feel like that (playing for your job) every time we tee it up. In my case specifically, I definitely am, but when you tee off you don’t think about that. Obviously I’ll think about it tonight and tomorrow morning, but when the gun goes off tomorrow morning, it will just be one shot at a time, all that stuff.
“Halfway through this year, calendar year, I would give anything to have a chance to move up to the next (Finals) event next week. Obviously have a chance to do a lot more than that, so I’m grateful for the opportunity. I’m thankful for just the chance to compete on a Sunday and give myself a chance to win.”
Lovemark is part of a five-way tie at 12 under that includes Carter Jenkins, Pontus Nyholm, T.J. Vogel and Max Greyserman. Here’s a capsule look at Lovemark’s fellow co-leaders into Sunday at the Simmons Bank Open.
Max Greyserman (No. 10 on Points List): The Duke alum entered the week on the verge of clinching his first TOUR card via the top 30 on the season-long standings, with nine top-25 finishes this season including two runners-up. With a third-round, 5-under 67 in Music City, he’s tracking toward doing just that. Greyserman, 28, has drawn inspiration from his parents Alex and Elaine, who came to the United States from what is now Kiev, Ukraine, as teenagers, chasing the proverbial American dream. Greyserman is now on the verge of reaching his professional golf dream, as well.
Carter Jenkins (No. 46 on Points List): The University of North Carolina alum has traveled a winding road in professional golf, spending ample time on PGA TOUR Canada before earning guaranteed Korn Ferry Tour starts for 2023 via Q-School last fall. He arrived in Music City with 14 made cuts in 19 starts this season, including eight top-25s, and he has comfortably cemented full Korn Ferry Tour status for next season. Now it’s about chasing his first TOUR card – a win Sunday would project him to No. 8 on the Points List. “Everybody out here is trying to earn their PGA TOUR card … personally for me thinking about it, worrying about it and agonizing over it, looking at points projections and things doesn’t work,” Jenkins said. “We’re going to go through our processes and our routines and we’re going to see what the day holds.”
Pontus Nyholm (No. 79 on Points List): It has been a good time for Sweden golf, with Ludvig Aberg and Vincent Norrman winning in back-to-back weeks on the DP World Tour – and Aberg leading into Sunday at this week’s BMW PGA Championship. Nyholm is bidding to raise a trophy of his own, and a remarkable up-and-down birdie on the par-5 18th hole Saturday earned him a share of the 54-hole lead. Nyholm has yet to record a top-10 this season, his second full campaign on the Korn Ferry Tour, but he noted confidence in his game this week, implementing a more aggressive game plan than last year at The Grove. It’s working so far.
Pontus Nyholm’s interview after Round 3 of the Simmons Bank Open
T.J. Vogel (No. 115 on Points List): The Florida native drew inspiration from attending his beloved Miami Dolphins’ season opener last week, as the Dolphins notched a dramatic victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, and he has carried the momentum to Music City with rounds of 69-67-68 to earn a share of the 54-hole co-lead. Vogel, 32, hasn’t recorded a top-25 finish since the Astara Chile Classic in early April, and he arrived at The Grove needing a solid finish to assure a spot in next week’s 120-man Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. So far he’s rising to the occasion, and then some. A win would project him to No. 29 on the Points List as he eyes his first TOUR card.
The Korn Ferry Tour Finals features progressive field reductions after each event; the third Finals event, the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship, will have a 120-player field, filled directly off the season-long Points List.
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 144-player Simmons Bank Open extended to No. 159 Scott Stevens, as 15 eligible players elected not to compete).
Chris Naegel, who entered the week at No. 121 on the Points List, has embraced the bubble and then some. He carded a third-round, 6-under 66 at The Grove to move within one stroke of the lead into the final round, continuing a torrid stretch that began when he Monday qualified into last month’s Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna. He has recorded three straight top-20 finishes into this week, and the 40-year-old has positioned himself to author a special Sunday.
Naegel’s eldest of three sons, 9-year-old Graham, is set to compete in a triathlon on Sunday. Naegel conferred with his son earlier this week on strategy to optimize performance, and now Dad is ready to run his own race, looking to cement a spot in the third Finals event – and perhaps even more.
Here's a look at players outside the top 120 who advanced to the weekend at the Simmons Bank Open, with an eye on punching their ticket to the third leg of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals:
No. 121 Chris Naegel: T6, projected No. 91 on Points List
No. 125 Vince India: T17, projected No. 114
No. 126 A.J. Crouch: T29, projected No. 122
No. 128 Yuto Katsuragawa: T46, projected No. 128
No. 130 Jamie Lovemark: T1, projected No. 38
No. 135 Spencer Ralston: T9, projected No. 113
No. 136 Ashton Van Horne: T52, projected No. 134
No. 137 Cooper Musselman: T52, projected No. 136
No. 141 Rob Oppenheim: 68th, projected No. 140
No. 149 Spencer Cross: T40, projected No. 143
No. 153 Alex Weiss: T46, projected No. 151
No. 154 Yuxin Lin: T58, projected No. 152
No. 159 Scott Stevens: T17, projected No. 138
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.