PGA TOUR University alum Jonathan Brightwell scrambles to first-round lead at Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament’s Final Stage
November 04, 2021
By Zach Dirlam, PGATOUR.COM
- November 04, 2021
- Jonathan Brightwell fired a 64 on Thursday to lead. (Keyur Khamar/PGATOUR.COM)
SAVANNAH, Ga. – Jonathan Brightwell looked almost apologetic when his winding 30-foot birdie putt dropped at the par-4 18th. How could anyone blame him? The 23-year-old punched out of the trees and scrambled for pars the majority of his back nine. Brightwell found all the right gaps and birdied three of the final five holes for a bogey-free 7-under 64 on The Landings Club’s Marshwood Course, giving him a one-stroke lead at the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament’s Final Stage.
“I got away with some shots. I missed two or three tee balls in the woods,” Brightwell said. “I grew up playing courses where I was in the trees a lot. If you can find a gap, usually everyone is good enough to try to get near the green. I was fortunate enough to have some gaps. I was able to just get it up near the green, get it up and down, which was nice and kept the momentum going.”
While Brightwell birdied Nos. 2, 3, 5, 6, 14, 16, and 18, one of his momentum-extending saves came at the par-4 17th, where he “snap-hooked” his tee shot into the woods “and made a par somehow.”
Brightwell made his way to Final Stage via the Second Stage site in Albuquerque, New Mexico; he flirted with the cut line the first three rounds but closed with a 6-under 65 and finished T2. With a ticket to Final Stage secure, Brightwell made the nine-hour drive home to Edmond, Oklahoma.
Back in Edmond, Brightwell routinely plays friendly matches at Oak Tree Country Club with a contingent of professionals. The group includes 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Finals graduate Joshua Creel, former PGA TOUR member Michael Gellerman, and TOUR winners Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff.
“I learned if you’re not around guys who are better than you, or just as good… you’re not going to get better,” Brightwell. “We all just try to beat each other. It’s some really good golf.”
A University of North Carolina-Greensboro graduate who played his fifth and final collegiate season at University of Oklahoma, Brightwell was exempt into Second Stage by virtue of his top-15 finish in the inaugural PGA TOUR University class. (The top-five had Korn Ferry Tour status late in the 2020-21 season and were exempt to Final Stage, while Nos. 6-15 had Forme Tour status for the 2021 season and were exempt to Second Stage.) Brightwell logged two top-25s in eight Forme Tour starts across June, July, August, and September.
“It was awesome. I needed to learn how to make a cut,” Brightwell said. “I needed to learn what it was like to play for money.”
The mission of PGA TOUR University is to elevate the path to the PGA TOUR for college golf’s top seniors. It also incentivizes players to stay in school longer and continue to work toward a degree. In Brightwell’s case, it gave him a reason to use the extra season of eligibility granted to NCAA student-athletes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than turn professional after graduating from UNC-Greensboro, Brightwell transferred to Oklahoma for a fifth season and finished 10th in the PGA TOUR University Class of 2021.
“It’s a huge advantage. It changed my path,” Brightwell said. “I was just going to play four years (of college golf) and try to do Q-School, grind it out at First Stage, Second Stage, and then here. I wind up at Oklahoma, get into Second Stage, and now I’m here. I’m very fortunate.”
Brightwell leads Sam Stevens and Patrick Newcomb, who both posted 6-under 65s on Marshwood. Of the 23 lowest scores to par Thursday, only three came from The Landings Club’s Magnolia Course.
Second-round tee times will run from 8:45-10:57 a.m. ET off the first and 10th tees of both courses. PGA TOUR LIVE will have live streaming coverage for Sunday’s final round via the NBCA Sports App and GolfChannel.com.