Five Korn Ferry Tour players to watch at the U.S. Open
September 14, 2020
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- Will Zalatoris has yet to miss a cut on the Korn Ferry Tour in 16 starts. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
With the absence of sectional qualifying due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the USGA awarded exemptions into this week’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot based on a variety of criteria across the worldwide golf landscape.
Categories 19 and 20 proved of particular interest to this year’s Korn Ferry Tour membership, chasing PGA TOUR cards via a one-time, 2020-21 combined Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season, in accordance with the 2020 schedule reduction due to the pandemic hiatus.
Category 19 – From the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List, the top-five Points leaders, not otherwise exempt.
Category 20 – From a select 2020 Korn Ferry Tour three-event series (Albertsons Boise Open, Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, Korn Ferry Tour Championship), the top five Points leaders, not otherwise exempt.
Without the opportunity for Korn Ferry Tour pros to become PGA TOUR members this fall, the U.S. Open provides an early stage for rising stars to test their game against the best – and for fans to catch a glimpse of the next wave on a premier stage.
Here’s a capsule look at five players who gained U.S. Open entry via Korn Ferry Tour merit and could be positioned to make waves in Mamaroneck.
Will Zalatoris (Category 19, No. 1)
Prior to 2020, the all-time record for consecutive Korn Ferry Tour top-20 finishes was nine.
With a runner-up at last week’s Evans Scholars Invitational – punctuated with a final-round 64 – Zalatoris carries a streak of 11 consecutive top-20s into his second U.S. Open appearance (2018, Shinnecock Hills).
The 24-year-old spent time in the San Francisco Bay Area as a youth before moving to Dallas later in childhood, and was battle-tested against the likes of Jordan Spieth and Scottie Scheffler in regional junior tournaments. Zalatoris’ progression stalled for a time through a high-school growth spurt, but the talent was always apparent. He played collegiate golf at Wake Forest on the Arnold Palmer Scholarship, and in 2019, he converted zero status to full Korn Ferry Tour membership while balancing Monday qualifiers with completion of online classes toward his psychology degree.
Through the past two Korn Ferry Tour seasons, Zalatoris has demonstrated ball-striking acumen of the highest level. In 2019, he ranked No. 2 on Tour in total driving and No. 3 in greens in regulation (75.53 percent). This season, sixth in total driving, he leads the greens in regulation statistic at an 81.13 percent clip – nearly four percentage points ahead of Brandon Wu.
Zalatoris is 16-for-16 in Korn Ferry Tour made cuts this season, with 14 top-25s.
The expression ‘good breeds good’ rings true when considering that Zalatoris (No. 1 on the Points List) lives in Dallas with longtime friend Davis Riley (No. 2 on the Points List). They’ve pushed each other throughout life (Zalatoris defeated Riley in the 2014 U.S. Junior championship match), and will continue to do so as they ready to compete at Winged Foot this week.
Davis Riley (Category 19, No. 2)
The University of Alabama alum is the only two-time winner so far on the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour (Panama Championship; TPC San Antonio Championship at the Oaks), and breaks for Winged Foot at No. 2 on the 2020-21 Regular Season Points List, behind only roommate Zalatoris.
The soft-spoken Riley possesses a smooth swing that insiders say is well-built for a long, fruitful career, and his statistics demonstrate a well-rounded game – he ranks top-30 on Tour in total driving, greens in regulation and putting average.
The 23-year-old native of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, turned professional in early 2019 and mirrored Zalatoris’ path of turning no status into Korn Ferry Tour membership via success in limited starts, and although he fell just short of gaining TOUR membership via the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Finals, he retooled his game last fall and emerged in 2020 ready to chase a Three-Victory Promotion to the TOUR.
“He’s someone that you watch hit balls … that’s a different sound than everybody makes,” said fellow Alabama alum Justin Thomas of Riley. “It’s a different ball flight than everybody makes.”
When unplugging from the game, Riley enjoys hunting with his dad, and he describes owning “a big ol’ cabin somewhere, with a bunch of land where I could do whatever I wanted” as a long-term life goal.
With nine top-25s this season including two wins, Riley’s game is moving in that direction as he eyes his first PGA TOUR card. This week marks his second U.S. Open appearance (he sectional-qualified into the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay), and there could be plenty more to come.
Taylor Pendrith (Category 19, No. 4)
The long-hitting Canadian announced himself at the TOUR level with an opening-round 65 at the 2014 RBC Canadian Open, after graduating from Kent State that spring. The past six years have seen ups and downs, with injuries to his palm and shoulder stalling his career trajectory at times, but Pendrith has found his best form this summer as he heads to Winged Foot.
Although the 29-year-old has yet to win on the Korn Ferry Tour, he has done everything but – including a torrid summer stretch of T3-2-T2-T2. Pendrith ranks sixth on Tour in driving distance (323 yards) as well as third in birdie average, and will aim to strategically use length to his advantage this week.
The Toronto-area native didn’t even start in golf until his early teenage years – focusing on baseball and hockey as a youth – but first picked up a club due to his sister Jennifer’s career as a golf course superintendent. (Ironically, Jennifer rarely plays golf.) Pendrith’s natural athleticism proved useful early, and he has been a long hitter at every level.
Pendith met his fiancée Meg Beirnes through Kent State teammate Corey Conners and Conners’ wife Malory. Beirnes works as a registered nurse at the Hamilton (Ontario) General Hospital, and due to COVID-19 regulations, Pendrith and Beirnes haven’t seen each other in a few months.
Although Beirnes can’t attend the U.S. Open, Pendrith will feel the support from afar, as he aims to showcase his ascending game on a premier stage, while chasing his first TOUR card via the 2020-21 combined season.
Brandon Wu (Category 20, No. 1)
The 23-year-old arrives at Winged Foot for his hometown U.S. Open, having grown up five minutes away in nearby Scarsdale, New York – “I might have to drive, but could bike.”
The Stanford alum won last month’s Korn Ferry Tour Championship, the culmination of a whirlwind six-week stretch that saw him convert conditional status into a top-10 position on the Korn Ferry Tour Points List. After finishing well outside the top-40 at Final Stage of Q-School last fall, Wu played the Monday qualifier circuit this summer before gaining entry into the Price Cutter Charity Championship on his number. In his first start, he finished ninth to bolster his position in the reshuffle, also adding a runner-up in Boise before his Tour Championship triumph.
Wu ranks second on the Korn Ferry Tour in greens in regulation (77.27 percent) behind only Zalatoris, and will compete this week with familiarity on the stage – he finished T35 as an amateur at last year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, memorably receiving his Stanford diploma (product design) on the 18th green.
A well-rounded athlete, Wu was a standout swimmer in high school and has also played recreational hockey, sharing a love for the ice with former Stanford teammate Maverick McNealy.
Autumn golf in the New York metroplex brings a unique vibe, and although Wu is not intimately familiar with Winged Foot itself, he should find a hometown comfort zone as the leaves begin to turn.
“U.S. Open was definitely on my mind,” said Wu after his Tour Championship victory. “Just trying to run through the scenarios of how many Points I would need and whatnot.”
He made it happen.
Greyson Sigg (Category 20, No. 4)
The University of Georgia alum spent three seasons on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada upon turning pro, steadily progressing each year – No. 20 on the Order of Merit in 2017, No. 18 in 2018, No. 9 in 2019.
The Korn Ferry Tour rookie has quickly garnered a reputation as one of the most consistent players in all facets of the game, ranking top-30 on Tour in driving accuracy, greens in regulation and putting average, and he has made 16 cuts in 18 Korn Ferry Tour starts this season, with 12 top-25 finishes.
The Augusta native cemented his spot at Winged Foot via a runner-up finish at last month’s Korn Ferry Tour Championship, contested at Victoria National GC, a demanding setup that often draws comparison to a major-championship test.
Sigg led into the back nine Sunday at Victoria National, but fell one short of Wu, in part due to a double bogey at the par-4 14th hole. Despite the narrow defeat – just burning the edge with a 12-foot birdie try on the 72nd hole that would have forced a playoff – Sigg’s upbeat demeanor endured as he signed his card and packed his car for a flight less than an hour later, smiling as he gave closing remarks to the media.
The 25-year-old carded a 59 on the Mackenzie Tour last summer, and he broke 60 in a casual round with friends less than two months later. Those scores might not be available at Winged Foot, but he’ll arrive with confidence that he can attain a spot on the leaderboard.
Also earning U.S. Open berths via the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour: Lee Hodges, Paul Barjon, Stephan Jaeger, Curtis Luck, Dan McCarthy