Players to Watch: Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament (Final Stage)
November 03, 2021
By Nick Parker, PGATOUR.COM
- November 03, 2021
- Vanderbilt alum John Augenstein will aim to secure guaranteed Korn Ferry Tour starts via Final Stage at The Landings Club. (Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
It’s considered one of the most grueling events in golf, the kind that makes some players’ palms sweat just at the mention. It’s the type of week that veterans reference when asked questions like, ‘What’s the most nervous you’ve ever been on the golf course?’
In essence, it’s a four-day cut where 40 players and ties secure guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour, and the rest go home with the uncertainty of not knowing what events they’ll get into to start the season. Some embrace the pressure, while some wilt under it.
It’s Final Stage of Q-School, and each player’s journey to Savannah, Georgia is different. Some players have worked their way here through birdies, advancing through their pre-qualifying, First and Second Stage sites to earn their spot in the field. Some were exempt through their finish on the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour Points List (Nos. 76-85), 2021 Forme Tour standing, showing in the 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Finals, or various other categories. Others are fresh out of college and qualified for Final Stage via the PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global Ranking.
With the field running the gamut from five-time PGA TOUR winners like Jonathan Byrd to 19-year-old teenage phenoms trying to earn their way as a professional like Akshay Bhatia, here are 10 players to watch this week at The Landings Club’s Marshwood and Magnolia Courses, November 4-7 as players battle for guaranteed starts on the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour.
Regardless of what happens on the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour, John Augenstein may have a spot in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals nearly secure before the season even kicks off. That’s because the 24-year-old posted a T6 at the PGA TOUR’s season-opening Fortinet Championship in September, earning him 86 non-member FedExCup points. Augenstein, the 2020 SEC Player of the Year at Vanderbilt, finished runner-up at the 2019 U.S. Amateur and made the cut at the 2020 Masters Tournament (T55). He turned pro in January and has made three cuts in 10 starts on TOUR since turning pro. Augenstein has just one career Korn Ferry Tour start but advanced to Final Stage via a T7 at his Second Stage site.
Despite being just 19 years old, Bhatia already has 18 PGA TOUR starts including a career-best T9 at the 2020 Fortinet Championship. Bhatia played his way into the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour Finals via non-member FedExCup points. He made one of three cuts and failed to earn one of the 25 TOUR cards but did earn his way into Final Stage via his Korn Ferry Tour Finals standing. He also qualified for the 2021 U.S. Open and made the cut with a T57. He has also won three mini-tour events in the last 18 months. Before turning pro in September 2019 at age 17, Bhatia, a Wake Forest, North Carolina native, won the 2019 Jones Cup and was the No. 1-ranked junior in the country. He also was the first high-schooler ever to become a member of the winning United States Walker Cup team in 2019.
Dickson nearly didn’t have to go to Final Stage and will have solid conditional status either way after finishing 77th on the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour Points List, but the 29-year-old is back at Final Stage, hoping to secure guaranteed starts to open the year and pick up where he left off a couple months ago. The Winthrop grad described himself as a “fish out of water” in his first year on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 but he got hot late in the year with three top-six finishes in eight starts, including two T3s, from late May to late July. Unfortunately, the season ended a little too soon as 13 cuts in first 21 sunk his standings and kept him from making a start from late September through early May. Dickson, who is one of Harold Varner’s best friends from childhood in Gastonia, North Carolina, found comfort on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2021 and thinks he’s ready to make a charge at a PGA TOUR card in 2022. That run starts this week in Savannah.
Both Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff rave about his ball-striking, and it seems like only a matter of time before Austin Eckroat is a PGA TOUR regular. After earning his Korn Ferry Tour card by finishing third on the Class of 2021 PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global Ranking, Eckroat made three starts on the Korn Ferry Tour with three made cuts including a solo seventh at the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation. The Oklahoma State grad has already shown his game travels to the highest level, too, with three top-25s in nine starts on TOUR, including a T22 at last week’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship.
Kuest earned his spot in Final Stage the old-fashioned way, cruising through the first two stages of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament via a third and T2 at his First and Second Stage sites, respectively. The 23-year-old Kuest had arguably the greatest career in BYU history (sorry, Zac Blair and Patrick Fishburn) before graduating in 2020 with 10 career wins and the best single-season scoring average in program history. Kuest is yet to make a Korn Ferry Tour start but is hoping to lock up guaranteed starts this week. If the first two stages are any indication, he’ll be one to watch on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022.
The 2019 U.S. Amateur champion turned pro last December after graduating from Georgia Tech, but his pro career got off to a slow start after he had to have hip surgery this spring, which sidelined him for five months. Ogletree, who was low amateur at the 2020 Masters Tournament with a T34, returned to action in September and worked his way to Final Stage after finishing runner-up at Second Stage. The 23-year-old Mississippi native has made seven of 10 cuts on the PGA TOUR but is yet to make a start on the Korn Ferry Tour. That could be set to change after Final Stage.
Pak earned an exemption into Final Stage after finishing No. 1 on the PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global Ranking for the 2021 class. In his last season at Florida State, the 22-year-old swept all three Player of the Year awards, winning the Jack Nicklaus Award, Fred Haskins Award and Ben Hogan Award as a senior. He ended his Seminole career with eight wins, the lowest career scoring average in program history and the most all-time top-10s. At a program that calls Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger alums, this kid has serious game. He was also low amateur at the 2020 U.S. Open (T51). Pak has eight career starts on the PGA TOUR but is yet to make a start on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Phillips finished 164th on the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour Points List with one top-10 and seven made cuts in 15 starts, but the 24-year-old seems primed for a Korn Ferry Tour breakout in the year ahead. Not only did Phillips finish third at his First Stage site, but he earned medalist honors at his Dothan, Alabama site by one shot over Andy Ogletree with a 17-under four-day total. Phillips earned All-American honors each of his last three years at Texas A&M, leaving with program records for wins (7), lowest 18-hole and 54-hole score and lowest season stroke average. Considering the players that have come out of that program over the years, it only seems a matter of time until Phillips breaks out at the professional level, too.
Scrivener is currently No. 15 in the Race to Dubai standings and No. 141 on the Official World Golf Ranking, but the 32-year-old is at Final Stage this week, gunning for Korn Ferry Tour status. The Australian posted a top-25 at the PGA Championship in May and has 23 top-10s in 168 career starts on the European Tour. He has enjoyed a career year in 2021 with four top-10s including a runner-up at the 2021 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. Scrivener finished eighth at Second Stage to advance to Final Stage.
Davis Thompson appears to be the next in a long line of stars from the University of Georgia. Thompson earned an exemption into Final Stage after finishing second in the Class of 2021 PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global Ranking. Thompson, the 2021 SEC Player of the Year and a First-Team All-American, ascended as high as No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking before turning pro after graduating in May. As an amateur, Thompson blitzed the field at the 2020 Jones Cup, winning by nine shots with a tournament record 13-under-par in an event that calls Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed past winners. The Sea Island, Georgia resident had the early lead at the 2020 U.S. Open at 4-under through 12 holes and has already made six of 11 cuts on TOUR. He also made the cut in his lone Korn Ferry Tour start in July.