KORN FERRY TOUR INSIDER
Korn Ferry Tour turns 30, stays true to origins as PGA TOUR proving ground
February 02, 2020
By Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- Deane Beman and Ben Hogan introduce the Ben Hogan Tour at an October 1989 press conference in Fort Worth. (PGA TOUR archival photo)
Tiger Woods has never teed it up on the Korn Ferry Tour.
As an 82-time PGA TOUR winner and Life Member, he never will.
But over the course of his 24-year TOUR career, Woods has played alongside countless young pros who honed their games on the Korn Ferry Tour, learning to balance all aspects of professional golf – on and off the course – as they jockeyed for the right to compete at the game’s highest level.
Prior to THE PLAYERS Championship in 2018, Woods was asked about the Korn Ferry Tour alumni with whom he has been paired with over the years, and any notable patterns that might stand out.
The Stanford alum nodded, smiled and provided a thoughtful pause before delivering his response.
“There’s a big difference from guys who would come out of college and go to Q-School and make it and get their card, go through either three stages or sometimes two … that’s a different challenge than it is actually going through a whole year and a whole season,” Woods said. “I think that going through a whole season hardens the guys and teaches them the whole lifestyle of traveling, which is so different than college, and doing it for a year-long period.
“I think it teaches the guys how to be more aggressive, and when they come out here and they have to play our TOUR, all of a sudden they’re ready to make birdies. They’re ready to play aggressively, and take on flags, and take on the challenges. It sets them up for, I think, a higher success rate than it is just going through Q-School and getting out here on TOUR.”
Thirty years ago this week, the Korn Ferry Tour – then known as the Ben Hogan Tour – held its first event, the 1990 Bakersfield Open.
After two previous attempts at creating a developmental circuit for golf’s next rising stars, the Hogan Tour was devised as a 30-event series, with one season-long umbrella sponsor, where the highest-performing players would earn a PGA TOUR card at season’s end.
As longtime TOUR staffer Marty Caffey remembers of that week in Bakersfield, “I don’t know what we all expected, but we showed up, and we had a winner on Sunday.”
Since that week, the Tour – which has progressed through iterations as the Nike Tour, BUY.com Tour, Nationwide Tour, Web.com Tour and now Korn Ferry Tour – has not only produced hundreds of winners, but 545 alumni wins on the PGA TOUR.
Deane Beman, PGA TOUR Commissioner from 1974 to 1994, oversaw the creation of the Hogan Tour, with a steadfast belief in cultivating a breeding ground for the game’s next generation of rising stars. He knew that under the right circumstances, the Tour could take long-term hold in the professional golf landscape as a place for promising pros to learn and grow in various facets, entertaining and connecting with fans while chasing their TOUR dreams.
“The event that is about to unfold in front of you is part of history,” Beman said at the Hogan Tour’s opening ceremony in Bakersfield. “All of us here today and this week are part of the history of golf. This is not just a new Tour that will be here a while. We’re committed that this Tour is going to be here forever.”
Considering the Tour’s role in developing the next generation of TOUR pros, 30 years running, instinct might be to take its presence for granted.
History indicates this is not the case, as prior to the formation of the Hogan Tour, the path to the PGA TOUR was not nearly as definitive.
As the modern era of professional golf dawned, the game lacked a direct path to the PGA TOUR. Players who successfully navigate Q-School merely earned the right to compete in Monday qualifying; qualifiers who made the cut would advance to the next week’s event, and top-25 finishers earned the right to compete in that same event the following year.
Players needed to finish in the top-60 on the money list in order to maintain exempt status for the following year; otherwise, a return to Q-School was in order, and the cycle repeated.
Spearheaded by Beman and players like Gary McCord, the All-Exempt TOUR was instituted for the 1983 season. The top-125 money winners would retain fully exempt TOUR status – a practice that continues to this day – and the top-50 finishers at the autumn Qualifying Tournament would earn the next spots in the newly instituted Priority Ranking that would be used to determine player access to tournament fields. For the first time, players from Q-School would be reasonably assured of tournament entry without reliance on Monday qualifying.
“A landmark departure from long established policy,” wrote the New York Times’ John Radosta in a January 3, 1983 article.
In conjunction with the creation of the All-Exempt TOUR, the PGA TOUR introduced the Tournament Players Series, a 10-event circuit with fields comprised of conditional TOUR members who finished outside the top-50 at Q-School, PGA of America members, and players aged 40-49 who had previously held TOUR membership.
The Tournament Players Series held roots in the previous decade’s less formalized ‘Second Tour’ events – where players who failed to gain entry into the prior week’s TOUR event via Monday qualifying could compete in a tournament near the following week’s TOUR stop – and was intended to develop the game’s next generation while also providing playing opportunities for PGA members and longtime pros honing their game for the now-PGA TOUR Champions.
A variety of problems held back the TPS, which never fully took hold in the game’s landscape and was phased out after three seasons.
Beman, whose competitive career progressed from Monday qualifier to four-time TOUR winner, refused to abandon the idea of a comprehensive developmental circuit.
Without the ability to set a schedule, players had to make difficult choices regarding where they would pursue their professional dreams. Some went to Canada. Some played state opens and various mini-tour events in the southwest and southeast. A few went to South America.
Several went to Asia.
“There was a (recruiter) who went to Q-School – 1-50 got TOUR cards, and he started at 51,” Caffey recalls. “’If you want to play the Asian Tour,’ he’d say, ‘Here’s what you need to do. January 20, there’s a flight from Los Angeles to Malaysia, and you need to be on that. The bus will pick you up, and you’re playing 10 or 11 in a row.’”
Informed by the sponsorship shortcomings of TPS, Beman felt that for a developmental circuit to stand the test of time, it would likely need to be backed by a season-long umbrella sponsor, so that the responsibility of prize money wouldn’t fall on local communities.
At an August 1988 meeting, the TOUR Policy Board approved the concept of a new Tour to launch in 1990 – with the caveat that a corporate umbrella sponsor must be secured.
The Hogan Company became that sponsor. In December 1988, Beman agreed to a handshake deal with Cosmo Worldwide CEO Minoru Isutani (who had purchased the Hogan Golf Co. that year), and shortly thereafter traveled to Fort Worth to inform Ben Hogan and receive the all-time great’s blessing.
On January 4, 1989, the PGA TOUR and Ben Hogan Co. publicly announced the formation of the Ben Hogan Tour, a 30-event series with standardized $100,000 purses (one tournament was played for $150,000).
"We're committed that this Tour is going to be here forever."— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) February 2, 2020
Thirty years ago today, #KornFerryTour competition got underway. 🎂
A vision, shared by Deane Beman and Ben Hogan, that has stood the test of time.#LiveUnderPar pic.twitter.com/yoOPOxDQJU
From there, the race was on to create that 30-event schedule, assemble a staff, fine-tune tournament regulations and eligibility, and ensure that aspiring TOUR pros would have a developmental circuit awaiting them in a year’s time.
Kathy Mobley, now the Korn Ferry Tour’s Senior Manager of Membership Services, had been working on the TOUR’s Competitions team and was assigned to the Hogan Tour in 1989.
Mobley remembers her job consisting of “doing anything that needed done; administrative for those who went out and set up these tournaments,” as TOUR officials traveled across the United States to meet with local PGA of America sections that partnered in setting up the inaugural Hogan Tour events.
Midway through 1989, Caffey was asked about the prospect of becoming a Hogan Tour media official, and he embraced the opportunity, splitting the 1990 season with Bill Oakley.
Rules and operations officials were added to the team, planting the first seeds for the beloved operations called "The Truck" that travels the Tour week-to-week.
The TOUR’s Steve Rankin led assembly of the Hogan Tour team, with Jay Edgar named Executive Director.
Through the Hogan Tour’s developmental process, it was determined that the top-five money winners would receive PGA TOUR cards for the following season. Not only would the Tour develop the next generation of stars, it would provide direct access to the highest level.
“We went to the Player Advisory Council and asked them what it would take for players of the Hogan Tour to earn their way to the regular TOUR,” said Edgar in a 1990 Los Angeles Times article, written two days after the inaugural Bakersfield Open had concluded.
“They said, ‘We feel like after a player plays in 30 events and he has risen to the top of the money list, he’s proven that he can play this TOUR.’”
With the PAC’s blessing, the precedent was set, and players had a clear incentive to focus on the Hogan Tour in their quest for a TOUR card. Players who fell outside the threshold at the PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament (then top-45 and ties) would receive Hogan Tour status, and a one-time Hogan Tour Qualifying Tournament – won by John Daly – was held in January 1990.
Jeff Maggert turned professional in 1986 and began his career overseas, playing mostly in Asia and Australia – including a victory at the 1989 Malaysian Open – before the introduction of the Hogan Tour.
The Missouri native knew that the Hogan Tour might not necessarily maximize his income, but that it provided the most direct route to his ultimate golf dream if he were to play well.
Maggert gambled on himself, and it paid off.
“It was such a new thing,” said Maggert, who finished No. 1 on the 1990 Hogan Tour money list in a season that included two victories and 17 top-25s in 22 starts. “Nobody really knew if it was going to be long-term, or if it was kind of a flash in the pan. I was a little bit unsure of the longevity of what was going to happen.
“But I just felt if I had a chance to perform all year long and get rewarded based on a year-long body of work, then I would have a good opportunity to get my TOUR card.”Nobody really knew if it was going to be long-term, or if it was kind of a flash in the pan.
At the 1990 Bakersfield Open, bagpipers performed at the opening ceremonies in a nod to golf’s Scottish origins. Beman spoke of the Tour’s mission in identifying and preparing the next generation of TOUR pros, and went on to hit the Tour’s ceremonial opening tee shot.
Throughout the week, pros spoke of the Tour’s potential value in bridging the gap between collegiate and amateur golf and the game’s grandest stage.
“It’s always difficult to have to adjust to other countries, and now you don’t have to,” said David Toms, who went on to win 13 TOUR titles. “With the Ben Hogan Tour, you can stay here and play in the States, where I’ve grown up playing golf all my life, and where I’m accustomed to playing. I think it will work out well.
“The travel is a lot easier, plus you’re accustomed to the climates here, the golf courses here and everything like that. I think it will work out a lot better for me than having to go overseas to play.”
“I think this is something they’ve needed for a while,” added Brandel Chamblee. “They’ve had a problem figuring out how to do it; a year-long qualifying for the PGA TOUR is ideal, and finally they have something like that.
“We’re going to take golf to places that they haven’t really had golf tournaments in the past, especially of this caliber. That’s going to be exciting for those cities, and it will be exciting for the young guys out here, out of college, who haven’t really played professional golf. So I think this is a promising Tour.
“You don’t have to go to Asia, if you miss your PGA TOUR card. You can stay here. You don’t have to go to Japan, you don’t have to go to France, you don’t have to go to Europe. These will be highly competitive golf tournaments with enough money to get your attention.”
Caffey, who now works as the Korn Ferry Tour’s Senior Director of Player Relations, spent the Tour’s inaugural 1990 season as a media official. He fondly recalls the post-tournament process of procuring tournament footage from local news stations and hurrying to the airport to send the tape back to PGA TOUR Productions (now PGA TOUR Entertainment), often with the assistance of the Delta Dash package express service.
Caffey was in his mid-20s at the time and remembers pairs of players traveling together – the Jeff Cook-Rick Dalpos duo comes to mind – playing practice rounds together and enjoying the full experiences of exploring small cities such as Yuma, Arizona; Panama City Beach, Florida; and Elizabethtown; Kentucky, while chasing the PGA TOUR dream.
Back in that first season, Hogan Tour events consisted of 54 holes, Friday-Sunday, and Tuesday afternoons took on a weekend vibe as a result.
“Guys would take off Sunday night driving, get in Monday, and Tuesday was a practice round,” Caffey recalls. “Tuesday afternoon was like Saturday afternoon, and I can vividly remember in New Haven, Connecticut that we took over this Comfort Inn, filled up tubs with ice and threw beer in it.
“Everybody opened up the trunk of their car, playing music and throwing the football around … fun times. It was like a college afternoon in the fall.”
“We were real close,” adds Mike Springer, who won the Tour-opening Bakersfield Open with a 7-under total, two shots clear of Dave Tentis. “We barbecued at night … played cards, watched movies, ate dinners and all that stuff. Half of us were married out there, and we did stuff all together.
“The Tour was organized enough for us to do stuff together … it wasn’t like everybody was out to eat everybody. There was a sense of closeness, and the game used to be that way.”
Tentis, who now works as a head golf professional in the Minneapolis metroplex, Monday qualified into the previous week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open and played the weekend before heading to Bakersfield.
Tentis had spent some time playing in Asia and remembers being grateful for the opportunity to stay in the United States and hone his craft. He recalls being motivated by the chance to meet Ben Hogan if he played well, but Hogan was unfortunately unable to attend the inaugural event due to a family illness.
Springer, who won in Bakersfield with a club caddie, got married in 1989 and was pleased at the prospect of not having to play overseas.
“That was the coolest thing of all,” remembers Springer. “I talked to my wife and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you caddie for me?’ so we packed everything up in a van and took off. We were gone all year.
“At that time, there was no real way to earn a spot on the PGA TOUR. The Hogan Tour was the beginning of it.”
Springer won two more times that season, including the season-ending El Paso Open to finish No. 4 on the money list and earn his first TOUR card – Springer and Maggert were joined by Jim McGovern, Dick Mast and Ed Humenik in the top-five.
Since 1990, the Tour has only increased its influence on the next season’s PGA TOUR membership. The number of TOUR cards available via the now-Korn Ferry Tour has steadily increased, moving from five to 10 in 1992; from 10 to 15 in 1997; from 15 to 20 in 2003; 21 in 2005; 22 in 2006; and 25 from 2007 onward.
With each increase in TOUR cards available via the Korn Ferry Tour, the number of cards available via the PGA TOUR Qualifying Tournament was reduced in corresponding fashion.
Beginning in 2013, the Korn Ferry Tour’s distinction as the path to the PGA TOUR was cemented with Q-School no longer providing access to the PGA TOUR. Instead, the fall Qualifying Tournament would provide access solely to the Korn Ferry Tour, with the now-three-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals providing the additional 25 TOUR cards, ultimately comprising The 50.
As Woods alluded to when asked about the Korn Ferry Tour and its influence, the Tour continues to prepare its graduates to compete early and often on the game’s biggest stage.
The level of competition increases each year – “iron sharpens iron,” reflects Caffey – and recent graduates like Keith Mitchell, Adam Long and J.T. Poston, who never won on the Korn Ferry Tour but since went on to find the TOUR winner’s circle, are some of the latest examples.
“The line between the (Korn Ferry) Tour and PGA TOUR is so thin, I don’t even know if you can see it,” said Mitchell after winning the 2019 Honda Classic, outlasting the likes of Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka down the stretch.
“I never won on the (Korn Ferry) Tour, and I’ve won on the PGA TOUR. So it shows you how good those guys are … and the number of guys that come off that Tour and eventually win the first year, eventually win the second year, is a true testament to that Tour.”
Three years after earning his first PGA TOUR card via the Korn Ferry Tour, Justin Thomas won the 2017 FedExCup. The 26-year-old has already won 12 TOUR titles, holds the No. 4 spot on the Official World Golf Ranking, and is positioned for decades of success on TOUR.
After playing two seasons for the University of Alabama, the Korn Ferry Tour served as a bridge for Thomas as he honed his game for the TOUR level. Five years after his lone Korn Ferry Tour season, he looked back with fond memories.
“It’s like high school and college,” remembers Thomas. “You go through together and guys will bring someone up, ‘Yeah, I went through the (Korn Ferry) Tour with them, and stuff like that. It’s a cool little brotherhood.
“I learned a lot about myself, about scheduling, about traveling, managing my time, playing pro-ams, this and that. It was my first year as a pro. That was a very important year in terms of developing, becoming a professional and understanding everything. It was a lot of fun.”
Looking back on his Hogan Tour experience nearly 25 years earlier – playing 26 events as a first-year pro in 1990, finishing No. 49 on the money list – Toms describes a similar impact.
“I was very thankful it was around,” Toms said. “Instead of having to chase mini-tours in Florida or play in Asia or Australia or South Africa, you had a good, organized Tour to play on in the U.S., and you had an opportunity to get to the PGA TOUR that way.
“Every week was a new adventure. You learn about yourself, about travel, how to take care of things, and how to play golf on a professional level on a weekly basis. It prepared me for, once I got on the PGA TOUR, to know what to expect and how to manage your life. It was just a fun time.”
On October 9, 1989, Beman and Hogan conducted a joint press conference to announce the completion of the inaugural 1990 Hogan Tour schedule.
Hogan compared the Tour’s rigors to a collegiate master’s degree program, spoke to the camaraderie in store for the young pros, and joked that he’d like to be reborn so that he could commence his career on the Hogan Tour himself.
As media members departed, Beman looked over to Hogan and delivered a confident, concise prediction.
“The Ben Hogan Tour is going to work,” Beman said. “You’re going to be proud of it.”
A sentiment that rings true across the golf community, 30 years later.
Ben Hogan went more than a decade as a pro before recording his first individual TOUR victory.— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) February 2, 2020
"I'd like to be reborn, so I could start on that Tour myself." 😂 pic.twitter.com/Da51gHAh3j
--Adam Stanley contributed reporting.
--Special thanks to Adam Schupak's book 'Golf's Driving Force' for historical background.