KORN FERRY TOUR INSIDER
Year-in-review: 2020 Korn Ferry Tour
Korn Ferry Tour content managers recall memorable moments from wild, unprecedented 2020
December 31, 2020
By Mackenzie Perez and Kevin Prise, PGATOUR.COM
- December 31, 2020
- Wake Forest alum Will Zalatoris leads the Korn Ferry Tour Points List and has also secured PGA TOUR Special Temporary Membership. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Korn Ferry Tour content managers Mackenzie Perez and Kevin Prise reflect on an unprecedented 2020 Korn Ferry Tour campaign, the first portion of the 2020-21 combined season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic ...
By Mackenzie Perez
What feels like five years ago, I began my journey with the Korn Ferry Tour in January. To say this was the most interesting year of my life is an understatement. After graduating with my master’s degree and finishing up my University of Missouri golf career in 2019, hopes were high for what was to come in 2020.
I oddly stumbled upon this job on Twitter and within five minutes of applying, a text popped up on my phone from a New York number to set up a 20-minute phone call. That day I spoke to Korn Ferry Tour content manager Kevin Prise about the role for almost an hour, and within a month I was heading to my first Korn Ferry Tour tournament in Sarasota, Florida.
Little did I know, the LECOM Suncoast Classic would be my first and last tournament for the next five months. COVID-19 stay-at-home orders had begun along with the unknowing. In the meantime, our creativity was put to the test and the craziness of our content creation was brought to a whole new level. For instance, I put together an 11-minute video of Tom Whitney doing a step-by-step tutorial of how to build a bunkbed.
The day finally came with the news that I would be back on the road for the remainder of the summer with one catch, 14-day assignments every month for the rest of the season. I found myself going from bubble to bubble, coast-to-coast, where each tournament brought a unique storyline, a new experience, and of course, a COVID-19 test. This season provided many challenges, opportunities, and memories that will last a lifetime, and here are my three favorite moments from my year in review.
Abundance of storylines at Albertsons Boise Open
After a successful week in Portland, I made the six-hour drive to Boise, Idaho for the Albertsons Boise Open. I felt as if this tournament encapsulated what it truly means and requires to be a Digital Content Producer for the Korn Ferry Tour. It was my first week of doing paid content for a tournament sponsor, in this case Albertsons, along with covering the tournament.
Before the event started, Albertsons provided the team with a list of frontline workers in the Boise area who had made a positive impact on the community. This list of names was also featured on players’ caddie bibs to show their appreciation for the work they have been doing throughout the pandemic. These bibs were then presented to some of the frontline workers and a package was put together of players thanking the local frontline heroes along with images of the caddie bibs.
"We can't do it without them."— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) August 17, 2020
During @Boise_Open competition, each #KornFerryTour pro represented a local front-line worker.
Additionally, @Albertsons has donated $53 million in support of hunger relief throughout the coronavirus pandemic. pic.twitter.com/XA5MKOJyQw
Building on the focus of frontline workers, I thought it was extremely cool to have a one-on-one sit-down with Erik Barnes about his COVID-19 story. Barnes, who finished top-20, candidly discussed his experience as a grocery replenishment specialist at his local grocery store (Publix). Barnes would wake up at 4:00 a.m. to go to work in order to support his family and make the monthly mortgage payments on their new house. I think Barnes’ experience during the pandemic shows the kind of mentality it takes to make it out on the Korn Ferry Tour. The ultimate grind.
Father-of-two Erik Barnes (@EBarnesGolf10) worked as a Grocery Replenishment Specialist during the pandemic hiatus.— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) November 5, 2020
He would've lost his house otherwise.
Now the 33-year-old is making his @PGATOUR debut @HouOpenGolf as a Monday qualifier. pic.twitter.com/Msj6R4l1lv
This event was also one of my favorites because it allowed me an opportunity to have a sit-down with a fellow Mizzou Tiger, Hayden Buckley. Buckley and I both played for the Mizzou golf team from 2014-2018. From a guy who went from shooting high scores early in high school to earning a walk-on spot, Buckley eventually became the best player on the team. Talking with him about his 2020 season shows what the Korn Ferry Tour life is all about: reshuffles and capitalizing off a Monday qualifier to play out the rest of the season. It was a fun catch up with a fellow Tiger and one of the few Mizzou alums to make it this far in the journey to the PGA TOUR.
To wrap up the tournament, Stephan Jaeger earned his fifth win on the Korn Ferry Tour and is now just two victories shy of Jason Gore’s record. His fifth win at my fifth tournament, coincidence? I think not. All in all, this event provided my favorite challenges and opportunities that were presented this season, which kind of goes with the theme of 2020.
At the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank, local hero Daniel Summerhays announced it would be the last tournament of his professional career. Since 2007, Summerhays had been chasing the dream that all do on the Korn Ferry Tour, the hopes of making a living as a professional golfer.
Summerhays decided to hang up the sticks early to take a job as a physical education and business teacher at Davis High School in Utah. It’s not often the Korn Ferry Tour covers this type of announcement, especially since this is the Tour where dreams begin. We knew we had to do something special to congratulate Summerhays on his accomplishments as a young professional.
"Just full of gratitude." ❤️— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) June 26, 2020
This week's @UTChampionship marks Daniel Summerhays' 340th and final @PGATOUR-sanctioned professional start, at the course where he learned the game.
The father-of-four will retire to pursue a career as a high school teacher and coach. pic.twitter.com/F3FybbmxNY
While in the midst of working with his wife Emily on putting together a video of the family congratulating him on his retirement, Summerhays went on a tear in his final round. He carded 9-under 62 to force himself into a playoff with Kyle Jones and Paul Haley II. I remember my family watching Summerhays, full of nerves, as if their best friend was competing for the title.
Although he didn’t go home with the trophy, I will forever be grateful to have collaborated with his wife Emily in presenting Summerhays with hopefully an even better gift, the heartwarming video of congratulations from his family. Not only did each of their four kids congratulate their dad but also shared a heartwarming memory. The cherry on top was capturing his reaction to watching the video for the very first time, with the help of on-site media official Sean Wildhack.
Entering his final round as a professional golfer, Daniel Summerhays is sent off by his biggest fans. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/fBNH2YmaCJ— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) June 28, 2020
The Year of Will Zalatoris
I compare the excitement of covering Will Zalatoris to what young journalists in my position must have felt covering Tiger Woods in 1996. I remember texting Kevin after conducting my first interview with Zalatoris at the TPC San Antonio Championships at the Oaks. I’m pretty sure I said something along the lines of “This guy is going places. You can just tell this dude oozes confidence, but not in a cocky way.”
I’m almost positive I sent these words to Kevin several times this year. I don’t think there was a single tournament where I did not get any footage of Zalatoris. He was constantly prevalent. Even when he carded 77 on day one, he still found a way to finish T5 at the TPC San Antonio Championship at the Oaks. It almost became a running joke on Sundays to watch out for Zalatoris even if he was 10 strokes off the lead.
I had the honor of being on-site for his last Korn Ferry Tour tournament of the 2020 season and witnessed a classic Zalatoris Sunday. He was pouring in birdies left and right. He tied the competitive course record at 8-under 64 to jump 17 spots up the leaderboard and finish one stroke shy of his second win of the season. When we asked how many course records he holds, Zalatoris casually responded, “only about five or six.” Only?
As a homage to Zalatoris’ greatness, I was tasked with putting together a piece of the many highlights from his 2020 career. By the time I was done scavenging through the archives, I had downloaded almost 100 clips and I’m sure I could have found more.
I know I am only 24 years old, but this might have been one of the most challenging videos I will ever put together, and I loved every minute of it. As my mom would always tell me when I was on the verge of quitting golf for the 20th time, “you have to love the challenge to be successful.” After putting the video together, there was no doubt in my mind that Will Zalatoris was in love with the challenge of making it to the PGA TOUR.(Graphic by Elise Tallent)
Will Zalatoris interview after winning the TPC Colorado Championship
By Kevin Prise
It’s not easy to encapsulate 2020 in a few hundred words. I put off this (self-imposed) assignment for a couple weeks, trying to figure out how to describe this wild, unprecedented year.
From a Korn Ferry Tour perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic and its necessary containment measures meant a three-month suspension of play, a combined 2020-21 calendar, and no PGA TOUR cards awarded for the first time in the Tour’s 31-year history. The Korn Ferry Tour’s natural cadence, with drama building to the Regular Season finale and 25 TOUR cards awarded, extends into 2021.
From a real-life standpoint, the pandemic fundamentally shifted the way I perceive the world. I had always processed concepts of global connectivity, how one action can cause a ripple effect across society, on a surface level. The pandemic brings it closer to home. We all depend on each other. Natural energy comes from personal interaction. While awaiting the Return to Golf this past spring, I realized this more than ever.
Human progress is fueled by connection and collaboration, and although the pandemic may have slowed these tenets for a brief time, I have faith that the world will see silver linings in the long run.
Applying this to the Korn Ferry Tour, the 2021 Regular Season-ending Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna should bring unprecedented drama in the race for The 25. For the first time in Korn Ferry Tour annals, the Points List extends across two seasons. Putts struck in January 2020 will have implication in August 2021. Next summer promises to bring greater Korn Ferry Tour tension and emotion than ever before.
Despite the lack of TOUR cards awarded in 2020, though, the year provided countless memories as players vied for position on The 25. In my seven years covering the Korn Ferry Tour, I have been incredibly fortunate to bear witness to the critical moments players face as they chase their TOUR dreams, and learn about the journeys traveled outside the ropes.
When I think back on 2020, I might not process visuals of TOUR cards, but I’ll remember the stories. Always do. This list could go on and on, but here are three …These 10 players qualified for the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot via Korn Ferry Tour merit. (Graphic by Elise Tallent)
Pendrith’s run amidst pandemic
Canada’s Taylor Pendrith has seen several ups and downs in his seven-year professional career, battling various injuries while see-sawing between the Korn Ferry Tour and the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada.
This summer, Pendrith faced an unique battle outside the ropes. His girlfriend-turned-fiancée Meg is a registered nurse at the Hamilton (Ontario) General Hospital, a profession more critical than ever amidst a pandemic. Per safety and border regulations, Pendrith and Beirnes went several months without seeing each other – Beirnes on the front lines of COVID-19, Pendrith chasing his first TOUR card.
The long-hitting Kent State alum produced some of the best golf of his career. Propelled by a torrid run of four consecutive top-three finishes, he entered the Korn Ferry Tour’s winter break at No. 2 on the Points List, all but assured of his first TOUR card as he readies to turn 30.
The easygoing Pendrith maintained an even-keeled disposition as the summer unfolded, drawing inspiration from Beirnes’ work as he went about his own. He also qualified for the U.S. Open via the Korn Ferry Tour Points List, making birdie on the 72nd hole to finish T23.
Big things appear to be ahead for Pendrith, with his soon-to-be bride in support every step of the way, even if from afar.
Hungry like the Wolfe
I first met Jared Wolfe at Final Stage of the 2015 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament. After an uneven season on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, his career prospects uncertain after six professional seasons, he maintained a positive disposition, conveying a sense of belief that no matter how things were to unfold that week at PGA National, life would proceed, and life would still be a gift.
Wolfe earned conditional Korn Ferry Tour status for 2016, and he spent the next four years volleying between the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA TOUR Latinoamerica. The Murray State alum’s unwavering positivity continued to shine at various touchpoints on this journey.
He rebounded from an opening-round 77 with a Friday 65 to make the cut at the 2016 Nashville Golf Open (now Simmons Bank Open) – I interviewed him then.
He carded a final-round 64 for his first Korn Ferry Tour top-25 (T11) at the 2018 Chitimacha Louisiana Open – I interviewed him then.
He Monday qualified for the 2019 LECOM Health Challenge while preparing for a summer swing on the Mackenzie Tour – I interviewed him then, just after he survived a playoff at the Monday qualifier.
Despite the Korn Ferry Tour results being slow to come by, I came away from each Wolfe interaction with the belief that he fully believed he would eventually make it.
In 2020, in his first full year as a new dad, Wolfe combined all facets of his game to produce a banner year on the Korn Ferry Tour. With victories at The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at Baha Mar (pre-pandemic hiatus) and Wichita Open Supporting Wichita’s Youth (post-pandemic hiatus), he joined Davis Riley as the only players to earn multiple victories in the 2020 portion of the combined season. At age 32, he enters the winter break at No. 5 on the Points List, on the verge of earning his first TOUR card.
This year, Wolfe established himself as a Korn Ferry Tour stalwart, and his demeanor remained the same as it always has been – through the ups, downs, and inevitable consideration of other professional options to support his family as the years went by. (During the pandemic hiatus, he even worked as an Account Executive in medical sales for supplemental income.)
He’s a family man who cherishes life. And he’s on track to enjoy the TOUR life soon enough.Jared Wolfe has captured five PGA TOUR-sanctioned titles since 2017 -- three on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, two on the Korn Ferry Tour. (Graphic by Elise Tallent)
Where Dreams come true
When I’m asked to define the Korn Ferry Tour content strategy, my first instinct is to say that the strategy is dictated by the storylines.
Each year brings a fresh crop of players – rookie newcomers, and veteran returners – to get to know, learn their stories, and find ways to increase their profile and connection with fans. Although we live in an ever-evolving era of social media (TikTok being the latest Korn Ferry Tour content foray), engagement numbers have proven over the years that the highest-resonance content is rooted in traditional storytelling. Learning the who-what-where-when-why-how, and conveying it to the audience through a variety of methods and platforms, builds a fan base for golf’s next generation of stars.
(As a newspaper journalism major, this always warms the heart.)
I’ll then remark that the ideal flow of content is to blend reporting with ‘zaniness.’
At the heart of the Korn Ferry Tour is its foundation as a ‘traveling circus.’ Players, caddies and staff traverse across America, setting up shop in cities of various sizes for a week at a time, competing in chase of a TOUR card while also (in non-pandemic times) entertaining fans.
Golf is at the heart of the story, but it’s not the whole story. Thinking all golf, all the time, can lead to burnout. So when an opportunity arises to showcase players out of the traditional golf element, we’re all-in.
This fall, the ‘Dreams Challenge’ provided fodder for Korn Ferry Tour content to display its ‘zany’ ethos. (Backstory: a man named Nathan Apodaca posted a TikTok video of himself riding a longboard while lip-syncing the hit Fleetwood Mac single ‘Dreams’ and drinking from a container of Ocean Spray cranberry juice. The video spread across social media worldwide, with thousands offering their own takes on the ‘Dreams Challenge’ across social media platforms – even Fleetwood Mac band members Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks.
At the Korn Ferry Tour’s final event of 2020, the Orange County National Championship presented by Knight 39, we knew we needed to make this happen.
Mackenzie noticed that Stephan Jaeger and his wife Shelby were traveling with their dog Phil. We asked Jaeger if he and Phil would be willing to participate in the ‘Dreams Challenge’ that afternoon. Jaeger and Phil agreed, and we met them at their rental house for a casual golf-cart ride while singing some Fleetwood Mac.
Later in the week, after Trey Mullinax secured the victory – one stroke ahead of Jaeger and Brandon Wu – we asked if he’d be willing to partake in the ‘Dreams Challenge’ with the event’s unique knight trophy. Mullinax and the trophy obliged.
Here’s to a safe and healthy 2021, with TOUR dreams to be once again realized via The 25 and The Finals 25.
Happy New Year, all!Pictured from left to right: Korn Ferry Tour content creators Mackenzie Perez, Elise Tallent and Kevin Prise