KORN FERRY TOUR INSIDER
RJ Manke's education extends to professional golf
Finished No. 4 on 2022 PGA TOUR University Ranking to earn Korn Ferry Tour membership
July 06, 2022
By Adam Stanley , PGATOUR.COM
- RJ Manke played four years at Pepperdine before completing a fifth season at the University of Washington. (Eakin Howard/Getty Images)
As the calendar turned to 2022, RJ Manke had a fresh perspective on plenty of things.
After graduating from Pepperdine with a degree in business administration, he played a COVID-eligible fifth year at the University of Washington. His junior year at Pepperdine wasn’t great, he admits, but the fifth year as a Husky – “I grew up wearing the purple and gold” – allowed him to catapult up the PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global Ranking and earn a spot on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Oh, and he also shot a 54.
Well, a 54 through 17 holes.
In early January, Manke teed it up with teammate Noah Woolsey at Washington’s Broadmoor Golf Club. The 10th hole at Broadmoor was closed for winter maintenance so despite making birdie on four of his first five holes, going out in 28, dunking his approach on the par-4 16th for eagle and nearly chipping in for another eagle on the par-5 finisher, the score was not complete.
And it didn’t top Fred Couples’ ‘real’ record of 59.
“I was just going out and played golf like a kid again,” said Manke. “I went out to the course with a smile on my face and added them up at the end.”
-12 for 17 holes today at Broadmoor Golf Club for RJ Manke! The 10th hole is currently closed due to construction. Current course record holder Fred Couples shot a -11 59. #GoHuskies! pic.twitter.com/ealreFPZPJ— Washington Men's Golf (@UW_MGolf) January 22, 2022
The day started as a match with his roommate – the loser had to carry the other’s bags through the airport the next day – and got serious when another teammate told Manke he had gone out in 28.
“I just thought I was 2 up on Noah,” said Manke. “That’s how I play my best golf, when I just approach it to meet new people like on the Korn Ferry Tour, build new relationships, making new friends out there who have gone through the same thing that I have and have wisdom or advice to offer me.
“I’m just soaking it up and trying to play like a kid.”
Manke hopes this pivoted perspective will pay dividends as he pushes through the balance of the 2022 Korn Ferry Tour season.
As one of the top five in the PGA TOUR University Ranking, Manke kicked off his Korn Ferry Tour career with a made cut at the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by TD SYNNEX. He hasn’t found the weekend in his other three starts but said he’s getting adjusted to, well, everything.
During his first week in South Carolina, he “instantly” gained a lot more respect and gratitude for everyone that works in college athletics.
“It’s pretty unbelievable how many hoops people jump through to get, let alone a golf team of five people and a couple of support staff around, but whole football teams and baseball teams and entire athletic departments … it’s a pretty amazing feat,” he said. “I’m just doing it myself and I was getting pretty overwhelmed.
“Straight golf – it’s not different at all. But that’s where the parallels end.”Straight golf – it's not different at all. But that's where the parallels end.
He said he has gotten adjusted to that part of being a young professional and now it’s about seeing results on the course. Manke had an excellent fifth year while at the University of Washington – a school attended by both his parents, his brother and sister – including being a finalist for Haskins Award and earning Pac-12 Men’s Golfer of the Year honors. He knows what it takes to shoot low scores.
“I’m making birdies out there the past month on the road, but just too many bogeys and some doubles are creeping in, and that’s definitely not going to help you playing with the big boys,” he admits. “Going bogey-free on the Korn Ferry Tour is going to be my goal moving forward.
“Trying to look more towards winning and having a really good finish versus just making the cut is going to be important for me moving forward.”
Manke has been able to draw inspiration from another college star and close friend who has had some serious success on the PGA TOUR this year – Sahith Theegala.
Theegala, who is 36th in the FedExCup standings, has been a bit of a beacon of hope for Manke. Theegala and Manke were Pepperdine teammates for three years.
“It’s one thing to have one or two good finishes, but competing against the best in the world … his confidence has got to be sky-high and for good reason. He’s been a great player his entire life and it’s awesome to see someone I know and spend so much time with succeeding,” said Manke. “It gives me a good example, a good role model to follow.”
Manke said his game while at Pepperdine gradually improved and his goal of becoming a professional golfer – something he told people he wanted to be since he was a youngster – was becoming clearer. With the PGA TOUR University program, he said, he was able to reap those benefits and has continued to capitalize on opportunities as they continue to present themselves.
And whether it’s aiming for a PGA TOUR card or shooting a course-record score (asterisks or not), he’ll aim to maintain that mindset of relaxation as he navigates the inevitable ups and downs of life in the pros.
“To have the best golfing career, I can’t be treating it like a job. I have to be treating it like something that I love,” said Manke. “I’ve been a pro golfer for a month. I have to pinch myself and realize this is what I do, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way.”