LOCALiQ Series Q&A: 'It was a miracle'
Rob Ohno talks about the recently completed LOCALiQ Series
November 24, 2020
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
- November 24, 2020
- Bryson Nimmer, Stoney Crouch, Cooper Musselman, Carson Young, Toni Hakula, Justin Doeden and David Pastore were the seven LOCALiQ Series' tournament winners. Nimmer led the way as the only two-event champion. (Media/PGA TOUR)
Earlier this year, the PGA TOUR’s three International Tours had to either cancel their seasons (Mackenzie Tour and PGA TOUR Series – China) or postpone (PGA TOUR Latinoamérica) because of issues involving COVID-19. Knowing hundreds of these three Tours’ members had no place to play this summer, the International Tours conceived of and then executed the LOCALiQ Series, a set of eight tournaments played in the Southeastern United States that brought together players from all three Tours. The LOCALiQ Series ended its inaugural season last week, with the LOCALiQ Series Championship at TPC Sugarloaf in metro Atlanta. Bryson Nimmer won the points title, David Pastore won the LOCALiQ Series Championship and finished second behind Nimmer, while Carson Young finished No. 3. All three players earned 2021 PGA TOUR starts as their rewards. Rob Ohno, the PGA TOUR’s Head of International Tours, recently reflected on a most unusual year, how his team was able to put together a successful series that gave players unexpected earning and competitive opportunities and why 2020 turned out to be such a gratifying year after all.
Take us through your thoughts when you first began conceiving of this idea with your team after the International Tours went on hiatus? And can you juxtapose those early feelings with how you feel today after a tremendously successful season?
Rob Ohno: When Vice President of Competitions John Slater approached me with the idea as we were preparing to cancel the Mackenzie Tour season and the other International Tours were significantly delayed, I basically laughed. I mean the TOUR had never put together a Series like this nor did we have a lot of time to create it. But I called him back the next morning and said “Hey, let’s talk about this idea further.” Given that the team put this Series together in 30 days, where it might typically take 10 months to a year, it was a miracle. And the team thought through many of the details and created the Series in the right way for players. The team then executed the Series with excellence in every facet. This initiative is by far the most gratifying thing I have worked on—ever! It was unexpected. It was new for the TOUR. And the players were so appreciative.Rob Ohno is the PGA TOUR’s Head of International Tours. (Media/PGA TOUR)
When it became apparent you would have to cancel the Tours in China and Canada seasons and postpone PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, did you ever feel discouraged?
RO: I certainly had my down moments, but every time it seemed like a team member or player said something to encourage me. Hopefully, I did the same thing for others at other times. But we were all working so hard to make the LOCALiQ Series happen that we didn’t have time to feel too sorry for ourselves for too long. Obviously, we were so grateful when LOCALiQ came aboard to be our Series sponsor.
What is one thing you learned throughout this process?
RO: Anything is possible. When teams come together, the “impossible” can happen.
The feedback from players when you first positioned the idea that the TOUR might be able to put together a series of tournaments was so positive. How heartening was that for you to have your team continue executing this idea?
RO: I think what was so impressive was that while the players were initially interested in this concept, they actually became more interested and bigger supporters after we launched the Series. It was like the reality was even better than the concept or the dream, which is a huge credit to our team that gave its heart and soul to make this Series happen.
You just watched the completion of a successful LOCALiQ Series season. What is your overall assessment of a Series that didn’t even exist in June of this year?
RO: This Series was such a blessing in many ways. It brought together into one Series players from three different International Tours. We had players representing 28 different countries and territories from around the world. Every event had a full field, with a long waiting list. The level of play was outrageously good. In fact, more than 30 players from the Series played in a Korn Ferry Tour or PGA TOUR event this year via Monday qualifying or sponsor exemptions. The staff worked incredibly hard and did a superb job of running the competitions and providing quality media coverage on limited budgets. It was really impressive.
After spending a lot of time at the tournaments and personally visiting with dozens of players, what is your takeaway for what the LOCALiQ Series meant to the International Tour members?
RO: We were able to provide hope. We were able to keep dreams alive. We were able to provide a platform for the players to compete against high-quality competition at high-quality venues when it was least expected. Plus, we were able to provide three players—Bryson Nimmer, Carson Young and David Pastore—with PGA TOUR starts for next year and Bryson with a Korn Ferry Tour start this year. That’s pretty good since many players didn't even think they were going to play this year.
Is there one competitive moment for you that stands out?
RO: A player told me that the fields were so good and so bunched together that he could make two consecutive birdies on the final day and jump from 30th to 10th. So, at the next tournament I noticed how bunched up the scoring was. I counted the number of players who shot 5-under in the first round and it was 24 players. I was floored.
Any other moments overall?
RO: I remember leaving our LOCALiQ Series event at Callaway Gardens and then seeing the field list and noticing five of those players had made it into the PGA TOUR’s Safeway Open the following week. One player had to withdraw prior to the event, so we had four players competing, with three of them—Akshay Bhatia, Isaiah Salinda and Andy Zhang—making the cut. That's how good the talent was on the LOCALiQ Series.
You watched a lot of LOCALiQ Series golf this year. What stood out to you? What surprised you?
RO: The high talent level of the players stood out to me. Many of these players could be playing on the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA TOUR right now. They just need the opportunity. They are that good. The thing that continues to surprise me is how gracious these guys are. They treat the volunteers, sponsors, members and venue partners so well. They express their appreciation, and they engage with others.
Do you have any examples?
RO: David Pastore, who just won the LOCALiQ Series Championship, came in second on the Series’ points list, and he just received a PGA TOUR exemption next year for his performance. David played a practice round at TPC Sugarloaf with three members of the club prior to tournament week. He befriended the three members who then came out to follow and cheer on David each day of the tournament, including one member who had just gone in for surgery. After he won, and we had the prize-giving ceremony and took all the pictures, David stood next to the 18th green and graciously visited with these three men awhile longer. That was really heartwarming to see.
PGA TOUR Latinoamérica is set to resume play in a couple of weeks, in Miami and the Dominican Republic. Where do you go from here with the other Tours?
RO: We are very happy to get the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica season re-started. Kudos to our PGA TOUR Latinoamérica team! We are planning to play our Mackenzie Tour – PGA Canada season next year like we have in the past. We are hoping to play a typical 12-event schedule from late-May to mid-September and already have 10 events solidified. We are in contact with the Canadian government to figure out the border issues. We are hopeful. On the other hand, things in China are not as hopeful. We don't expect the China borders to be open any time soon. We are evaluating our options at this point.
What is the future of the LOCALiQ Series? Is this a one-time venture, or do you see this continuing?
RO: While the LOCALiQ Series was a major success in many respects, we will be evaluating the various elements of the Series with our team, TOUR management and LOCALiQ over the next several weeks. Personally, I am very intrigued with a U.S.-based Series for many reasons, especially if it could feed into the Korn Ferry Tour, but many factors have to be considered and evaluated.