The seven habits of highly effective PGA TOUR prosLessons for Korn Ferry Tour grads as they step into the big time at season-opening Fortinet Championship
September 16, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
The Finals 25 PGA TOUR cards awarded at Korn Ferry Tour Championship
NAPA, Calif. – Abraham Ancer. Stewart Cink. Justin Thomas.
Examples abound of players who have leapt from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA TOUR with nary a break in stride. But how? That’s a question 26 rookies and other Korn Ferry Tour grads will face at the season-opening Fortinet Championship at Silverado, starting Thursday.
How to make the big leap?
Herewith, some answers from those who have been there.
1. Resist the awe factor
“Everything is just a little bit brighter,” said Brandt Snedeker, who has won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour and nine times, including the 2012 FedExCup, on the PGA TOUR. “I remember first coming up and being on the range and seeing Chris DiMarco and Tiger and these guys and thinking: Oh, gosh, I’m not playing against college kids.
“Just get your mind right, block out all that and go play the golf course,” he added.
Added Lanto Griffin, who has won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour and once on the PGA TOUR, “Not everybody is going to be ready, mentally, to not think about the money, to not be enamored by the people you see on the range, your pairings, the fans – everything is 10 times bigger out here.
“Korn Ferry Tour there’s a lot more camaraderie,” he continued. “Out here there are more agents and wives and instructors – everybody’s got a team around them.”
2. Stick to your knitting
Stephan Jaeger, 32, played the PGA TOUR in 2019 but at 152nd in the FedExCup failed to keep his card. He went back to the Korn Ferry Tour, where he just finished first among “The 25” who earned their PGA TOUR cards for this season.
The COVID-altered KFT mega-season was very long, Jaeger said.
It was also edifying. Jaeger’s big takeaway: stick to his knitting.
“One of my big goals this year is to stick to my routine pretournament, in tournament, just kind of do your stuff,” Jaeger said. “I think the first couple years I was out on this TOUR, it's tough because you've been watching these guys for so many years and, hey, he's doing this, let’s try that, instead of, hey, it might not be what other guys do, but this is what makes me tick.”
That goes for equipment, too. Rookies sometimes jump at shiny, free things. It doesn’t always work out.
3. Remember: You’re always improving
Stephan Jaeger reflects on winning 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour season-long Points List
Joseph Bramlett comes to the Fortinet full of self-belief after winning the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance earlier this month.
“Yeah, it's massive for my confidence,” said Bramlett, who finished 146th in the FedExCup last season, failing to keep his TOUR card. “It was my first win out here on either the PGA or the Korn Ferry Tour, so it's something I always believed I was capable of doing.”
The Northern California product comes to the Fortinet knowing he has evolved.
“My skills got a lot better last year,” he said. “I got a lot more speed off the tee, my wedge game is dialed in a lot better, and I've become a more consistent putter. So, for me, looking through it through that lens, there's a lot of optimism coming into this year.”
4. Respect where you came from
England’s Aaron Rai has played all over. Among his many career accomplishments: holding off Tommy Fleetwood to win the European Tour’s Scottish Open last year.
Although he doesn’t have a ton of experience on the Korn Ferry Tour, where he just earned his TOUR card via the KFT Finals, Rai respects the players on that tour.
“The standard on Korn Ferry Tour is very good, it's very competitive,” he said. “No matter where you play now, whether it's European Tour, PGA TOUR or Korn Ferry Tour, you've got to bring your game and if you don't, you're probably not going to compete wherever you play.”
5. Start hot in the fall
It’s one thing to get into the fall events; it’s quite another to crack the fields in 2022. For KFT grads that means playing well enough in the fall to move up the priority list in the reshuffle.
“If you have a couple good weeks early and get some confidence going into the new calendar year, that’s huge for these guys,” Griffin said. “The fall is like a transition between Korn Ferry Tour and the real PGA TOUR, and then when you hit the bigger events next year, if you don’t reshuffle into the top 20 Korn Ferry you’re not going to get into those tournaments.
“Getting off to a good start is important for these guys,” he added. “It’s important for everybody, but especially rookies.”
6. Give yourself a break
Sometimes players want it TOO much.
“It’s just so hard to be patient,” Snedeker said. “It’s easy to come out that first week and over-practice, over-prepare, and wear yourself out by Thursday morning before you’ve hit a shot.”
Jaeger said he’s learned to accept less than his A game.
“You’re not going to have your best stuff every week, it’s just now how it works,” he said. “It’s golf. It’s a tough sport and some weeks you just don’t feel right or something’s off.”
But that’s OK. Succeeding on TOUR is largely about maximizing your yield when you’re on.
7. Believe, believe, believe
Kevin Na, who is coming off a third-place finish in the FedExCup, is the rare player who barely needed any Korn Ferry Tour seasoning. Despite turning pro out of high school he has just three KFT starts, one of them a win in 2006, and has gone on to win five times on the PGA TOUR.
“But I know there are a lot of good (Korn Ferry Tour) players,” he said. “A lot of it is comfort level, knowing that you belong out here and you can do it. I think that is half the battle.”
The belief and comfort level is starting to sink in for Jaeger and Bramlett.
“I have three years of PGA TOUR experience under my belt,” Bramlett said, “which I think is a really big deal. I’m getting more comfortable. I’m understanding the golf courses better.”
Added Jaeger, “It’s always taken me a couple years to get acclimatized on golf courses and how everything works. It’s obviously a little bit bigger stage her than it is on the Korn Ferry.”
But it’s still golf. It’s the Fortinet. It’s time to see what the new guys can do.