Ten Korn Ferry Tour grads to watch on TOUR
September 12, 2022
By Kevin Prise , PGATOUR.COM
PGA TOUR – The CUT
Korn Ferry Tour graduates give one word to describe being TOUR bound
The future is now.
A new PGA TOUR season is upon us, which means it’s time to welcome a new crop of Korn Ferry Tour graduates. Fifty players earned their cards for the 2023 season via the KFT. Twenty-five did so over the long haul, by being the best players over the Regular Season. Another 25 thrived in the trio of events known as the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
The graduates include fresh-faced rookies like Harrison Endycott, Kevin Roy and Nicholas Echavarria who are eager to begin their PGA TOUR careers and experienced veterans such as Paul Haley, Byeong Hun An and Will Gordon who are grateful to return to the TOUR.
There are players like Brandon Matthews who are known for hitting the ball unfathomable distances and even a former mortgage loan officer in Ben Griffin.
Each of the 50 Korn Ferry Tour graduates has a unique story to tell; their narratives will continue to unfold across the season and, they hope, for many years on TOUR.
Here’s a look at 10 Korn Ferry Tour graduates to watch in this new PGA TOUR season (listed in order of their position on the season-opening TOUR Priority Ranking).
He shared a stage with Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland when they were new pros at the 2019 Travelers Championship, and for good reason.
Suh’s collegiate resume at USC included six months atop the world amateur rankings, winning Pac-12 Player of the Year and twice being named a first-team All-American.
He was battling a left wrist injury when he turned pro, however. That caused him to fall into poor swing habits, and then the COVID-19 pandemic stalled his progress.
Still just 25 years old, he’ll join his peers on the PGA TOUR this season after a consistent campaign on the Korn Ferry Tour. He missed just three cuts in 24 starts, including 10 top-10s.
That includes a strong finish to the season. He posted five top-10s in his last six starts, punctuated by a victory at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance, to finish No. 1 on the combined points list and earn fully exempt TOUR status, in addition to spots in THE PLAYERS and U.S. Open.
Justin Suh interview after winning the Korn Ferry Tour Championship
It took time to undo the bad habits, and to strengthen his injured arm, but Suh said it “has put me in a better position going forward.”
The San Jose, California, native will make his debut as a PGA TOUR member in the Fortinet Championship in Napa, not far from his hometown.
“I feel like I’m going to where I belong,” he said recently. “It feels unbelievable. It feels like it’s about time.”
Golf fans will quickly latch onto Carl Yuan for his unorthodox playing style. He sees golf as art and isn’t beholden to a cookie-cutter follow-through; it can change by the hole. Peers and fans who see him perform his ‘hosel drill’ – he purposely shanks shots – without context could mistake him for a pro-am participant.
But the China native showed flashes of brilliance across his first three Korn Ferry Tour seasons, recording four top-three finishes across 2019-21, proving there was a method to his madness. After a leave of absence in summer 2021 to represent his home country in the Olympics, he returned for 2022 with full confidence in his ability to earn his first TOUR card.
SPEED PAINTING: Artist paints rising PGA TOUR star Carl Yuan in 13 minutes
Yuan delivered, winning the Chitimacha Louisiana Open presented by MISTRAS in March and adding three runner-up showings. He led the season-long points race for most of the campaign, only to be edged by Korn Ferry Tour Championship winner Justin Suh.
The 25-year-old Washington alum proved his mettle in his first Q-School in 2018, closing the pressure cooker of Second Stage with four consecutive birdies to earn Korn Ferry Tour membership on the number. He hasn’t looked back, and he might be just getting started.
Sometimes there’s a speed bump in the fast lane to the PGA TOUR.
Will Gordon hit one such impediment, but he dusted himself off and quickly found his way back to the Big Show with a win in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
Last Sunday: Secure TOUR status ✅— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 6, 2022
Tuesday: “Caddie” at the Frederica Cup ✅ @VandyMGolf alum Will Gordon is all-in on supporting his former team at college golf’s opener @PGATOURU. pic.twitter.com/DvWJBtjGSt
Gordon turned pro in 2019 as the SEC’s Player of the Year and a first-team All-American out of Vanderbilt. A strong resume, indeed, but he was overshadowed by some other members of that class, namely Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland.
Still, Gordon was a TOUR member within a year after he parlayed a sponsor exemption into a T3 finish at the 2020 Travelers Championship. The big-hitting North Carolinian, a buddy of Stephen Curry while growing up in Davidson, earned enough points at the Travelers to secure special temporary membership and by season’s end had earned a card for the 2021 season. His first year didn’t go as planned, however, as Gordon missed more than half his cuts and recorded just two top-25 finishes.
Gordon did rank fifth on TOUR in driving distance that year and now, after earning his first professional win at last month’s Albertsons Boise Open presented by Chevron, he’ll get a second chance to display that power on the PGA TOUR.
The free-wheeling Las Vegas native grew up around money games at Shadow Creek, where his dad Monte is the longtime general manager, and holds his own in trash-talking with the likes of Michael Jordan and professional poker player Phil Ivey.
After suffering some of golf’s most unimaginable heartbreak – he finished 26th on both the Korn Ferry Tour’s points lists last season, one position shy of a TOUR card twice in the span of four weeks – Taylor Montgomery upped his ante this season.
The 27-year-old recorded nine top-10 finishes in 17 starts, including three top-threes, and concluded the season with 40 consecutive rounds of par or better. His last over-par round on the Korn Ferry Tour came in April.
The UNLV alum displays an uncanny creativity around the greens and is quick to rebound from bad shots – he once, in a high school qualifier, went OB off the tee on a short par 4, re-teed, and holed it for birdie. Now the outdoors enthusiast will put his instincts to the test on golf’s biggest stage.
Brandon Matthews was the 2010 Pennsylvania state high school champion, played for Temple University, and earned 2021 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Player of the Year honors. He took his career to the next level in Korn Ferry Tour tournaments in Central and South America in 2022.
One week after finishing T2 at The Panama Championship, Matthews closed birdie-birdie-eagle to win the Astara Golf Championship presented by Mastercard in Bogota, Colombia. It was only February, and yet Matthews, 28, had essentially clinched his PGA TOUR card already.
“In my opinion, I think I should be in contention and be winning golf tournaments all the time,” the 6-foot-4-inch, 210-pound Matthews said in Bogota. “My game feels great. My mental (game) has been really, really good for the last few years. You know, if we can kind of continue on this path, I'm pretty excited to see what we can do.”
What Matthews can do without question is hit the ball far; he was fourth in driving distance (323.4 yards) this season. This, he says, owes to his father taking him to their home course outside Scranton, Pennsylvania, and placing him on the red tees when he was 4 or 5.
Players react to “superhuman” drive of Brandon Matthews
“And there was a little pond in front of the red tee,” Matthews said. “It was like, I don't know, 70 yards to carry. I sat there with a huge bucket of balls just trying to hit it over, just trying to hit it as hard as I can. And as soon as I did, my dad moved me back a tee and then that process kind of repeated itself until I got all the way back. So I feel like that was one of the big reasons why I was blessed with my length, because I kind of grew up just trying to hit it as hard as I can.”
In four PGA TOUR starts this season, Matthews made the cut just once, at the U.S. Open at The Country Club, where he finished 60th. Once he gets used to TOUR courses, though, his big game should translate nicely. Perhaps he’ll even be in contention and winning all the time.
Byeong Hun An
The fact Byeong Hun An is part of this crew is a big surprise. Not because the Korean doesn’t deserve a place on the PGA TOUR but because it was a shock to see him leave it at all. It was less than three years ago An was a part of the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne and looked set to be the next International star to break through with a win on TOUR.
From his elite junior career, where he won the U.S. Amateur as a 17-year-old, An always appeared a can’t-miss prospect. It was no shock to see him as a mainstay on the TOUR from his debut FedExCup season in 2017. He was 102nd that year in the FedExCup before stepping it up to be 42nd (2018), 53rd (2019) and a career-high 33rd (2020) in the following seasons. However, a fall from grace in 2021 saw him collect just one top-10 in 29 starts and put his career at a crossroads.
Rather than dwell on his demotion, An took stock and realized he’d coasted on talent alone long enough. He needed to work harder and not take the game for granted.
“After I lost my card I thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t too bad.’ Losing my card sucks, but it will make me an even better golfer and put a new perspective in golf and humble me a little bit,” he said. “Losing my card last year wasn’t fun, but working back up there has been really fun.”
He certainly stepped it up on the Korn Ferry Tour, winning early at the LECOM Suncoast Classic and virtually securing his return to the top level soon after with a T2 at the Veritex Bank Championship. Overall, his eight top-25s helped him to a 13th -place finish on the season-long standings, and now he returns to the PGA TOUR keeping his fun-loving attitude but also sporting a laser focus on the job at hand.
Fourteen months after clearing out his desk, the University of North Carolina alum looks to clean up on the PGA TOUR.
After graduating from North Carolina in 2018 and finding quick success on PGA TOUR Canada, Griffin hit the proverbial wall within a couple years, the uncertainty of conditional Korn Ferry Tour status leaving him wondering if there was something more to chase.
So he stepped away from the game, finding work as a mortgage loan officer and spending his weekends cracking a beverage at the lake rather than grinding on the range.
Somewhere in that time, Griffin’s love for the game returned. One day shortly after his grandfather passed away, while driving to work, he accidentally drove to the golf course. He took it as a sign. He signed up for 2021 Q-School, advanced through all three stages to secure Korn Ferry Tour starts, and took advantage with three runner-up showings to comfortably finish inside The 25. He added a fourth-place finish at the Wyndham Championship last month for good measure.
Griffin will be happy to dole out housing market advice to his playing partners on TOUR, but don’t be surprised if his game’s stock continues to rise as well.
Players try and achieve the ultimate dream on Sunday at the KFT Championship
The John Deere Classic made a Michael Kim bobblehead doll after the Cal product won the tournament by eight shots in 2018. “They’ve got all the details down, nailed,” said Kim.
The details of what exactly happened after that are still under review, but Kim, 29, wouldn’t look like himself for a long time. A member of golf’s vaunted Class of 2011, he went from shooting 27 under at TPC Deere Run to missing 25 consecutive cuts. He made it to the weekend just once in two years. Once top-200 in the world, he fell outside the top 1,000.
Having made a difficult coaching change from longtime friend James Oh to John Tillery before winning the Deere, Kim made another switch, going with Sean Foley, and has dug his way out in 2022. He racked up 12 top-25 finishes in 25 Korn Ferry Tour starts. He also shared the first-round lead at the Puerto Rico Open (T16) and finished seventh at the Barbasol Championship.
Born in Seoul and raised in Southern California before attending Cal, where he was college golf’s player of the year in 2013, Kim will now be back on the PGA TOUR, where he looked like a future star in 2018. Perhaps he can draw inspiration from former Cal teammate Max Homa, who had his own struggles in his 20s before regaining his form, and his TOUR card, and being named last week to the U.S. Presidents Cup Team.
When a 15-year-old Harrison Endycott tragically lost his mother to cancer, he quickly learned disappointment and pain can come at any time, from any angle. But with the help of a tight inner circle, he learned that people can be defined by how they deal with life’s setbacks.
So when it came to issues like sleeping in an airport in Peru, or being isolated from his friends, family and coach for a few years during the COVID pandemic, this Australian had the fortitude to grind through it all as he moved through PGATOUR Latinoamérica and the Korn Ferry Tour.
Endycott captured the hearts of many with his emotional personality following his win at the Huntsville Championship and then again when he clinched a TOUR card at the Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna. But while his history is endearing, it will be his game that captures just as much attention on the PGA TOUR.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges in our family … it was brutal what I had to deal with at a young age,” Endycott said. “But I’m excited for the new challenge ahead of me and proud to be a part of it.”
Kevin Yu fell in love with golf as a youngster in Chinese Taipei, where his dad operated a driving range. Now he’s set to follow his mentor C.T. Pan’s footsteps on the PGA TOUR.
Yu, 24, had a standout collegiate career at Arizona State, finishing second to Jon Rahm in career scoring average, and earned automatic Korn Ferry Tour membership with a fourth-place finish on the inaugural PGA TOUR University Velocity Global Ranking in 2021. He made a quick impact that summer with two top-five finishes and would have qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in a standard season; points were totaled across a two-year period, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kevin Yu holes long birdie putt at Utah Championship
Yu didn’t miss a beat this season, compiling three top-three finishes to earn his first TOUR card. Upon receiving his TOUR card in August, he was surprised with a video message from his college coach Matt Thurmond, and the emotion hit home.
Yu, after all, is #TOURBound.