PGA TOUR U
Five PGA TOUR U players to watch at Winged Foot
September 15, 2020
By Stewart Moore, PGATOUR.COM
- September 15, 2020
Introducing PGA TOUR University
The PGA TOUR worked for more than three years to develop the PGA TOUR University program. Its goal is to give the top young players a path to the PGA TOUR, and an opportunity to join the crop of golf’s rising stars sooner rather than later.
This spring, the inaugural PGA TOUR University class will reap the rewards of those efforts. The top five players in the PGA TOUR U Ranking after the NCAA Championship will earn Korn Ferry Tour status, while Nos. 6-15 will get access to the PGA TOUR’s international circuits.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of life and college golf is no exception. Some conferences are proceeding with play. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach. And some have canceled the fall season.
College tournaments and PGA TOUR events, including majors, are the only opportunities to earn PGA TOUR University points. That means the inaugural PGA TOUR University rankings are a unique subplot to this week’s U.S. Open.
Given the amount of uncertainty, this week’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck, New York, presents a prime opportunity for players in the University ranking to get a head start on the rest of PGA TOUR U’s Class of 2021.
While it’s been 87 years since amateur Johnny Goodman won the 1933 U.S. Open at North Shore Country Club near Chicago, the amateur game has been well-represented in the national championship nearly every year since, with 2019 delivering a pair of strong performances from Viktor Hovland (T12) and Brandon Wu (T35). They were two of four amateurs to make the cut at famed Pebble Beach. Now, Hovland and Wu return to the U.S. Open with wins on the PGA TOUR and Korn Ferry Tour, respectively.
All told, there are 13 amateurs competing in the U.S. Open this week. Here’s a look at the five who are currently inside the top 10 in the PGA TOUR University Ranking:
PGA TOUR U ranking: 1
School: Florida State
On July 22, John Pak debuted at No. 1 in the inaugural PGA TOUR University Ranking, thanks in part to a pair of victories in his last three starts before the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly halted the 2019-20 season.
The 21-year-old’s spot atop the ranking came as little surprise to those who have been following his ascension in the amateur game, as Pak nabbed the individual title at the ACC Championship in 2019, and was selected to the U.S. Walker Cup team that fall, where a 3-0 performance helped secure the Cup at Royal Liverpool.
Originally from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, Pak and his father left the Garden State for the warmer winters in Orlando during high school as the precocious youngster set his sights on college golf. At an early age, he mirrored the work ethic put forth by his dad, Kwang, who owned two grocery stores while trying to raise a golf prodigy.
“He spent hours and hours picking up the produce, spending time at the store, making sure the business was run properly,” Pak said. “He worked a lot of hours and retired at 52. He disciplined himself and that’s translated into my golf game.”
If there was ever an event customized for players who appreciate discipline, it’s the U.S. Open.
Chun An Yu
PGA TOUR U ranking: 2
School: Arizona State
At times it feels as if Chun An “Kevin” Yu has been at Arizona State for 10 years, but his tremendous Sun Devil career didn’t begin until 2016, when he joined coach Matt Thurmond in Tempe to help resurrect one of the NCAA’s most historic golf programs. Yu won in just his third career start and has since added two more victories in addition to being named a first-team All-American in 2019.
A native of Chinese Taipei, Yu has often been compared to fellow countryman and good friend C.T. Pan – who also learned under the tutelage of Thurmond while starring at the University of Washington. Yu, who finished fifth in the 2019 Australian Open, will be making his third career U.S. Open start this week.
The COVID-19 pandemic derailed the pro plans of many college stars, including Yu. With another season to go before making the plunge, he is confident that his game can hold its own on golf’s biggest stage after seeing peers like Joaquin Niemann, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland find quick success on the PGA TOUR.
“Seeing them win on the TOUR, I’m really proud of them and to know that you beat them before, it gives yourself confidence that when you’re out there, you can beat them,” Yu said. “Hopefully in one year I can be out there winning on the PGA TOUR, too.”
PGA TOUR U ranking: 4
“He’s unbelievably good.”
That’s what PGA TOUR winner and former University of Georgia standout Keith Mitchell had to say about Davis Thompson, who will be making his U.S. Open debut this week.
The Bulldogs’ roster of TOUR winners is about as good as it gets, with names like Bubba Watson, Kevin Kisner, Harris English, Russell Henley, Brian Harman, Brendon Todd, Hudson Swafford, Chris Kirk and Mitchell himself, finding success in the pro ranks.
For Thompson, this is the path he’s supposed to be on. His father, Todd, captained the UGA golf team in 1987 and 1988, and is currently the Tournament Director at The RSM Classic. At an early age, the younger Thompson found success in the game, leading Lee Scott Academy in Auburn, Alabama, to six straight state championships – including individual titles in 2013 and 2015.
In Athens, Thompson has kept his foot on the proverbial gas, finishing T23 at The RSM Classic in 2019 as an amateur. This year, he won the Jones Cup Invitational, whose past champions include Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed, and was named a first-team All-American and a finalist for both the Jack Nicklaus and Haskins awards.
“He acts like a TOUR player on and off the course,” Mitchell said about Thompson. “So turning pro next year won’t be any different for him.”
PGA TOUR U ranking: 5
School: Texas Tech
When COVID-19 forced many players to make decisions about their college golf career, a number of players immediately jumped at the option to return to campus for another year. For Sandy Scott, that decision did not come easily, quickly or without a considerable amount of thought.
As the lone senior on Texas Tech’s 2019-20 team, it would’ve been easy for Scott to simply turn pro and move on to the next phase of his career. But the Scottish-born Red Raider opted to return to Lubbock, Texas, as there was a hint of unfinished business after the team reached No. 1 in the country for the first time in school history.
"It has been a difficult time, but to have this opportunity is very special. I have missed my Texas Tech family and I'm excited to reunite with them,” said Scott. “I love Texas Tech for everything the school has done for me and I can't wait to continue my journey."
Scott’s plans to turn pro were founded in a stellar 2019-20 campaign, which saw him earn berths on the Palmer Cup and Walker Cup teams, win The Carmel Cup and secure second-team All-America honors. Now 22, the Nairn native will play in his first PGA TOUR-sanctioned event at the U.S. Open, hoping to once again launch another senior season at Texas Tech with a fast start.
PGA TOUR U ranking: 9
While Pak, Yu, Thompson and Scott earned their U.S. Open exemptions last month, John Augenstein punched his ticked to Winged Foot when he finished runner-up in the 2019 U.S. Amateur, losing 2 and 1 to Georgia Tech’s Andy Ogletree in the championship match.
That gut-wrenching loss at Pinehurst Resort came with benefits, however, including a spot in the 2020 Masters and U.S. Open. It was onsite during an early practice round at Augusta National Golf Club in March when Augenstein realized his Vanderbilt career might be ending, as would his opportunity to play in the year’s first major championship, as COVID-19 put an immediate halt to the sports world.
"It was like being hit in the stomach, so upsetting,'' Augenstein told ESPN in April. "Not being able to finish the career I started.”
Like many players, the Commodore star heard rumblings of PGA TOUR University in the spring, and once confirmed, opted to return to Nashville for one more shot at adding onto his dominant resume. A four-time All-American and 2020 SEC Player of the Year, Augenstein is 53 weeks removed from clinching the winning point at the 2019 Walker Cup, thanks to a 4-3 victory over Thomas Plumb in the final singles matches. All told that week, he accumulated a 2-1-1 record as one of only four Americans to play in all four matches.
The Owensboro, Kentucky, native will get his chance to shine on a national stage this week, and will also get one more shot at the Masters when the tournament is played the week of Nov. 9-15. The rescheduled events provide a silver lining in a 2020 golf season that has been shrouded in clouds.