PGA Tour launches ranking to guide college players to the pros
After years of consideration, the PGA Tour is finally launching its own version of a player draft to help usher top young talent to the tour.
The new PGA Tour University calls for a ranking of the top 15 college players who automatically will receive exempt status on the tour’s developmental circuits: the Korn Ferry Tour, Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, PGA Tour Latinoamérica, and PGA Tour Series-China.
All of the developmental properties are key pathways to play on the PGA Tour, with top players on those tours eligible to join the star-driven PGA Tour. Beginning next year, top-ranked college players will be allowed immediate and automatic exempt status on the developmental tours instead of having to play their way in, providing a better chance for those players to eventually graduate to the PGA Tour. How fast those top players move to the PGA Tour depends on their performance on the developmental tours.
“Professional golf doesn’t have a draft like other sports leagues and this is a fantastic opportunity to do similar things to that,” said Brendan von Doehren, senior director of tournament and membership affairs for the PGA Tour. “It is an evolution of the sport. It is no secret that the lifeblood of our tours comes from college golf.”
Players eligible for PGA Tour University ranking must be NCAA Division I golfers who complete a minimum of four years in college. The rankings will be done in partnership with the World Amateur Golf Ranking, which is administered by the R&A and the USGA. The WAGR system will rank the top amateur players on the basis of their average performance in events on a rolling cycle over the previous two years of play.
The top five players on the list will be eligible to play on the Korn Ferry Tour, which serves as a direct path to the PGA Tour. The players ranking sixth through 15 can choose to play on one of the tour’s other developmental properties.
The first PGA Tour University ranking will be unveiled this summer leading into the start of the 2020-21 Division I season, with the list updated each week during the season. Eligibility for each respective developmental tour will begin the week after the 2021 NCAA Men’s Division I Golf Championship to be held at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., from May 28 through June 2.
Prior to the new system, players could play their way onto the PGA Tour beginning mainly through the Korn Ferry qualification school held in the fall to gain exempt status on the Korn Ferry Tour. In addition, the top five players for each of the other developmental tournaments receive Korn Ferry Tour cards. From there, the top Korn Ferry players can move to the PGA Tour. A more difficult path allows top amateurs to secure limited sponsor exemptions to PGA Tour events with the hope of playing their way onto the PGA Tour.
Under the new ranking system, the top 15 college players automatically will gain immediate exempt status on the Korn Ferry Tour and other developmental tours through their two-year ranking instead of battling through the Korn Ferry Q-school format or by playing their way onto the Korn Ferry Tour via the other developmental tours.
The goal is to create a clear path for top college players and get them into the PGA Tour system The tour also hopes that by establishing a ranking system, fans will become more interested in golf’s emerging stars and the developmental tours.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for these players to begin their professional careers on a path to the PGA Tour,” said Alex Baldwin, president of the Korn Ferry Tour. “Just as importantly, we are able to continue building on the great momentum the Korn Ferry Tour and our international tours have enjoyed in recent years by strengthening the field of competition with the addition of these collegiate stars.”
The PGA Tour has been working on the plan for at least two years as it looked for ways to attract top talent while also navigating the different organizations involved, included the USGA, the R&A, and the NCAA. PGA Tour stars who have come up through the Korn Ferry Tour include Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Tony Finau.
“This is a watershed moment for us,” von Doehren said. “It is a long time coming. It is a pathway within our tour umbrella.”
The new plan also could boost interest in college golf, as top-ranked players may stay in school longer to qualify for automatic exempt status on the developmental tours.
“It will bring more immediate focus to the college game,” said von Doehren, who prior to joining the tour was a golf coach at Pepperdine University. “It encourages student athletes to stay in school. It is a changing of the guard.”