Newcomers upstaging the PGA Tour's rank-and-file so far in 2024
31 Jan,2024 Credit : Orlando Ramirez / Getty Images

By Tim Liotta


Newcomers upstaging the PGA Tour's rank-and-file so far in 2024

For the long-time, rank-and-file PGA Tour member the last four month, the battle cry cry has to have been "Incoming!"

Just take a look at the most recent results of the good, old-fashioned, non-Signature PGA Tour events. 

In Sea Island, Georgia in November, the RSM Classic was won by Ludvig Aberg, a 24-year-old who was playing college golf for Texas Tech in the spring.

In Hawaii in January, the Sony Open was won by Grayson Murray, playing just his second event since earning a PGA Tour card via promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour.

In the California desert two weeks ago, the American Express was won by Nick Dunlap, a college sophomore just a few weeks past his 20th birthday who left his seat in the back of the University of Alabama bus to outplay a full field of PGA Tour cardholders. 

In San Diego last week, the Farmers Insurance Open was won by Matthieu Pavon, a Frenchman playing in his third PGA Tour event after earning his PGA Tour card via the DP World Tour. Not only that, but Pavon beat Nicolai Hojgaard, another DP Tour graduate who finished second while playing through jet lag after flying from a tournament in Dubai the week prior.

"Yeah, that was a big present for us to get the spots to come here and play in America," said Pavon last week at the Farmers. "I feel like the level in Europe gets better every year, some very tough players coming out of Europe. As you said, Nicolai is a super nice player. His brother (Rasmus), too. There are so many great ones I'm thinking about (Adrian) Meronk (who just signed with LIV Golf), about Ryan Fox. I think it gets really better over there and it's nice to come over in America and show America that we can play some golf."

Matthieu Pavon's Major Championship Record

The 21-year-old Hojgaard was playing in his first PGA Tour event as a member, earning his PGA Tour card after winning the DP World Tour Championship in December, just a few months after playing for the victorious European team in the Ryder Cup.

Nicolai Hojgaard's Major Championship Record

"Yeah, it's exciting," Hojgaard said last week of his PGA Tour opportunity. "There's a lot of good players and you see the guys coming over now playing some really good golf. There's still plenty on the DP World Tour that's really, really good."

The week before Dunlap outplayed top pros Justin Thomas and Sam Burns down the stretch to become the first amateur in 33 years to win a PGA Tour event. The last was Phil Mickelson in 1991. 

Nick Dunlap's Major Championship Record

"Clearly he is just a professional in a college kid's body at the moment," said Max Homa last week prior to the Farmers. "The "A" next to his name is just for looks. That was pretty special. 

"It's incredible to me. I've seen a lot of college golfers come out here and you see their talent and you would never be surprised for them to shoot a 60 or 61 or 62, they're so good. I usually just reference Collin Morikawa. I watched him in college and he played professional golf tournaments when he was in college. He lost in a playoff like in a Korn Ferry event and I just couldn't believe that these kids like Nick and him and others obviously cannot only have that talent, but already know how to use it and how to play and how to prepare like a professional. That stuff is amazing.

"I was quite the opposite. I played my first pro event and I got ninth in a Tour event and I thought, oh, I'm doing all the things right, and golf just kind of slaps you across the face. And these guys just seem to just not have that. They know what they're doing. They're not looking around, they're not worried about what I'm doing or anybody else. They just know if they play their games, they're going to do just fine. 

"Just watching Nick, I guess we didn't really get to watch until the last hole but just seeing him hang in there, just felt like he was comfortable. That's something that I just can't -- I'm just so impressed by because I just don't think people get how uncomfortable you are in new settings, in new situations. He just made that look -- just looked like he was ready for it and it was awesome."

The phenomenon can be traced back to three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who joined the tour in 2013 at age 19 and won in his 15th event that year, two weeks shy of his 20th birthday. A year and a half later, Spieth won the U.S. Open.

"I may be contradicting myself a little bit," Spieth said after winning the John Deere in 2013. "It's one thing, you want to approach it mentally. You want it on your mind telling yourself to have the confidence that you do in a college event when you've won before. You want to have past success in your head, and that's what I tried to do. ... I miss college. I miss Austin. I plan on going down there in the upcoming weeks. I've got a lot of friends down there that I don't get to see as often as I did before. 

"Obviously, it's summertime, so a lot of them are back home, which is nice. But it's just a different year dealing with that kind of stuff, which isn't difficult, per se, but, yeah, I like going down there. Seeing all the guys on the team, seeing Coach Fields, who I wouldn't be here without him and his support."

In 2019, Colin Morikawa won his sixth start after turning professional, and would follow that up a year later with his first major championship, the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, just miles from Cal Berkeley, where he went to college. 

" I think it does help to know that we can go and our games have translated, but I think I've already proven to myself that I can come out here and play with these guys," Morikawa said in July, 2019. "You know, I've told everyone, I've felt very comfortable since the first day I've stepped out here on the PGA TOUR. ... the competition in college is so good. You see the guys and you see the Korn Ferry TOUR now and it's just a bunch of college players and a bunch of guys - when I was a freshman that they were sophomores, juniors, seniors that are out there now competing against each other, and it's cool because for me, the more comfortable I am, the easier it's going to be."

Said Thomas Detry, a second-year PGA Tour who played his college golf at Illinois, last week at the Farmers" "I think more than in any sport I think college golf is just the pathway to the PGA Tour, I think. There's just no ways around it, it's just so strong. 

"We see all these guys, Ludvig Aberg, Viktor Hovland a couple of years ago, Nick Dunlap, Matthew Wolff, like all these guys who were dominating out there are clearly good enough to come out here. I think it's a great test, it's a great way of knowing if your game is ready for the PGA Tour or not when in college and you're learning so much. It's obviously competitive, the courses are great, it makes you ready for the professional life. It's definitely a must do, to go to college if you want to turn pro in my opinion. 

That being the case, the PGA Tour University, which ranks players playing in college where the "No. 1 player will earn PGA TOUR membership for the remainder of the current season, as well as the following season." 

Allowing 10 players from the DP World Tour to earn PGA Tour cards, as well as the top members of the Korn Ferry Tour, has widened access to the PGA Tour circuit. 

These are just a few items on the long list of things have not been going well for the rank-and-file PGA Tour professional of late. Not only have the rules for earning a place in PGA Tour events gotten more difficult, but long-term security has become more tenuous than ever.

"If you're not in that top-50 right now, points are huge," said Nate Lashley, a PGA Tour player since 2018 who finished T3 at Farmers. "Getting into the top-50, they have such

an advantage on points, it's - in my opinion, it's ridiculous. I think it's horrible and a lot of guys aren't happy about it.

"But yeah, you've got to have a lot of top finishes because keeping up with those guys thatare in the elevated events is going to be extremely difficult."

Although he has been competing in Europe in recent years, Pavon serves as a perfect example of why PGA Tour professionals continue to tee it up, scamble for any berth in any PGA Tour field, no matter what level of success their recent results have provided them. 

"The thing is, to be fair ... that wasn't my goal in 2023," said Pavon when asked if a PGA Tour card was his goal going into 2023. "I had no wins there (in Europe). I spent seven years battling on the DP World Tour trying to get my first win. I achieved that so far, and then all of a sudden on the perfect timing I have to say it comes in Spain, wire to wire. It proved to me that I'm capable to do great things. My confidence level went up. Also, with my staff we're doing the right things to be competitive at a high level of sport.

"Then birdied the last four in Dubai to get myself into the PGA TOUR and since then I'm like on a cloud, I'm flying. It's incredible.

"After I just came here in America, just trying to enjoy every moment. It's a dream since I am 16, since I came to America for the first time to practice in West Palm. I loved everything about America, the mentality, the sport, everything you guys do. It feels like I'm an American somehow.

"Yeah, I mean, to be fair, I had almost no pressure coming, playing in America. It's like it's just an opportunity. If I fail, I could just go back in Europe and I start again. So it was just like trying to do your best every day, enjoy every moment because they are special ones, I can tell you there are very special ones and it looked like it worked."

Sure, a PGA Tour card must be earned - an amazing feat that requires great golf - however, keeping that card has become more and more of a challenge for the 150 or so players who have been playing a level of golf that is not good enough to earn their way into the top 50 in the FedEx Cup standings. 

The answer? Play better.