How difficult is it to get on the PGA Tour? Just ask Vince India or Brad Hopfinger. They grew up in the Chicago suburbs, were stars at the University of Iowa together and among the select group of 10 players with wins in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open.
Both were early in their professional careers when they won the Illinois Open, Lake Forest’s Hopfinger doing it in 2014 and Deerfield’s India in 2018. Both followed those big wins by earning places on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour — a circuit that offers a direct path to the PGA Tour.
So far neither have completed that journey, but they should have an edge on their rivals in this week’s NV5 Invitational, Chicago’s annual Korn Ferry stop.It tees off on Thursday at The Glen Club in Glenview – the same course where both Korn Ferry veterans won their Illinois Opens.
India, who has played over 20 tournament rounds there, has particularly fond memories of his win.
“In 2018 nothing was going on good golf-wise,’’ said India. “My confidence was low, and I had a wonderful tournament. I’ve got good memories of the shots I hit there.’’
He hopes those good vibes will carry into this week’s $750,000 tournament, known as previously known as the Evans Scholars Invitational.
The top 25 on the Korn Ferry Tour’s point list at the end of this season get automatic berths on the PGA Tour in 2023, and those in the top 75 get a chance to play for 25 more in the three-tournament Korn Ferry Tour Finals that end in September.
India and Hopfinger aren’t the only Illinois Open champions in this week’s field at The Glen. Patrick Flavin, a rookie pro from Highwood, also won at The Glen in 2017 to complete a sweep of the state’s Amateur and Open. Other Illinois Open winners playing this week are Northern Illinois alum Bryce Emory, who won his title at White Eagle, in Naperville, in 2020, and Wheaton’s Tee-K Kelly who won last year at Stonebridge, in Aurora.
The field also includes University of Illinois alums Michael Feagles, Luke Guthrie, Nick Hardy and Dylan Meyer. Feagles tied for fourth in last week’s Korn Ferry stop in Kansas City, Mo., and Hardy, who earned his PGA Tour card through his play on the Korn Ferry last season, is dropping back down for a week in an effort to recover from a wrist injury.
Of all the players on that list only India and Feagles are in position for a berth in the Korn Ferry Finals now. India is No. 50 in the point standings and Feagles No. 70. India, who has been close to earning his PGA Tour card several times despite battling health issues, needs some good finishes to make the jump to golf’s premier circuit.
“I’ve been in striking distance. I’ve had plenty of chances but didn’t it done on the weekends,’’ he said.
India, now living in Chicago’s Jefferson Park neighborhood, suspected his climb to the PGA Tour would be a slow one.
“When I got my (Korn Ferry) card at 25 I had stuff wrong with my body and my swing, and I’ve undone a lot of those tangles,’’ said India. “Our season is so short you’ve got to play as many events as you can, and playing more leaves you more susceptible to injury. My body feels real good now, though, and that’s pretty encouraging because I’m seeing results in my golf game.’’
Now 33, India is even confident enough to skip a Korn Ferry event in Raleigh, N.C., next month to compete in a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open in Georgia. With an Official World Golf Ranking in the top 500, India could skip the Open local qualifiers this time and – while he admits progress has been slow – he’s in it for the long haul.
“The thirties are the new prime,’’ said India. “I have absolutely no time limits. As long as my body is healthy and my mid is fresh I’ll do this forever. I’m married to my golf game, and there’s not going to be a divorce.’’
FOOTNOTE: Clair Peterson, tournament director of the John Deere Classic for 20 years, has announced that next month’s JDC will be his last. He plans to retire after the post-tournament details are completed in the fall.