This week’s President’s Cup matches in Australia may be the last big golf event of 2019 world-wide, but it’s certainly not the most important for six Chicago area pro tour hopefuls.
The third and final stage of qualifying for the Korn Ferry Tour is on tap from Thursday through Sunday (DEC 12-15) at Orange County National in Orlando, FL., and six Chicago area players face a 72-hole test that could be career-changing. The Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com) circuit offers a direct path to the PGA Tour and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim used it to make it to golf’s premier circuit earlier this year.
Now some other Chicago stars hope to do the same. Deerfield’s Vince India and Lake Forest’s Brad Hopfinger hope to retain their status as full-time Korn Ferry members. The former University of Iowa teammates are among only 10 players owning titles in both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open, but that doesn’t carry any weight when it comes to the pro tours.
Both have had their moments in several seasons on the satellite circuit but not played well enough to earn promotion to the PGA Tour. While they are assured some starts on the Korn Ferry circuit in 2020 neither met the standards for full-time membership. That’s why they’re in the nail-biting qualifying session.
Last year Hopfinger was No. 79 on the Korn Ferry money list and India was No. 85. Only the top 75 qualified for last fall’s Korn Ferry Playoffs. India’s bid to reach those playoffs ended with a heart-breaking double bogey on the last hole of the last regular season tournament.
Both are ready to give it another try, however, and they’ll be joined by four other local players – Nick Hardy of Northbrook, Andy Pope of Glen Ellyn, Jordan Hahn of Sugar Grove and Patrick Flavin of Highwood. Hardy, Flavin and Hahn are former Illinois State Amateur champions who survived the first two stages of Korn Ferry qualifying. Pope has had good success in U.S. Open qualifiers, reaching the finals four times, but has been largely unsuccessful in his other tour endeavors.
All four, though may be peeking at the right time for this week’s important test. Pope finished second in his Korn Ferry Stage II qualifier in Plantation, FL., last month. Hardy tied for fifth in his Stage II challenge in McKinney, TX, and Hahn, who just finished off a solid amateur career at the University of Wisconsin, reached the Korn Ferry finals with a tie for 18th in his Stage II test in Brooksville, FL.
Flavin, though, may be the best prepared of them all. As an amateur he became only the second player to win both the Illinois State Amateur and Illinois Open in the same year (2017), then opted for a different approach to turning pro. He tested himself on the PGA’s Latinoamerica Tour and concluded his season with a third-place finish on Sunday in its Shell Championship. He did it with a 68-67 finish in the weekend rounds and that padded his season winnings to $68,130, the strong finish boosting him from ninth to sixth on the tour’s season money list.
Korn Ferry players can get to the PGA Tour immediately by winning three tournaments in a season. The top 25 in the regular season money list also advance to the premier circuit as do the top 25 following the season-ending playoff events.
The Chicago District Golf Association had a tie in its player-of-the-year race for the first time since the award was presented in 1993. Jordan Less, a Northern Illinois University player from Elmhurst, and David Perkins, from Illinois State and East Peoria, shared the award. Another East Peoria resident, Tim Sheppard, became the fifth player to repeat at CDGA Senior Player of the Year.
The CDGA also announced next year’s sites for its two biggest championships. The 90th Illinois State Amateur will be July 21-23 at Wynstone, in Barrington, and the 101st Chicago District Amateur with be at Bull Valley, in Woodstock, from June 22-25. The organization also has made major changes in its CDGA Golfer. The magazine will now be produced by Greater Golf Resorts of the World, which also publishes New York’s Met Golfer, and Chicago golf media veteran Barry Cronin will be the new editor.
Seconds in Florida
Carlos Sainz Jr., winner of both the Illinois Open and Chicago Open when he was an Elgin resident, was a regular on both the PGA and Web.com tours. Now based in Houston, Sainz may be on a different career path but he can still play. He finished second in the PGA Assistants Championship earlier this month in Port St. Lucie, FL
PGA Golf Club, where Sainz made his strong showing in the national event, is also the site of the PGA of America’s Winter Tournament Series, and Dakun Chang, assistant professional at Twin Orchard in Long Grove and the 2018 Illinois PGA champion, was runner-up in the second event.