Things have always been a little different on the Korn Ferry Tour. While FedExCup points, Ryder Cup rankings and six-figure checks are the norm on the PGA Tour, those on golf’s top minor-league circuit are more concerned with securing their next start and clawing their way to a coveted top-25 position on the money list, and with it, a promotion to the senior circuit.
Along the way, Korn Ferry pros play a schedule that spans from the Bahamas to Wichita and just about everywhere in between. All in hopes of earning a Tour card.
That hope, as much as anything, is the engine that drives life on the Korn Ferry Tour.
But this year, with the COVID-19 crisis wreaking havoc on the PGA Tour schedule, hope for Korn Ferry graduates has been tossed into flux.
Last week the PGA Tour rolled out a revised 2020 schedule that provides direction for players on the top tour, but adds a new layer of uncertainty for Korn Ferry pros. In a typical campaign, the top 25 Korn Ferry pros at the regular season's conclusion earn PGA Tour cards. The top 75 Korn Ferry players also join PGA Tour pros ranked 126-200 on the FedExCup points list in the three-event Korn Ferry Tour Finals, where 25 more PGA Tour cards are up for grabs. That plan may not happen this year, according to PGA Tour Chief of Operations, Tyler Dennis, who indicated those players ranked 126-200 could retain their Tour cards for another year as a result of the shortened 2019-2020 season. That may leave the top Korn Ferry pros stuck in the minors for another full year.
Many Korn Ferry members could be affected. Take for example, Daniel Miernicki. A former University of Oregon standout, he led the Ducks to the NCAA semifinals in both 2010 and 2012 while earning first-team Pac-12 and All-American Honorable Mention accolades along the way. At last fall’s Q-school, Miernicki made his eighth appearance in the pressure-cooker event, finishing 12th and securing guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour. His fellow Ducks Aaron Wise and Wyndham Clark have cracked the Korn Ferry’s top-25 over the last two seasons, and both are now making waves on the PGA Tour.
With a strong showing at Q-school, Miernicki had positioned himself to do the same. Well, until COVID-19. “This is the first season I'm able to make my own schedule. Each previous season, I had conditional status and sometimes wouldn’t even be in the event until Monday or Tuesday,” he said in a recent interview with Golf News Hub. “It has been nice to know that I'm in every event.” After years of Monday qualifiers and last-second flights, Miernicki could focus less on logistics and more on winning events.
The PGA Tour has a new scenario in play: a wraparound season that would see players on each Tour retaining their status through the 2020-21 season. This prolonged schedule would alter things tremendously on the Korn Ferry Tour. “This week, we would have been starting an 11 week stretch with no weeks off,” Miernicki said. That mad dash could be replaced by a year-long marathon with more than 40 events.
In the meantime, players have had an unprecedented amount of free time over the past weeks. “I can’t remember the last time I was home for an entire month at one time,” Miernicki said. It’s also a financial hit. So, some pros, including Miernicki, have begun to play events on the Arizona-based Outlaw Tour, one of the few mini-tours that has remained open. “At the end of the day, playing tournament golf is how I support myself,” he said.
Once the PGA Tour resumes in June, Korn Ferry pros hope to have a clearer picture of their future, and how they can earn their promotions to the PGA Tour. “Hopefully we get some clarity here soon but worrying and stressing about it won’t provide answers,” Miernicki said. “My focus is on making sure when we do return, my game is ready to go.”
It's a whole lot of hope. Then again, that’s life on the path to the PGA Tour.