KFT Championship: Plenty on the line, including spots in U.S. Open
EVANSVILLE, Indiana — Professional golf was going to take place at Victoria National. Laureen Cates knew that much. She's excited about (...)
EVANSVILLE, Indiana — Professional golf was going to take place at Victoria National. Laureen Cates knew that much. She’s excited about it with good reason.
But so much goes into running a tournament that doesn’t involve the players. As the Tournament Director of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship presented by United Leasing & Finance, Cates faced many different challenges this year. Some were out of her control.
It means a very different golf tournament will take place this weekend.
The Korn Ferry Tour Championship returns to the Evansville area this week at Victoria National with the first round beginning on Thursday. It will be the ninth year a professional golf event has been hosted at the Tom Fazio design.
That’s about as normal as it will be during a pandemic.
“Until a month ago, we were trying to find a way to have spectators,” said Cates. “We hoped after that four-month layoff we would be able to return to normal golf and sell our sponsorships as normal. It never got back up and going. Canceling was never an option as far as the competition side.”
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March, Cates said the tournament halted sponsorship sales for the event. The hope was it would pick up closer to August. It never truly did. The tournament couldn’t guarantee the spectator experience.
The other has been the safety guidelines and regulations needed to be met in order to host. The Tropicana Pro-Am was held on Tuesday with all amateurs and many volunteers requiring tests for COVID-19 due to their close proximity to the professionals.
Cates said they went back and forth on whether to cancel that event.
“Our biggest challenge was all of the uncertainty,” said Cates. “The PGA Tour left it up to us (on the pro-am). Every market is very different.”
There are only 160 volunteers this year with a normal event requiring around 325. Most of those not needed were in hospitality or food. Shuttles, player services, transportation and scoring are still in place.
Cates still expects a strong golf tournament, even with all of the changes. She noted the opportunity for the players to earn a spot in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot Golf Club next month and many other story lines in play.
Players to watch in the field
The prize for those competing in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship will be different this year.
Normally, you’d watch the talented field compete for a PGA Tour card promotion. That has been postponed until the end of the 2021 season due to a shuffled schedule since the start of the pandemic. But there is still plenty on the line.
The top 10 in the Korn Ferry Tour points standings at the conclusion of the Tour Championship will earn entry into the PGA Tour’s additional events (also known as opposite-field events) during the 2020-21 season. The top-10 players on the current points list: Will Zalatoris (1,566 points), Davis Riley (1,445), Lee Hodges (1,232), Taylor Pendrith (1,121), Paul Barjon (968), Mito Pereira (948), Stephan Jaeger (909), Dylan Wu (905), Chad Ramey (889), David Lipsky (875).
Also, the top-five players (not otherwise exempt) on a three-tournament points list culminating in the Tour Championship will receive exemptions into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot in September. Those top five are currently Stephan Jaeger (702 points), Curtis Luck (600), Cameron Young (328), Brandon Wu (275) and Dan McCarthy (273).
There are 41 Korn Ferry Tour winners with 61 victories in the field, along with six PGA Tour winners with 13 victories.
The tournament tried to have fans on the grounds as recently as a month ago. But Cates said they couldn’t meet the guidelines issued by the state of Indiana and the PGA Tour to ensure health and safety.
First-round tee times began at 6:45 a.m. ET on Thursday with play in the first two rounds expected to go until 6 p.m. The Golf Channel will have coverage from 12-2 p.m. the first two days and 2-4 p.m. the final two.