|WINTER GARDEN, Florida—Twenty-seven top-10 money-list finishers from the 2019 PGA TOUR International Tours—PGA TOUR Latinoamérica, Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada and PGA TOUR Series-China—entered the final stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament this week hoping to improve their status going into the 2020 season. Eight did just that, led by American Tom Whitney, who last week completed his PGA TOUR Latinoamérica season No. 2 on the Order of Merit and then proceeded to tie for third at the Qualifying Tournament that concluded Sunday at Orange County National’s Crooked Cat and Panther Lake Courses.
Whitney already knew he would be playing a fair amount on the 2020 Korn Ferry Tour. By virtue of his performance this week, he knows he’s guaranteed a dozen starts, which will immensely help him set his early schedule. Whitney opened the tournament this week with a 2-over 73 in the first round then went 22-under the rest of the way earn the top-three position. Another No. 2 Order of Merit finisher, Canadian Taylor Pendrith from the Mackenzie Tour, tied for 30th and assured himself of eight 2020 starts, while David Kocher, No. 3 on the PGA TOUR Series-China Order of Merit, tied for 21st at Orange County National and joins Pendrith in the guaranteed-eight-starts category.
“It’s really been a fun week, especially after the plus-2 start,” Whitney said following his final round. “I entered the week with five guaranteed starts after finishing No. 2 on PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. Obviously, I didn’t have as much pressure as everybody else in the field. I was a little down after that first day, but to be 22-under over the last three rounds is something special, and it’s something I’ll feed off going into the start of the new season.”
Alongside Whitney, Shad Tuten and Ryan Ruffels were the other 2019 PGA TOUR Latinoamérica alums to earn guaranteed tournament starts once the Korn Ferry Tour season begins. Tuten, who finished the season No. 8 on the Order of Merit, finished in a tie for 13th at the event, assured himself eight starts. Ruffels, a 21-year old Australian who finished seventh on the Order of Merit in 2019, earned the same number of guaranteed starts, finishing the event in a tie for 21st. From the Mackenzie Tour, Dawson Armstrong (No. 8) and Greyson Sigg (No. 9) both shot four rounds in the 60s to tie for seventh, performances worth 12 Korn Ferry Tour starts.
From PGA TOUR Series-China, in addition to Kocher, Japan’s Yuwa Kosaihira, the eighth-place Order of Merit finisher, greatly helped himself this week, tying for 30th to also earn eight starts.
“I’m so proud of myself for the way I handled [the pressure]. It feels awesome,” Tuten explained following his final-round 68. “I’ve been going to Q-School every year since turning pro. Last year I actually missed (qualifying for) second stage by one shot. There was a little motivation there, I guess.”
Numerous other players who have played on the International Tours either in 2019 or in previous seasons, took advantage of their opportunities this week. England’s Steve Lewton has played the last two seasons in China, placing 13th on this year’s Order of Merit. All Lewton did in the Central Florida sunshine was go from conditional Korn Ferry Tour status when the week began to a guaranteed 12 starts with this tie-for-third performance.
Of the 40 players who earned guaranteed starts in 2020, 29 have played at least five International Tour tournaments in their careers, with an additional three players seeing limited International Tour action, including co-medalist Curtis Thompson, who played a couple of Mackenzie Tour events in 2018.
“PGA TOUR Latinoamérica has a long season. So, to finish No. 2 down there means I strung together a year of some pretty good golf,” added Whitney, a 2010 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, recognizing this week’s showing was merely an extension of what he has done all season.
For Lewton, it was a great end to 2019 for the former North Carolina State University golfer who admitted he has played little golf in the U.S. since his college days ended 13 years ago. His unfamiliarity with Orange County National didn’t show this week.
“I’ve been hitting it a lot straighter this year; maybe not as far off the tee but a lot more consistently. I’m hitting a lot more greens in regulation and not having to rely on my short game as much,” Lewton said, noting his 65 greens in regulation this week.
It was a disappointing tournament ending for six players with International Tour experience. China’s Zhengkai Bai, Australia’s Harrison Endycott, Canada’s Richard Jung, Chile’s Mito Pereira and Americans Matt Ryan and Ryan Siegler all finished 41st this week, missing the top-40 (and ties) cutoff by one shot. Those six players will be conditionally exempt on the Korn Ferry Tour this season.
International Tour Players Inside the Top 40 at Q-School