DOTHAN, Alabama — With the way the last couple of years have gone for Stephen Franken, he told his wife, Caroline, that he was fully prepared to finish dead last this week at the PGA TOUR Canada Qualifying Tournament at RTJ Golf Trail at Highland Oaks.
Franken didn’t come close to bringing up the rear. Not even close.
The 25-year-old Raleigh, North Carolina, resident began the final round three strokes behind 54-hole leader Mark Goetz but caught his playing partner then passed him by shooting a final-round, 8-under 64. Franken finished at 19-under and defeat Goetz by a shot and will be eligible to play in every 2023 PGA TOUR Canada tournament. By finishing second, Goetz joined Will Chandler, Maclain Huge, Colin Monagle, Patrick Moriarty, and J.D. Hughes as players also earning 2023 PGA TOUR Canada membership.
There was a four-players-for-three-spots playoff between three amateurs—Riley Bell, Connor Howe and James Swash —and professional Jake Hennessy. All four players tied for eighth, at 10-under. The amateurs prevailed in the one-hole extra session, earning cards that will also allow them to play in the first half of the season. Hennessy will be conditionally exempt, along with 21 other players.
For Franken, a Korn Ferry Tour veteran, and Goetz, who earned conditional PGA TOUR Canada status here a year ago, the round turned into a makeshift match-play competition between the former North Carolina State star (Franken) and West Virginia University’s Goetz. In the end, while Goetz played a solid final round, shooting a 68, Franken’s day was sublime.
There’s also something about Highland Oaks that suits Franken. In 2019, at the Korn Ferry Tour’s second stage of its Qualifying Tournament, Franken was the medalist that led to him getting his Korn Ferry Tour membership.
“I haven’t won anything other than today and the Q-School here in 2019,” said Franken. “I’ve played golf at a high level and haven’t gotten it done. To get it done today is definitely a confidence boost and shows me that I’m where I’m supposed to be, that I’m totally good enough.”
Playing with Goetz and Moriarty in the final grouping to tee off, Franken watched as Goetz bogeyed the second hole. When he birdied No. 3 to Goetz’s par, Franken was only a stroke back. Goetz’s lead increased back to two when Franken made his lone bogey of the day, at No. 4. Goetz held a one-stroke lead at the turn despite Franken’s three birdies to close the opening nine, thanks to Goetz’s eagle at No. 7. By the time the duo got to the back nine, it was essentially a two-man battle for medalist honors.
Franken finally caught Goetz when he rolled in a five-foot birdie putt at the 12th then may have made his best putt of the day, at the 14th to stay tied.
Franken had to sink a difficult, 11-footer for par there, a hole Goetz also parred when he made an eight-footer on top of Franken. “It was probably the toughest hole on the course,” Franken said of the par-4. While Goetz finished his round birdie-birdie-par, Franken was one better, making three birdies in succession, securing the title by draining a nine-foot effort for the 64. Goetz’s birdie try to force a playoff missed.
”I’m sure at some point it will settle in that I have somewhere to play this summer, which is big for me, but for right now it stings a little bit,” Goetz said of the loss while still acknowledging how well Franken competed all day.
“He played great, especially his finish. Stephen played awesome,” he added.
“I was just so focused on hitting each shot in front of me the best I could that I got lost in [the process],” Franken said.
Did you know Stephen Franken has played in 12 career PGA TOUR Canada tournaments? His top finish came in 2019, when he tied for 11th at the Osprey Valley Open at TPC Osprey Valley outside of Toronto.
How the Tournament Worked
PGA TOUR Canada along with PGA TOUR Latinoamérica are international PGA TOUR-sanctioned tours that provide access to the Korn Ferry Tour and are part of the pathway to the PGA TOUR. Since its inception in 2013, PGA TOUR Canada has held 32 Qualifying Tournaments across the U.S. and Canada. This event is the second of six 2023 PGA TOUR Canada Qualifiers scheduled in advance of the 2023 season. Each qualifier is a 72-hole, no-cut event, with playoffs, if necessary, for the medalist position and for the 10th and final position available.
One-hundred-thirty players started the tournament Tuesday, with 122 completing all 72 holes. Below is a breakdown of the various PGA TOUR Canada membership statuses players earned this week.
|Exempt membership for the 2023 season|
|2nd through 10th (no ties)
|Exempt through the reshuffle, which will occur approximately halfway through the season|
|11th through 30th (plus ties)
- Players in this week’s field came from eight countries or territories: Australia, Canada, Colombia, England, France, Germany, Mexico and the United States. The only non-U.S. player to earn status through the first reshuffle was England’s James Swash.
- By winning this week, Stephen Franken joins past PGA TOUR Canada RTJ Golf Trail at Highland Oaks Qualifying Tournament medalists Jacob Bridgeman (2022), Keenan Huskey (2021) and Cameron Young (2020).
- Amateur Connor Howe had dug himself a bit of a hole Friday. After shooting a third-round 65 to put himself into contention, Howe stood on the eighth tee and was 2-under for the day. But a double bogey on the par-4 eighth dropped him back, and four pars and then a bogey, at No. 14, left him in a precarious spot, him earning a card in question. All the native Utahn, a senior at Georgia Tech, did to finish was hole out from 102 yards for eagle on the par-5 15th. He then added another birdie at the 17th that got him into the four-for-three playoff. He emerged from that, giving Howe a place to play once his college eligibility is complete later this spring.
- In the latest PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global rankings, Connor Howe is ranked 34th. JamesSwash of Louisiana Tech is No. 165, while Sacramento State’s Riley Bell is unranked.
- With a final-round 67, Jackson Solem secured conditional status, moving from a tie for 32nd when the day began to land in a tie for 13th. Solem was par or better all four days but had a wild final round. He made seven birdies, an eagle, a double bogey and two other bogeys.
- Finishing just outside those tied for 30th and consequently missing out on earning conditional PGA TOUR Canada status were Ben Hadden, Hunter Eichorn, Eric Ansett, Will Cannon, Kyle Sterbinsky, Shawn Tipton, Eli Scottand Cody Proveaux. They all finished at 2-under and tied for 33rd.
- Through 36 holes, Mclain Huge was at even-par. He opened with a 71 followed by a 21-over 73. After that, the former Virginia Tech golfer and native of Lovettesville, Virginia played terrific golf, posting back-to-back 66s over his last two rounds to tie for third.
- Canada’s Patrick Williams did not earn his membership card this week, but he did have solid final day, shooting a 5-under 67 to improve 24 leaderboard positions, into a tie for 56th. Blair Bursey was the low Canadian, although he, too, did not earn membership. Bursey fired a final-round 69 to go from a tie for 64th into a tie for 47th.
There were 26 amateurs playing this week, with 23 completing 72 holes. Here is how they finished and the status they earned.
|T8||Connor Howe (U.S.)||278 (-10)||Exempt through Reshuffle|
|T8||James Swash (U.S.)||278 (-10)||Exempt through Reshuffle|
|T8||Riley Bell (U.S.)||278 (-10)||Exempt through Reshuffle|
|12||Aymeric Laussot (France)||279 (-9)||Conditional|
|15||Blain Turner (U.S.)||281 (-7)||Conditional|
|T41||Sean Wilcox (U.S.)||287 (-1)||None|
|T43||Michael Shears (U.S.)||288 (even)||None|
|T50||Brent Hamm (U.S.)||290 (+2)||None|
|T50||Christian Fanfelle (U.S.)||290 (+2)||None|
|T50||John Bush (U.S.)||290 (+2)||None|
|T56||Andrew O’Leary (U.S.)||291 (+3)||None|
|T60||Joey Ranieri (U.S.)||292 (+4)||None|
|T60||Max Charles (Australia)||292 (+4)||None|
|T72||James Hunneke (U.S.)||295 (+7)||None|
|T78||Mason Nome (U.S.)||297 (+9)||None|
|T82||Diego Garcia Hernandez (Mexico)||299 (+11)||None|
|T82||Carter Prince (U.S.)||299 (+11)||None|
|T82||Patrick Healy (U.S.)||299 (+11)||None|
|T88||Tyler Gray (U.S.)||301 (+13)||None|
|T107||Will Thomson (U.S.)||309 (+21)||None|
|T112||Will Holmgren (U.S.)||311 (+23)||None|
|T112||Kade Luebke||311 (+23)||None|
|T116||Ash Hakim (U.S.)||315 (+27)||None|
|WD||Colin Buckborough (Canada)||None|
|WD||Andrew Gianaros (U.S.)||None|
|DQ||Kyle Leeds (U.S.)||None|
Player’s Words from the 19th Hole
“I’ve been surprised playing some of these mini-tour events and then this week watching some of the play by a lot of these guys. There are a lot of really good players. Even winning this week was not easy. To be able to come out here and have the peace I had this week is something I haven’t experienced on a golf course in a while.”
“I was just happy to be here, so thankful for the good weather and thankful for little things. My faith has been a steady rock for me. All glory to God. I wasn’t really thinking about winning the whole day. I was just trying to play solid golf and trying to enjoy it.” – Stephen Franken
Final-Round Weather: Overcast and mild, with a high of 77. Wind NNW at 8-11 mph.