NORTH PLAINS, Ore. — Michael Thorbjornsen had a very strong sophomore season at Stanford, but it wasn’t particularly special. He finished the year ranked 17th in the nation and tied for 32nd in the individual portion of the NCAA Championship. First Team All Pac-12 and Second Team/Honorable Mention All-American, depending on which publication you trust. Again, very good. Nothing out of the ordinary.
However, the summer has been kinder to the 2018 US junior amateur champion. She went through an eight-for-three playoff to reach the US Open in her home state of Massachusetts, eventually missing the cut. Then, a week after Brookline, she soloed fourth against a packed field at the Travelers Championship. It was, according to CBS’s Kyle Porter, the first time this century that an amateur had finished fourth or better in a no-major with such a strong field.
Thobjornsen’s success, coupled with his lack of dominance at Stanford, is a testament to the strength and depth of the college game today. This is the current composition of the Official World Golf Ranking. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, No. 2 Jon Rahm, No. 4 Collin Morikawa, No. 5 Justin Thomas, No. 7 Patrick Cantlay, No. 8 Sam Burns and No. 9 Viktor Hovland they played several seasons of college golf. The best college golfers become the best golfers, period. It hasn’t always been this way, but now it is.
Consider recent Texas graduate Pierceson Coody, who built a five-shot lead on the Korn Ferry Tour on Sunday. He finished the year at No. 11 in the Golfstat rankings, once again a very good college player but not a phenom, and yet he and his brother Parker (No. 51) still received a surprising offer from LIV Golf. backed by Saudi Arabia. .
The pitch could not have been easy to turn down. But first, a bit of context. Pierceson Coody finished first in the PGA Tour University rankings for college seniors, giving him Korn Ferry Tour status for the remainder of the year. This direct path from college golf to the PGA Tour ecosystem (the PGA Tour, the Korn Ferry Tour, the PGA Tour Canada and the PGA Tour Latin America) has only been around since 2020. Before then, recent graduates would have to rely on invitations of sponsors to enter. events, then I hope they play well enough in those events to keep it going. Otherwise Q school like everyone else.
Pierceson Coody and the rest of the top five have it much, much better than college players from previous years. But the landscape of professional golf today is nothing like it was 12 months ago, and it could look brand new 12 months from now. Such is the nature of this very uncertain time in sport. And now young people have options. Coody chose to stick with the traditional route, accepting his Korn Ferry Tour status and working his way onto the big-money big tour, to follow in the footsteps of fellow Texans Sheffler, Jordan Spieth and Will Zalatoris, who established themselves on the PGA Tour with quite quickly.
“I know all those guys and if they believe in the PGA Tour and believe in what it stands for and what they’re doing, then I think I made the right decision,” he told Golf.com.
The unlucky No. 6 in those positions, the first outside of the Korn Ferry spots, was Alex Fitzpatrick. He was also offered LIV, and he also turned it down. Fitzpatrick initially saw himself leaving college early, like his older brother Matt, until he saw the quality of college golf.
“That was my mindset, maybe leaving after a few years,” says Fitzpatrick. “But when I got here and started playing college events here, I thought: OMG. The guys here are really good. My first event, I think I finished fourth and I played very well, and I lost by six points to a guy I had never heard of. I couldn’t believe how good most of the players you’ve never heard of were.”
Alex Fitzpatrick will play at PGA Tour Canada events this summer and is hoping to get some sponsor invites at PGA Tour and DP World Tour events. Unless he does something extraordinary, he will be at the Q school at the end of this year. He is far from models and bottles.
Eugenio Chacarra, who finished in the number 2 position in the university ranking, took the money. After originally retiring from PGA Tour U rankings to return to Oklahoma State for another year, he changed course and signed with LIV Golf. The Spaniard explained his decision on Instagram:
“I recently received an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down,” he said. “It’s one of those trains that pass once in a lifetime.”
PR jargon and Greg Norman & Co. buzzwords aside, it boiled down to this: You can try to play your way for a chance to win millions of dollars. If you play poorly from the start, who knows? You may never make it to the PGA Tour. Or you can sign this paper and we’ll give you millions of dollars.
LIV will continue to aggressively court the game’s best fans, who typically play college golf. Their first wave of signings were largely guys who were no longer in their prime, and they’ve had a hard time shedding an early reputation as a place guys go to when they decide they don’t much care about competing at the highest level. Signing more players like Chacarra would create additional holes in that narrative. For LIV, it’s a no-brainer.
For the PGA Tour, keeping these top prospects in their fold should also be a no-brainer. PGA Tour U was an important step in the right direction, but it just didn’t go far enough. Maybe it did initially, but not now, when LIV exists as a tempting proposition for kids who want to cash in on its success. The PGA Tour should offer the best college players a direct path to the best league in the world. Every other American team sport does it. Tennis, always the natural comparison to golf, is not apples to apples because the vast majority of top talent don’t play in college.
Which brings us to the meritocracy argument. It’s true, golf has remained a model of fairness in professional sports. PGA Tour cards are earned, not given, and the PGA Tour has pushed that message because it feels it preserves a kind of moral high ground. Ideally, golf would remain like this. It is one of the innumerable charms of our game.
But organizations must adapt to protect their primacy. The PGA Tour is no different. And, theoretically at least, you would qualify for one of these direct PGA Tour spots with your game and your game alone. We also don’t advocate giving players multi-year contracts that guarantee them millions of dollars no matter how they play.
Instead, here’s how it would fit into the tour’s new FedEx Cup schedule, which runs from January through August, with the top 50 qualifying for a lucrative uncut series while the rest compete for cards and priority numbers: top five college players (must be all players, not just seniors, as there is nothing to prevent LIV from drafting freshmen) at the end of the college season receive PGA Tour status for the remainder of the year . Play well enough and they’ll earn full status for the guaranteed money events. If they didn’t do that, they would play in the fall national series with the rest of the tour pros watching from the sidelines. The 5-15 finishers should earn Korn Ferry Tour status instead of PGA Tour Canada status.
There would still, of course, be multiple paths to stardom for the Zach Johnsons and Xander Schauffele of the world, guys who made No star in college, but became world-class players. But from a purely Machiavellian standpoint — and that’s how the PGA Tour should think — they need to sweeten the pot for the best college players, so they don’t have to rely on the loyalty of Pierceson Coody.