For the first time in 10 years, PGA TOUR cards are at stake at the Qualifying School presented by Korn Ferry Final Stage starting on Thursday, and it presents a rare chance for aspiring Asian golfers to make their dreams come true.
The likes of upcoming Japanese star Keita Nakajima, Korea’s No. 1 Jeongwoo Ham, K.K. Limbhasut of Thailand, China’s Yi Cao and Jason Hak Shunyat of Hong Kong are amongst a strong 165-man field who will battle over four days at TPC Sawgrass’ Dye’s Valle Course and Sawgrass Country Club.
The top five finishers and ties will earn coveted PGA TOUR cards for 2024.
For others like Korea’s Sung Kang and Seungyul Noh, Satoshi Kodaira of Japan, who are winners on the PGA TOUR, and China’s Marty Zecheng Dou, who lost his card after finishing outside the top 125 of the FedExCup, this week is an opportunity to fight back.
Nakajima, a Japanese native aged 23, is accomplished at various levels of golf where he was ranked the world’s No. 1 amateur for 87 weeks and has since won six times on the Japan Golf Tour (JGTO), including three in the last six months.
As the No. 1 in Japan, he is exempt into the Final Stage thanks to a strategic alliance between the JGTO, DP World Tour and PGA TOUR. “My good performance on JGTO has granted me this wonderful opportunity. I am going to do my best so that I can make most of this chance. I’m feeling good about my game now,” he said.
“It makes me very happy to receive this opportunity. I want to play this week with confidence and understanding that I am the winner of the order of merit on JGTO. Truly, my goal has always been to play on the PGA TOUR. I certainly want to convert this opportunity and do my best to finish inside top 5 so that I can play in the U.S next year.”
Like Nakajima, Korea’s Jeongwoo Ham topped the Genesis Point Ranking on the domestic Korean PGA Tour this year to gain direct entry following one win and 10 other top-10s this season. Four good days could see Ham joining the likes of compatriots Tom Kim, Sungjae Im, K.H. Lee and Si Woo on the globe’s premier circuit next year.
China’s Marty Zecheng Dou, who completed his second season on the PGA TOUR last month, goes back to school armed with the knowledge that he already has conditional status next season which will guarantee limited starts on TOUR while compatriot Yi Cao, who has won in Canada this year, will be aiming to become only the fourth mainland golfer to earn a PGA TOUR card should he emerge amongst the five and ties this weekend.
After grinding through Stage 1 and 2 over the past two months, Hong Kong’s Jason Hak Shunyat and Thailand’s K.K. Limbhasut will be determined to end their campaigns on a high note. Hak made a name for himself by becoming the youngest player at 14 years old to make the halfway cut at the 2008 Hong Kong Open on the DP World Tour. He subsequently earned a place at golf-renowned Georgia Tech before turning professional in 2013 prior to his sophomore year.
Limbhasut, who was co-medalist in one of the Stage 2 venues, attended Cal-Berkeley in California where he was teammates with two-time major winner Collin Morikawa and became firm friends. He cut his professional teeth on the Korn Ferry Tour and is yearning for a breakthrough by earning a PGA TOUR card. Only Kiradech Aphibarnrat has previously held a TOUR card for Thailand.
Morikawa said of Limbhasut previously: “We’ve been super close for a while and we talk almost every day. We talk like he’s my brother,” said Morikawa. “It’s awesome to see players that are my age, who I know really well, play well on the Korn Ferry Tour and hopefully make their way out here.”
All players who play four rounds this week and will secure conditional Korn Ferry Tour and PGA TOUR Americas status at minimum for 2024. After the top five and ties who earn PGA TOUR cards, the next 40 finishers (and ties) will receive guaranteed Korn Ferry Tour starts and the next 20 and ties at will earn exempt status for the Latin America Swing of the 2024 PGA TOUR Americas season.