In the shortest flip of the calendar in professional sports, the PGA TOUR kicks off the start of a brand new season this week. Less than three weeks removed from the TOUR Championship, the TOUR travels to West Virginia for the first event of the 2019-2020 season, this week's A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
It's barely enough time for most TOUR players to recharge their batteries, but for 50 new hopefuls, the opening tee shot at The Old White TPC can't come soon enough.
Since 1990, the Korn Ferry Tour (formerly the Web.com Tour) has served as the proving ground for players hoping to earn their way onto golf's biggest stage, the PGA TOUR. For the the seventh straight year, 50 players have done just that, earning the equivalent of calls up to the Major Leagues - PGA TOUR cards for the 2019-2020 season. And of these players, an overwhelming 39 relied on a Pro V1 or Pro V1x golf ball for their success this season.
At the close of the Korn Ferry Tour regular season in August, the money list standings established "The 25", the top-25 finishers who earned promotions for the following season onto the PGA TOUR. But the tour also provided a second chance to make it to the big show in the form of The Finals, a four-tournament series with 25 additional PGA TOUR cards up for grabs.
In the gallery below, take a closer look at the Korn Ferry Tour graduates who trusted a Pro V1 or Pro V1x golf ball in 2019.
We wanted to learn more about some of the new players we'll be introduced to next season, as well as some of the established veterans who'll be making another run at the FedExCup, so we reached out to two Titleist equipment experts who worked with these 39 players as they pursued their 2019-2020 PGA TOUR cards.
Dino Antenucci, Manager of Golf Club promotion on the Korn Ferry Tour, is one of the most respected club authorities in the industry. Dino directs operations on the Titleist Tour Van that serves players at each tour stop throughout the Korn Ferry schedule.
TEAM TITLEIST: Dino, can you sum up your experience on the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour?
DINO ANTENUCCI: It was a great season. We had a lot of great players. It's always a bit of a shame, because so many of your guys really could have gotten through, but hey, that's what the Korn Ferry Tour is here for. It's a learning experience to help players get to the next stage.
I hate saying this, but we had a very easy year this year. The majority of players that we had weren't looking for major changes. Some guys were changing shafts in their irons or adding a club here or there to their bag, but the guys were really there to play this year. I think it has a lot to do with the success of the TS driver. When the driver's good, everything else seems to be good in the bag. When the driver is a little off, players start having doubts – 'Can I get more out of it? Do I need a switch?' Then they're looking to change everything, they're looking to reinvent the whole golf bag and that takes their focus away from playing the game. So speaking about our product, I think the success we've had since launching TS has just kind of trickled down through the rest of the bag.
TT: When you look at the list of players who have just earned their PGA Tour Cards, are there any guys that stand out?
D.A.: Yeah, all of them! I mean these guys are all so talented and it's such a fine line between Korn Ferry and the PGA Tour. You don't have to look any further than Robert Streb. He's played on TOUR, won on TOUR. He knows what it takes. It's just incredibly competitive.
TT: How about some players that we may not be as familiar with?
D.A.: Right off the bat, you have to look at Scottie Scheffler. He was a standout at University of Texas, big expectations coming into the season and he responded. He won a couple times and played very steady golf all season. I think his game will translate very well to the PGA Tour.
Another guy kind of right there towards the top of the list is Robby Shelton. Another young gun of ours coming out of Alabama. A lot of great things expected of him. It took him a couple years to play out here on the Korn Ferry Tour, just really getting some experience and understanding how to play. He'd have some good events, but then, again, just some mediocre events.
Then this year he just really took Tennessee by storm. Actually, we kind of coined it the 'Tennessee Slam' because he won both events. The cool story about him was, obviously, he won his first event. But then right after, he came to us wanting to get more height out of his long irons. So we went from his typical Dynamic Gold shafts to the AMT in the long irons just to get a little more height, and he really liked them.
And this is not even getting on TrackMan. Just hitting shots, visually looking at ball flight. That's kind of a cool thing because it's a lost art. So many of the guys today rely on the numbers. And a player like Robby, although he utilizes Track Man data, more often than not, it's how the ball looks in flight that matters to him. He really liked the ball flight, so he said, 'Do me a favor, build me out the rest of this set with the same shafts.'
Robbie had always been an MB/CB split player, but we decided to go ahead with a full set of 620 CBs, just trying to give him, not only more height, but more forgiveness throughout the set.
And his first time playing the new irons he wins in Knoxville.
TT: Do you see a difference in the style of play on the Korn Ferry Tour vs. PGA? For a while there was a perception that all the players are "Bomb and Gouge" on Korn Ferry.
D.A.: I think we're still in a transition period. There's still excitement over the long hitter, like there's always been, but it seems in recent years, we're getting ball speeds on a more consistent basis throughout the field that we haven't seen in the past, where ball speeds are up in the 180s. It wasn't that long ago that we looked at someone and said, 'Wow, this guy is 175 miles an hour. That's amazing.'
Well, now we're looking at 185 at the upper end. But when you really kind of go down throughout the list of guys who have made it out here, the majority of those guys are still that 165 mile an hour ball speeds, 175 mile an hour ball speed. The consistent play still comes through the middle to the higher clubs in the bag. Are they good iron players? Are they good wedge players? Are they good putters?
It comes down to consistency. When you see a player like Bo Hoag, you think, this is somebody that will probably be pretty good on the PGA TOUR. He's got the game, he's got the speed, he's got the power, he's got the high ball flight with good spin, but he's a consistent player and he's always kind of around the number.
Also look at Doug Ghim, who had that incredible putt on the last hole of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship to get his card. Again, good ball speeds, high ball speeds. He's around the 170 miles an hour, but he just really has really good launch conditions. He hits the ball really straight, and he's just a heck of a wedge player around the greens, and a great putter too. So although the talk is about ball speed, and everyone says that's the direction that it's going to go, there's still a premium on being able to navigate yourself around a golf course. Guys like Bo and Doug, those are the types of players that tend to have success when they go to the PGA Tour, the guys that have consistency.
When you look down the list of Korn Ferry Tor graduates, you'll see a fairly even mix among Titleist players between Pro V1 and Pro V1x. For some insight into how Korn Ferry players decide between models, we spoke with Jeff Beyers, Tour Consultant for Golf Ball Performance. Jeff acts as a liaison between Titleist Golf Ball R&D and Tour players on the PGA and Korn Ferry Tours.
TEAM TITLEIST: Have you seen any changes on the Korn Ferry Tour when it comes to the golf ball?
JEFF BEYERS: I think so, yeah. Over the years on all tours as we've changed the characteristics of Pro V1 and Pro V1x, we've seen the percentages get a lot closer. Five years ago it was such an X dominated tour. Korn Ferry Tour really used to be 80% X, 20% V.
With the introduction of 17V, and now 19V, our percentages have come down closer to 50/50. We actually had more Vs on Korn Ferry Tour most of this year. It was maybe 55V/45X, so pretty close. That mix between V and X isn't something we're too concerned with, but having a good representation of both V and X does tell us that we're offering great options for players in both models.
TT: Viktor Hovland is one of the top-50 who's generated a lot of buzz. He played some great golf already on the PGA TOUR. What can you tell us about Viktor?
J.B.: Viktor is a great story. We've recently started making some college visits to conduct prototype testing and this past year Oklahoma State was one of the schools we visited. We were testing with what would become 19V and 19X. Most of the golf team was in 2017 product at the time. 19V wasn't available or released yet, but as soon as it was, Viktor made the transition. I remember talking to him later at the Farmers, which I believe he played at a sponsor's exemption, and we were talking to him about that, making the transition. He said he did because of that testing we did in the fall at Oklahoma State.
TT: Another player among the top-50 graduates is Zac Blair. He uses a Pro V1x Yellow golf ball. What can you tell us about that choice?
J.B.:Yeah, Zac transitioned very easily into yellow. He was one of the first ones to put it in at the beginning of this year. If you know Zac's personality at all, he has some flair for sure. And that particular golf ball, 19X, is a great fit for him. Exactly what he was looking for. And the fact that it was available in yellow this year was a bonus to him, so he loves it. Loves the way it looks. Thinks it performs even better than white.
TT: Is there anything to that? We've heard many players swear that Yellow Pro V1 and Pro V1x outperform their white counterparts.
J.B.: Well, I can assure you, (Tour Consultant of Golf Ball Performance) Fordie Pitts and I take all of these comments back to R&D and investigate them with our engineers. In all our robot testing, which is extremely thorough, there's no performance difference between white and yellow.
That said, though, if you believe it, it's real, right? If a player is a little more excited to hit driver with the Pro V1 Yellow and therefore their club speed increases, and their ball speed increases and they hit it longer? And in their mind yellow goes further than white? Well, okay. That's great. But, again, off a robot, exactly the same club head speed, both white and yellow perform the same.
TT: As they make the transition to the PGA TOUR, will any players need anything new or different in terms of golf ball performance?
JEFF BEYERS: Course conditions are different on the Korn Ferry Tour. There's far less trouble when you miss fairways. And you really have to make a lot of birdies on that tour, so I think a lot of players are just looking to hit it as far as they possibly can and then hit the green and hopefully make three.
Some of that's true on the PGA Tour as well too, certainly, but the greens on Korn Ferry are not nearly as firm and fast as PGA TOUR. So I'm sure I'll be having a conversation or two with players who are looking for a little bit more spin out of their golf ball to hold those firmer, faster greens.
Getting accustomed to more demanding course conditions is just one of the big adjustments Korn Ferry graduates will have to make as they compete on the 2019-2020 PGA TOUR – tougher competition, bigger galleries, hotels vs. host families, more demands on players' time – but one constant will remain, the support of Titleist Tour staff.
DINO ANTENUCCI: That's the beauty of our job. Not only are we there to work with these players and help them, but we're building relationships. You look at a player like a Lanto Griffin, and Lanto's just got to hug. He's not going to shake your hand. He wants to hug. Ben Taylor will spend every day starting his day off in our trailer having a cup of coffee. Players do that because they considers us at Titleist as part of their family,. They look at all of us, not only with respect as far what we can do to help them, but as friends.
JEFF BEYERS: I'll have plenty of interaction with all these guys who have graduated. I've built good relationships with them in the past year, two, three, however long they've been on Korn Ferry. I'll be at every event this fall to start the new PGA TOUR season, West Coast Swing, into the spring and then intermittently throughout the summer, too.
Many of these players have PGA Tour experience of course, but you know, to some of them it's brand new. And to see friendly faces, when everything is brand new, it's definitely comforting. So, I'll definitely make a point to still see plenty of them.
Thank you, Dino and Jeff, for the great insights!
Congratulations to the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Top 50 and best of luck to all of #TeamTitleist on the PGA TOUR this season!