NEWBURGH, Ind. – Three years ago Justin Lower faced a 7-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the United Leasing & Finance Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
The stakes were clear. A birdie would earn Lower his first PGA TOUR card over The Finals par 25th, and final spot would go to Lower’s good friend and frequent trivia buddy Jim Knous.
Lower’s putt burned the edge, and he returned to the Korn Ferry Tour for 2019 and 2020. And 2021, with the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus that resulted in a 2020-21 combined Korn Ferry Tour season.
More than 600 days since the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour began at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic in Sandals Emerald Bay, the season ends on Sunday with the Korn Ferry Tour Championship from United Leasing & Finance, which will be held at the sprawling, challenging Victoria National GC in will southern Indiana.
Once again, Lower is at the center of the drama. The 11th pro. The Ohio native knew that a solid – not spectacular – week at the Victoria National GC could mean a lifelong dream come true.
Unlike in recent years, however, Lower has vowed to live in his own bubble as much as possible all week. He didn’t check the leaderboards. He did not scan projections in the PGA TOUR app.
Using a tunnel vision approach, Malone University alum has navigated the Victoria National GC on tune 70-70-68 and positioned itself to secure that elusive PGA TOUR card with a solid Sunday.
Lower knows the work isn’t done, and this Sunday will be the ultimate test of personal and professional growth he has seen in the past two or three years.
The 32-year-old is looking forward to it.
“It means everything,” said an emotional Lower after the third round on Saturday when asked to contextualize the implications for the weekend at Victoria National GC. “You saw (Scott) Gutschewski’s interview last week (after securing a PGA TOUR card at the National Children’s Hospital Championship)… you saw Callum (Tarren )’s interview last week. If you don’t feel anything when you watch these two guys talk about what it means, then I don’t think you understand what we are playing for.
“I mean it’s all.”
After the 25 PGA TOUR cards were awarded following the conclusion of the Pinnacle Bank Championship at the end of the regular season of the Korn Ferry Tour, presented by Aetna in mid-August, the Korn Ferry Tour Final with three events offers a second opportunity, the PGA TOUR 2021-22 achieve membership through the Korn Ferry Tour.
Four players crossed the 210-point resilient threshold to secure a TOUR card at the Albertsons Boise Open presented by Chevron – JJ Spaun, Aaron Rai, Lucas Herbert and Matthias Schwab.
Another five players cemented TOUR membership in 2021-22 via The Finals 25 at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship last week – Bronson Burgoon, Vincent Whaley, Alex Smalley and the aforementioned Gutschewski and Tarren.
After a T4 finish last week in Columbus, Pepperdine alum Sahith Theegala secured his spot in The Finals 25 by making the cut at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
There are still 15 places left to set the stage for a wild Sunday at Victoria National.
“Everyone’s out here trying to get a PGA TOUR card for next year,” said veteran Trey Mullinax, who led the 54-hole tournament at 14, one stroke ahead of Joseph Bramlett. “We know what’s at stake. We know what is happening. “
Mullinax started the week at T25 at The Finals 25, right on the bubble, and has played his way into a strong position with rounds of 63-71-68 in Southern Indiana.
Although the University of Alabama alum is currently # 1 on The Finals 25, he knows that the Finals Points from three events over the weekend will result in volatile predictions.
Anything can happen in Victoria National, especially on the water and disturbance-infested Back Nine. Take Taylor Montgomery, who took 85 on his final five holes on Friday second round – including two double bogeys, one triple bogey and one quadruple bogey – to miss the cut and put his fate in the hands of the field to lay.
Montgomery started the week in 14th place in Finals 25, and its projection has alternated inside and outside The Finals 25 over the course of the weekend. In the last round on Sunday, the UNLV alum is projected to place 24.
Montgomery is no stranger to the bubble. The Korn Ferry Tour rookie finished 24th out of 25 in the Pinnacle Bank Championship, which ends the regular season only to miss the cut and eventually finish 26th, past Austin Smotherman and David Skinns.
Interestingly, Peter Uihlein – who got into the Pinnacle Bank Championship in 25th place at The Finals 25, only to miss the cut and fall outside – is currently projected at 25th place at The Finals 25. He stands T62 in Sunday’s Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
In addition to Lower, several players will go to bed on Saturday knowing they are only a day away from securing a PGA TOUR dream.
Missouri alum Hayden Buckley, who started the season with conditional status and entered The Finals 25 at T12 for the week, stands at Victoria National at T4 on Sunday. He projected 7th place at The Finals 25.
Joshua Creel, Central Oklahoma alum who moved into the finals by a late season climb including a win at the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank, ranks 9th at Victoria National on Sunday. He projected number 13 at The Finals 25.
UNLV product Kurt Kitayama, who has played everywhere from the Korn Ferry Tour to the European Tour to the Asian Tour, currently holds the award as Projected No. 26 at The Finals 25.
The 28-year-old California native carded a 68 in the third round of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship to switch to T14 for the week and give himself a chance at his first TOUR card. Kitayama and Montgomery were uniquely college teammates – and Montgomery’s ultimate TOUR fate could be tied to Kitayama’s on Sunday afternoon.
“It means a lot,” said Kitayama of the impact of Sunday. “That would be really big. I want to play in the US and that would be really cool. “
The Sunday game will be played with three tees on two tees, with start times running from 7:40 a.m. CT to 9:52 a.m. CT.
With fifteen more TOUR cards to be determined at the end of Sunday’s game at Victoria National, volatility is sure to continue on Sunday morning and early afternoon.
In Hilary Duff’s words, it is not an exaggeration to say that dreams are made of this.
“I’ve grown a lot in the last two years and just want to be happy,” Lower thought as the sun set in southern Indiana on Saturday. “Of course, good golf makes a lot of people happy, but that’s not all.
“I’ve really grown as a person the last two or three years and I just want to take it into the morning and give it my all and see if it’s enough.”