PGA Tour U Takes Center Stage at the Frederica Cup
Golf’s changing landscape has put even more pressure on college players, but the simple joy of competing was still on display as the fall season began
By Jordan Perez
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. — Zach Johnson, a two-time major champion and the captain of the 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup team, has a simple message for an audience of young men at the top of college golf at the Frederica Cup: “Relish your status right now.” It is Sept. 6, the evening before the first round of the inaugural Frederica Cup. Behind Johnson is the lake that enlivens the back nine of Frederica Golf Club, with live oaks draped in Spanish moss for some picturesque First Coast flair. Johnson, who turned pro in 1998 during his final semester at Drake, knows how easy it can be to take these opportunities for granted — and wishes he had spent more time in school. Even with the success he has had as a professional, he knows the world after college golf can be complicated and even cruel.
Stay in school, said every grownup ever.
The Frederica Cup feels like a final frontier. It is the season opener for the eight teams in the field: Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, TCU, Texas Tech and Vanderbilt. Johnson and fellow Tour pros Chris Kirk and Harris English—all Frederica members—paid a visit before the first round, giving the college kids a glimpse into their futures, as they begin the chase for status by way of PGA Tour University. The first rankings for this school year were just released, and four players in the Frederica Cup field are in the top 20: Texas Tech’s Ludvig Aberg (2), Vanderbilt’s Reid Davenport (6), Oklahoma’s Patrick Welch (9) and Arkansas’ Mateo Fernandez de Oliveira (10).
The program enters its third year with a few tweaks. As announced last week, the top 20 players will receive tour status of some sort upon the completion of the national championship tournament, a boost from the 15 who were previously presented cards. Players ranked 1 through 10 will earn Korn Ferry Tour status (1 through 5 are exempt through the remainder of the season; 6 through 10 are conditional), while the other 10 players will earn full status on the international tours (Canada and Latinoamerica).
PGA Tour U was always intended to be developed over time, but it’s hard not to consider this a reactive move. Two players who would have received a spot in the top 10, David Puig and Eugenio Chacarra, seized opportunities this summer with LIV Golf. Promptly, PGA Tour U announced that if a top-20 player participates in an event not eligible for OWGR points, he will lose eligibility. Chacarra turned pro and cashed in immediately. Puig, who retained his amateur status, is back at Arizona State for another year after having played in two LIV events.
In the trenches of this war, the Tour remains conservative in its strategy to retain young stars. The monetary perks of allegiance to the Tour are inferior to the allure of LIV, which is pouring money into the Asian Tour and its feeder system, the International Series. Both tiers of KFT status are awarded at the midpoint of the season. Pros on the Canada and Latinoamerica circuits struggle to make a go of it, even when they’re playing well. “Unless you’re finishing top five, you’re losing money,” one newly turned pro said. “(Canada) is not ideal financially.” The path to LIV is only widening, as the Asian Tour will have five first-stage Q school sites this fall, including for the first time in the U.S., in Arizona in November. The final stage will be played in Thailand next January.
With all of this as a backdrop, the Frederica Cup has taken on even greater importance. Wednesday’s 36-hole opener was a test of survival, with the height of hurricane season bringing the Golden Isles of coastal Georgia to a subtropical scorcher. Twisting fairways and undulating greens presented other challenges. Still, the morning round produced plenty of low scores; on the strength of Drew Goodman’s 63, Oklahoma was tied for the lead with Georgia.
In the afternoon, Vanderbilt went on a heater, shooting 35 under par to vault up the Frederica Cup leaderboard and finish the day at 46 under, two shots clear of Oklahoma heading into Thursday’s 18-hole finale. (At most events, teams send out five players and count their four best scores; at the Frederica, teams are adding a sixth player and a fifth score.) Senior William Moll fired rounds of 64-65 to move into the lead, showing a big upside after a tough junior season.
“My swing last year kind of got a little off most of the year,” Moll said. “It gives me a lot more confidence to be able to strike the ball this well.” He attacked the Frederica Cup with driver on almost every hole.
Moll is ranked No. 70 on the PGA Tour U list. A good week at the Frederica Cup could change everything for him. But for his senior season, he is trying to focus on more than results. The closeness he shares with his teammates was obvious immediately after he signed his scorecard, as Moll ran out to the course to cheer for his fellow Commodores, including Gordon Sargent, who posted a 10-under 62 in the afternoon. As Johnson said, it’s important to relish your status. The friendships and joy that come with college golf can not always be quantified on a points list.