Ludvig Aberg PGA Tour University

PGA Tour University: The Battle for Young Talent Intensifies

A guaranteed PGA Tour card and widespread eligibility for membership are the biggest changes to the pipeline yet. But are they enough?

By Jordan Perez

So it turns out that having the opportunity to become a PGA Tour member right out of college isn’t such a crazy idea.

The PGA Tour on Monday announced two major changes to its PGA Tour U program. The first initiative states that the No. 1 player in the final PGA Tour U rankings “will become a PGA Tour member and eligible for all open, full-field events following the conclusion of the NCAA Championship.” 

This has been long overdue. In the first two years of PGA Tour U, no PGA Tour cards were awarded. Not one! But with LIV’s heavy investment in the Asian Tour, there is suddenly more urgency to retain young talent. Right now the leader in the PGA Tour University standings is Texas Tech senior Ludvig Aberg (above), who is also the top-ranked amateur in the world.

Another change, named PGA Tour University Accelerated, morphs the program’s identity even more. 

Under new criteria, the floodgates are now open to underclassmen. Instead of relying solely on college events and pro starts, the window of opportunity has widened. Starting as early as their freshman year, underclassmen will be ranked off of “elevated benchmarks” in college, amateur, and professional events.

In the new system, points will be awarded for the following: a top five in the WAGR; winning a major college golf award; winning a marquee amateur event (U.S. Amateur, Latin America Amateur, Western, British); participating in national team events (Walker Cup, Palmer Cup, World Amateur Team Championship); and performances in PGA Tour events and major championships.

PGA Tour University

Players have until the end of their junior season to pile up points. The magic number is 20. Get there and earn PGA Tour membership. Stanford junior Michael Thorbjornsen (above) leads the way with 12 points, thanks to his win at the 2021 Western Amateur and his fourth-place finish at the 2022 Travelers Championship. Right behind him is Vanderbilt sophomore Gordon Sargent, the 2022 NCAA individual champion, who has 10 points. Both represented the United States in the World Amateur Team Championship and are in the top five of the WAGR rankings.

It’s no secret why the Tour implemented the biggest overhaul in the program’s history. “LIV has pushed a lot of buttons,” said Florida coach J.C. Deacon. James Piot, the 2021 U.S. Amateur champion, bolted for LIV. So did Eugenio Chacarra, a top player at Oklahoma State who got the attention of plenty of college kids by collecting $4 million when he won LIV Bangkok last month in just his fifth professional start.

“I’m super grateful [PGA Tour University] was established at the time that it was,” says Joe Highsmith, a two-time All-American at Pepperdine. By finishing 10th last year in the PGA Tour U standings, Highsmith earned status on PGA Tour Canada and recently parlayed that into conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour. But he’s quick to point out the disparity between golf and the rest of the sports world, saying, “If you were a top-10 player in any other sport, you would already be on the biggest stage out of school.” This is the contradiction the new PGA Tour programs will attempt to solve.

Highsmith believes the achievements of thegraduates played a major role in elevating the performance benefits. “It’s so much better than it was before,” he says. “It was big for Pierceson (Coody) to go out and win on the Korn Ferry Tour, and it’s been big for the guys in Canada to play well too.” Six graduates from the first two years, including Highsmith and Coody (below), are eligible for eight or more starts on the upcoming Korn Ferry Tour season.

Pierceson Coody

It is increasingly clear that a year-round amateur schedule will provide a good yardstick of a player’s ability. The upgrades to PGA Tour University are belated recognition that the best amateurs are ready for the big-time, and that the PGA Tour needs to cultivate this young talent now more than ever.

Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest stories, special events, and exclusive merch drops!

2 thoughts on “PGA Tour University: The Battle for Young Talent Intensifies”

  1. The PGA Tour is fortunate that LIV is a poor marketing organization. If they were any good at market strategy and had a long term vision they would have created a pathway with opportunities for college players. The PGA Tour is still light with opportunities for new college graduates and they clearly favor a handful of high profile college players and recent grads over others that have just as strong records. LIV could identify this weakness and create an NBA or NFL type pathway using the Asian Tour as AAA league and LIV as the majors. They could copy college team golf formats- play 5, count 4 scores. Creating a league of teams from the college ranks could attract fans that want to see players from Georgia, Texas, North Carolina, Stanford, etc. Maybe identify “home courses” for teams where events are hosted each league season, create home teams that local ms will come out and root for while watching great golfers compete at high levels. Instead of Greg Norman, LIV needs to hire a top marketing executive from the NBA, NFL or MLB who know how to attract fans through good times and bad. Don’t just compete with the PGA Tour, be different. Use the feeder system of the minor league AAA tour to check off a OWGR box, let 5 players qualify in at each event as a “wildcard team” – checking off another box for OWGR. Switch to 72 hole events. 36 the first day, then 18 +18. Position LIV better and recruit actively from US colleges and recent grads. The field of recent grads have been All Americans, top 100 WAGR and top 25 college players that are seeking a place to play are ripe for LIV to take and use the Asian Tour as a carrot. With the KFT priority rankings dismal for new KFT conditional status players, due to the combination of prior two seasons because of Covid, many promising players won’t get much is a chance to compete. Add rising costs and two years of top college talent may end up out of the arena. The PGA Tour is too busy being reactive. LIV needs to pivot and stop trying to beat the PGA Tour, they need to create their own offering. Most college and recent graduates that excelled in school are afraid of LIV- 48 spots and no way to see a career path along with losing opportunities to play PGA Tour, and likely DP World Tour limits the attractiveness of LIV. Even if LIV continues to be funded by PIF, why would a young player go with continued small fields and the possibility of being cut. LIV could expand to 16 teams – 80 players (5 x16) and make a run at truly being different while still building a fan base for players, and regional market teams.

    The PGA Tour has already shown that they are reacting to a threat, modifying rules to accommodate some players, at the expense others who may have superior performances but not the name recognition of the Alex Fitzpatricks, Coody and others. If LIV ginned up some cash for players to compete on the Asian tour- covered expenses, but no other guarantees, provided pathways to LIV as the main event, they could build a global golf league that commands a big following and could generate more $ corporate money as a viable product with value to sponsors, host communities and players.

  2. No matter what they do, LIV, at the end of the day, will still be financed by the Saudis. That alone is repulsive enough for me to root against anything they do, marketing or otherwise.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top