Locals Hanging Tough

Looking for PGA Tour-card-clinching win, former Buff Jeremy Paul remains in top 10 at TPC Colorado; Coloradans and ex-CSU golfers Zahkai Brown and Jake Staiano also make weekend, as does Fort Collins’ Sam Saunders

******For scores from The Ascendant presented by Blue, CLICK HERE******

By Gary Baines – 7/1/2022

Jeremy Paul knows there are various ways in which he could earn his 2022-23 PGA Tour card through his play down the stretch on the Korn Ferry Tour.

But one way is ever so simple — and potentially quick — for the former University of Colorado golfer.

A victory on Sunday at The Ascendant presented by Blue would clinch a coveted PGA Tour card for next season, according to calculations done by KFT officials. Anything less and he’ll also need another strong finish or finishes in the regular season, which ends in mid-August.

And, through two rounds at TPC Colorado in Berthoud, Paul is very much in the mix for a win. The 28-year-old from Germany sits four out of the lead and tied for ninth place after Friday’s action.

Jeremy Paul attempts a formidable eagle putt at No. 15 on Friday.

Ryan McCormick of Jacksonville, Fla. (67-67), and Dawson Armstrong of Brentwood, Tenn. (69-65), share the top spot through two rounds, at 10 under par. 

“Winning a tournament out here is the goal,” said Paul, who has made his last nine cuts on the Korn Ferry Tour, with two top-10 finishes in that stretch. “To win you’ve got to get lucky at some times. Things have to go your way. The only thing I can control is to try to play good golf — if it (results) in winning a tournament or 10th or 20th place. I do my best but in order to win the tournament, it’s tough to really try to win a tournament. It’s usually better if you stick to your plan and see where it takes you on Sunday. If I happen to win, it would obviously be awesome, but it’s tough to force a win. You’ve got to let it come to you.”

On Friday, Paul made an eagle for the second straight day, this time en route to a 1-under-par 71 that left him at 6-under 138 overall. Friday’s eagle came on the par-5 fifth hole, where a 6-iron from 250 yards finished 9 feet from the pin and he drained the putt. The rest of the day he went back and forth with two birdies and three bogeys spread across the back nine.

“I didn’t make a ton of putts today,” he said. “The key here is not making a lot of bogeys and I made too many bogeys. But I’m in a good position going into the weekend. I feel like if I play two good rounds I might have a chance when Sunday comes around. I’m still positive I’ll have a good tournament.”

In 17 starts this season, Paul has placed as high as fifth and seventh — both coming in May — which leaves him 41st on the KFT season-long points list. The top 25 at the end of the regular season receive promotions to the PGA Tour for 2022-23.

Dawson Armstrong.

Meanwhile, the co-leaders at Friday’s midpoint of the tournament likewise are looking for the first KFT victories of their careers. Both McCormick and Armstrong have recorded runner-up finishes once, with McCormick’s coming in February, plus a third-place last month.

McCormick played his first six holes in 5 under par, with an eagle coming on the par-4 third, where he drove the green and made a 12-foot putt. 

Like Paul — and everyone else on the KFT — McCormick is chasing the dream of playing regularly on the PGA Tour.

“If somebody tells you it’s not on their mind, they’re lying,” he said. “That’s the whole point we’re out here, to get to the PGA Tour. I’ve been thinking about it for eight years — probably more than that — and since college.”

McCormick and Amstrong are both in a good frame of mind, partly because their golf game is good but also because of this picturesque stop on the Korn Ferry Tour.

“It certainly helps to be in a place that you just like to be at,” McCormick said. “The setting is beautiful. It’s hard to be in a bad mood, especially out here. The greens are in great shape and my game has rounded into form lately so it’s just a nice mix of things.”

Armstrong likewise played the first six holes at TPC Colorado very well, though in his case those were Nos. 10-15 in his round as he started on hole 10. He birdied the first, second, third, fifth and sixth holes, along with Nos. 10, 13 and 15.

“Colorado is one of my favorite weeks of the year,” said Armstrong, who has been fishing between rounds this week. “I love the scenery, the atmosphere, the fact year in and year out this is voted one of the best tournaments of the year, and they seem to top it every single year. Love the people I’m staying with, the golf course is in great shape. It’s just good vibes all around. Today, it finally came to fruition where I finally hit some good shots, hit it close to the hole and was able to have a stress-free day.”

Zahkai Brown made the cut at TPC Colorado for the second time.

Zahkai Brown in Position to Make Some Personal History: Zahkai Brown has accomplished plenty as a pro golfer, winning 20 multi-day events, including the 2013 Inspirato Colorado Open. 

But when it comes to competing in Korn Ferry Tour events, the resident of Golden never quite seems to have his “A game” for extended periods. This week marks the 13th KFT start of his career, but he’s made just two previous cuts, with a best finish of 55th place. 

However, after Monday qualifying into The Ascendant presented by Blue at TPC Colorado in Berthoud, Brown not only made the 36-hole cut on Friday, but he’s in the top 30 at the halfway point. If the former Colorado State University golfer can move up or remain in the same general vicinity, he’ll post his personal KFT best finish.

The 2011 CGA Player of the Year fired a 3-under-par 69 on Friday to check in at 3-under overall and in 26th place. Brown birdied his last hole (No. 9) from 5 feet to cap off a day which featured an eagle on a par-4, five birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey. He was the only Monday qualifier to make the 36-hole cut.

“Kind of one of the reasons I’ve kept going professionally is that I’ve never felt that I’ve actually even played my game in a Korn Ferry event,” the 31-year-old said. “The mini tours have been totally different. I play smart and play aggressive, make putts and am in contention to win.  I’ve got 20 mini tour (and state open) wins (normally in 3-4 round events). If I could ever play my game out here, I feel like I could do alright. So I try to stay relaxed and play my game. I shot 3 under and felt like I could have gotten to 7 (under) after two rounds. But I was happy to have two good rounds at least.”

On Friday, Brown holed out for eagle from 95 yards on his first hole — the par-4 10th — and followed up with a birdie on No. 11 to get off to a stellar start, then went up and down the rest of the round — four birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey — to move up the scoreboard with a 69.

“I feel like I could be there,” Brown said. “Finally put some rounds together on the Korn Ferry Tour, which would be good.”

Of Brown’s now-three times making cuts on the Korn Ferry Tour in his career, two have come at TPC Colorado, where he placed 59th in 2019. It’s little wonder why he’s taken a bit of a shine to the course.

“It’s long,” he said of the course. “I hit the ball fairly long. And it’s Colorado elevation so I don’t have to do any calculations. I just hit the ball and trust it’s going to go how far it should to go.”

And it’s an all-in-family effort this week as Brown’s wife, Carly, is caddying for him at TPC Colorado.

All told, seven players with significant Colorado ties made Friday’s 36-hole cut, where the 71 players at 1 under par or better overall advanced to the weekend.

Sam Saunders of Fort Collins got up and down from this formidable bunker on No. 15 to post a birdie.

Besides Paul and Brown, playing on Saturday and Sunday at TPC Colorado will be former Air Force Academy golfers Kyle Westmoreland and Tom Whitney, Fort Collins resident Sam Saunders, Jake Staiano of Englewood and Highlands Ranch native Derek Oland. 

Westmoreland (73-68) shares 26th place with Brown, while Saunders (73-69) is another stroke back. Staiano (74-69), Whitney (69-74) and Oland (70-73) made the cut on the number. Westmoreland played his last 13 holes in 5 under.

Staiano, like Brown a former CGA Player of the Year and former CSU golfer, went bogey-free on Friday, with three birdies, to make his third cut of the season (and career) on the KFT. Staiano won the Rocky Mountain Open last year and finished second in the Inspirato Colorado Open.

Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, highlighted his round with an eagle on the par-4 third. Meanwhile, Whitney made his eighth consecutive cut on the KFT.

Here are the scores of all the players with major Colorado connections competing at TPC Colorado:

9. Former CU golfer Jeremy Paul 67-71–138

26. Zahkai Brown of Golden 72-69–141

26. Former Air Force Academy golfer Kyle Westmoreland 73-68–141

39. Sam Saunders of Fort Collins 73-69—142

53. Jake Staiano of Englewood 74-69–143

53. Former Air Force Academy golfer Tom Whitney 69-74—143

53. Highlands Ranch native Derek Oland 70-73–143

Missed 36-Hole Cut

Geoff Keffer of Lakewood 70-76–146

Dan Erickson of Loveland 75-72–147

Former Colorado School of Mines golfer George Markham 74-75–149

Boulder County native George Cunningham 76-75–151

Tyler McCumber of Lyons 78-WD

Notable: Among the notables who missed the cut on Friday were top-10 KFT players Taylor Montgomery (72-72), Byeong Hun An (the 2009 U.S. Amateur champion, 73-71) and Trevor Werbylo (72-76). … Justin Suh birdied his first six holes en route to a 65 on Friday. … Vince India made a hole-in-one on the 215-yard second hole with a 6-iron. … Friday’s round was delayed for 36 minutes in the evening due to the threat of lightning. … Saturday’s third-round tee times will run from 6:30 a.m.-12:40 p.m.: CLICK HERE.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2021. Email: ColoradoGolfJournal@mac.com)