It comes as a surprise that Viktor Hovland was not the first Norweigan from Oklahoma State to earn a PGA Tour card this year.
It was 2018 National Championship member Kristoffer Ventura, who won his second Korn Ferry Tour title at Pinnacle Bank Championship on July 21, which granted him a PGA Tour card for next season.
It’s easy to get rapt in the budding superstars like OSU’s own Hovland and Matthew Wolff, who are seamlessly finding success on the PGA not even two months after their last college event. But, the twenty-four year old Ventura, as well as many other Tour members, took a longer route to the top through golf’s rigorous minor league tours.
“I don’t know the exact stat of the average age of player on the PGA tour is, but I know it’s not twenty-four years old,” said Scott Turner, the director of the Minor League Golf Tour. “There aren’t a lot of guys like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Jordan Spieth that come out of college and they make it. . . there’s a lot of really good players that have to grind for a couple years on the smaller tours until they can get their break and really realize their potential.”
Ventura showed the grit and sportsmanship that embodies the character of the Minor League Golf Tour. After he failed to earn full membership on the Korn Ferry Tour because of an appendix surgery before the finals last year, he won twice on the MLGT before the start this KFT season. He finished third in the BMW Pro-am in May on a sponsors exemption, which should grant an automatic spot in the next week’s KFT tournament. But Ventura did not commit to the next event within thirty minutes of filing his scorecard, therefore he could not play; a glitch in the rules even the experienced Turner was unaware of.
The former Cowboy had to play on the lesser MLGT that week. “Most people would have been really angry and held it against the tour for not telling him (about the scorecard rule),” said Turner, “but he was the most professional person I’ve ever seen about it.”
Ventura won the KFT’s Utah Open the week after the minor league event. Then won again at the Pinnacle Bank, in large part because of his resilience. “I see a lot of players come through the Minor League Tour, some make it, some don’t. I think attitude is really important,” said Turner, and Ventura’s attitude foreshadows what will likely be a successful PGA Tour career.
Minor leagues provide crucial player development in all major sports, though they are often unnoticed. Naturally, fans want to watch the biggest events; the best players playing for the most money in front of millions of viewers. Many don’t realize the quality of the players in the minor leagues, and that many superstars begin their journey in the lower ranks.
“There’s only 200 players on the PGA Tour every year and there’s well over a thousand guys that are very talented guys that are vying for those spots.” said Turner, who won eight events on the MLGT himself. Currently, seventy-seven players on the PGA or KFT have played in the MLGT, headlined by the world’s number one ranked golfer Brooks Koepka and recent Open champion Shane Lowry.
Competition in the minor leagues is just as, if not more intense and meaningful than the massive PGA events. “These guys on the minor league tour don’t have millions of dollars,” said Turner. Players are often only trying to make enough to play in the next event. So whether they’re playing in an $800 or $5,000 event, winning could be career changing. The extra money from winning one of the bigger events can provide the boost a player needs for qualifying school or a Monday qualifier for a PGA or KFT event. “The winner’s check in these smaller events is sometimes more meaningful than a million dollar first place check on the PGA.”
Oklahoma State fans are particularly spoiled by the performance of former Cowboys on Tour. Rickie Fowler is one the PGA’s biggest stars, Hovland and Wolff are the next big thing, and Hunter Mahan, Charles Howell III, and Scott Verplank have had long and consistent careers. But it’s important to remember other members from past elite OSU teams that may not be on the PGA, but are still successful professionals on the KFT and other minor league tours. Guys like Jordan Niebrugge, who’s only twenty-five years old and could break out anytime. Brad Gehl, Morgan Hoffman, and Edward Loar are all proud OSU alumni that have spent time on the MLGT. There are certainly many more to come and they deserve your support!
The MLGT is especially deserving of support because of how they take care of their players. Half of the field in a tournament earns a check, compared to just a third in most other tours. It’s important for the extra guys to earn a check, even for less money, because it allows more players to keep playing events and get closer to realizing their potential.
You could follow along with your favorite OSU golfers by following @minorleaguegolftour on Instagram and @MinorLeagueGOLF on Twitter. You can financially support any player by going to the MLGT website and donating towards their entry fees.