Sandy Scott had plans for a big summer.
After taking one last crack at an NCAA title with his Texas Tech teammates, the Scottish standout envisioned himself joining the professional ranks, signing an endorsement deal or two, and heading back across the pond for some well-deserved sponsor invites on the European Tour.
Of course, none of that happened.
For much of the past few months, as the world has grappled the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott’s days back in Naird, Scotland, have mostly consisted of beating balls into a net he purchased online, working on his putting stroke indoors and going for long runs or bike rides.
“I haven’t really had much going here,” Scott said.
Recently, Scott has been able to return to the golf course, but as for tournaments, he hasn’t teed it up since the Southern Highlands Collegiate in March. Meanwhile, his Texas Tech teammates and many of his fellow college peers have already returned to action in amateur events across the U.S.
“I’m jealous of the guys over in the States getting to play some competitive golf,” Scott said. “I sure do miss it.”
Arizona State’s Kevin Yu is in a similar boat. He headed back to Taiwan in April shortly after the pandemic canceled the college season and halted his promising pro plans, and while golf courses have been open for much of the summer there, Yu hasn’t competed since playing the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational on a sponsor exemption in early March.
“I’ve just been working out and practicing a lot,” said Yu, who is still holding on to his No. 3 ranking in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. “Just trying to get ready for the upcoming season.”
While not ideal at the start of the year, returning to school has become the smartest decision for the Class of 2020, even for arguably the two top international prospects in the country. College golf, though facing some uncertainty of its own, is the surest bet for playing opportunities until next summer now that Q-Schools across all tours have been canceled and access to the majority of pro tours has been limited.
“Kevin had been prepared to turn pro,” Arizona State head coach Matt Thurmond said. “He’d gotten a good feel of where he stacked up. Basically, he would have been the equivalent of a first or second overall draft pick coming out of college golf. When this whole thing hit, money went away, the PGA Tour got delayed and the qualifying school has gone away, everything started to line up for him to come back. There was no need to rush.
“I thought all along he would come back.”
Yu decided in late May that he’d return for a fifth year in Tempe while Scott, a “lottery pick” in his own right at No. 7 in the world amateur rankings, decided earlier this month that he’d give it one more go in Lubbock after being accepted into graduate school.
Sure, they could’ve scrapped for a couple of professional starts like Sahith Theegala and Peter Kuest have done. But with the addition of PGA Tour University to the college landscape, it made sense for Yu and Scott to stick around, much like Vanderbilt’s John Augenstein, Baylor’s Cooper Dossey and Oklahoma teammates Garett Reband and Quade Cummins have decided to do.
Should they finish in the top 5 of the PGA Tour U rankings after next spring’s NCAA Championship, they would be afforded Korn Ferry Tour starts that summer and a great chance to chase a PGA Tour card if they qualify for the KFT Finals. Also, Nos. 6-15 in the final rankings will secure playing privileges on one of the PGA Tour’s international circuits.
“That’s the best thing for me right now,” said Scott, who will also have a shot now at playing another Walker Cup, which will be contested next May at Seminole. “I honestly wasn’t expecting to even take that opportunity considering I was going to be out of college at the time when it was kicking off. But that definitely played into my decision to stay amateur and go back to college.”
Added Yu: “If I can get inside that top 5, I can have a big chance in less a year to get on Tour.”
They are off to good starts. The first PGA Tour U ranking was unveiled Wednesday, and both players find themselves in ideal positions: Yu second, Scott fifth.
Now, all that remains is to get back to the U.S. and resume competition. Both players have their sights set on the U.S. Amateur next month at Bandon Dunes, followed hopefully by some college events and potentially a U.S. Open start in the fall. (It would be Yu's third straight U.S. Open should he remain among the top seven non-exempt amateurs in the WAGR after the U.S. Am.)
Nothing, though, is certain. Only recently did the student-visa rules change so that each could re-enter the country despite heavy international travel restrictions, and there will undoubtedly still be other challenges, too.
But if Yu and Scott can persevere through these tough times, they could find themselves in a similar spot next summer – or even better, play their way onto the PGA Tour, with an assist from PGA Tour U, in time for the 2021-22 season.
“There are a lot of complications and uncertainties,” Scott said, “but I certainly would be kicking myself if I didn’t try.”