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Would-be Korn Ferry graduates adjust to not being on the PGA Tour

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Jared Wolfe would have been preparing for his third start as a PGA Tour member this week at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

This is notable for a number of reasons, but let's start with the obvious: Wolfe has never played a Tour event. In fact, the 32-year-old hadn’t even been close to the big leagues until this year, so it’s understandable if he’s allowed himself a few indulgent moments.

“When I missed the cut in [the Korn Ferry Tour Championship], I was pretty upset because I missed the cut, but also I should have been heading to the PGA Tour,” Wolfe said. “It’s very strange.”

Strange doesn’t begin to cover 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has touched every corner of everyday life. Professional golf is no different. When the PGA Tour scrambled to restart its schedule in June, one of the less-talked-about byproducts of a makeshift season was the decision to forgo almost all promotion and relegation.

Without a full slate of events (the Tour lost roughly 30 percent of its tournaments through either postponement or cancellation), it was the right choice to allow those with status another “full” season to compete. The consequence of that decision was that those players on the Korn Ferry Tour would now face what some call a "super season" that included events from both 2020 and ’21.

For the likes of Wolfe, who broke through on the secondary circuit with a victory in January in the Bahamas and added a second triumph on Sunday at the Wichita Open, the pandemic reality meant putting his PGA Tour dreams on hold.

Although Wolfe and the other members of the potential class of 2021 are genuinely appreciative of the chance to compete, they also concede how surreal it all seems.

Wolfe’s plight is particularly interesting. With two victories in the two-year season, he’s currently fourth on the Korn Ferry Tour regular-season points list with 1,374 points. Sounds solid, right?

But if you apply math to this unprecedented season, Wolfe might not be statistically assured a 2021-22 PGA Tour card. In 2019, the cutoff for the regular-season top 25 (players who earn PGA Tour cards) was 775 points during a 27-event schedule. Although the Korn Ferry Tour has yet to release its ’21 schedule, sources say it will include 23 events, including three Finals tournaments, that will combine with this year’s 23 events and create a season of 46 tournaments, about a 35-percent increase.

Most estimate players would need to earn 1,350 to 1,400 points in the regular season to assure themselves a PGA Tour card, which puts Wolfe in the curious position of being one victory away from an automatic promotion to the PGA Tour and yet likely still needing some points to assure his status for 2021-22.

“We figured we would be kind of close. I was racking my brain on that when we started back. And decided to stop thinking about it. Nobody knows,” Wolfe laughed. “I make it sound smart saying I crunched the numbers. I am not that smart.”

The move to a "super season" has created plenty more peculiar dilemmas.

Andrew Novak was 17th on the regular-season points list following the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in August – and would have been bound for his first trip to the PGA Tour – but he’s now dropped to 22nd and is preparing for next year's KFT slate needing to play well to stay inside that top 25.

“Obviously it’s disappointing to have that happen. I’d have a Tour card right now. I’d be at [the Sanderson Farms Championship] right now. But you can’t get too frustrated, I still have the best job in the world,” Novak said. “I know that if I win two more times that takes the math out of it.”

Will Zalatoris is the Korn Ferry Tour’s leading points earner this year and made headlines the last couple of weeks with a tie for sixth at the U.S. Open and solo eighth last week at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.

Zalatoris, who is playing this week’s Sanderson Farms Championship instead of the Korn Ferry Tour event in Savannah, Georgia, will understandably continue to pursue status on the PGA Tour. At the same time, he will likely lose ground on the Korn Ferry Tour. It’s an obvious choice but a choice nonetheless.

Despite the increased odds and degree of difficulty for the likes of Wolfe and Novak, the silver lining can be found embedded in those “super season" numbers. It’s the old adage that if you give a better player more holes to play they’ll win more times than not.

“With more tournaments it’s a larger sample size. You are going to see the best players coming out, the outliers will be stripped away,” Novak said. “It will be a very competitive season.”

As a result of endless adjustments and relentlessly moving goalposts, it will also be a very strange finish to the season.