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TEE TALK: Wu in mix on Korn Ferry Tour

Professional golf is great work, if you can get it.

That was Dylan Wu’s problem. He wasn’t getting enough work.

The Medford native has conditional status on the Korn Ferry Tour (formerly the Web.com Tour), which essentially meant as the season began, for him to get in a tournament, he had to advance through Monday qualifiers or receive an alternate spot.

He seemed to be doing the right things: shooting scores in the 60s and occasionally making it into playoffs. His perseverance, however, was met with precious little payoff.

“I knew my game was good,” Wu said early this week. “I felt like I had a lot of confidence this entire year. I just wanted an opportunity to play, really. I wanted an opportunity to feel like I belong out there.”

His golden ticket would come, and it would be sweeter than he could imagine.

First, though, there was a boiling point.

In a qualifier in early May in Kansas City, Wu needed to make a 4-foot putt on the second playoff hole to remain alive. He left it short and was the last man out.

That left his fuse short, too.

“I remember just putting my clubs in the parking lot, and I was pretty calm,” he said. “Once I drove out of the country club, I probably lost my voice within a minute, in frustration and anger. Yeah, there’s a little screaming.”

If that was the low point, a high was just around the corner.

The following week, Wu made into his first Korn Ferry event, in Knoxville, Tennessee, as an alternate. He played well but missed the cut by two shots.

A month later, he found his golden ticket, again being chosen as an alternate for the Lincoln Land Championship in Springfield, Illinois. In his second event on the tour, he made the cut by two strokes, then scorched the field with weekend rounds of 65 and 63 on the par-71 layout. The 14-under blitz put him in a tie for first place with Xinjun Zhang, who went on to win with a birdie on the third playoff hole.

Wu’s runner-up performance two weeks ago earned him $59,400 and secured entry into the remaining eight regular season events. Two of those, including this week’s Utah Championship, have occurred without him building on his Springfield success. He missed the cut in Wichita, Kansas, last week by one shot, and failed to advance in Farmington, Utah, this week when he shot 4 over for two rounds.

But he’s given himself a chance, and there’s more golf to be played on the Korn Ferry.

The tour changed names on June 19, when Korn Ferry’s 10-year deal as the chief sponsor of the PGA Tour’s development loop began. Korn Ferry is a management consulting company headquartered in Los Angeles. Its sports work includes placing coaches and executives in high-profile positions.

Wu began this week 59th on the points list. The top 75 at season’s end earn spots in the Korn Ferry finals, where PGA Tour cards and status on the Korn Ferry Tour will be among the prizes.

The last regular season tour event is the WinCo Foods Portland Open at Pumpkin Ridge in North Plains. The three-tournament finals begin the following week.

“That second place definitely helps me chasing that,” said Wu, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, after a successful college run at Northwestern. “If you told me three weeks ago I had a chance to keep my (Korn Ferry) card or even chase a PGA Tour card, I would have laughed at you.”

No matter how good Wu felt through the first part of the season, he knew something was missing: tangible evidence.

“It’s one thing to say you feel like your game is good,” he said. “It’s another thing to have results validate that. I’m a strong believer in that. So having a great weekend, shooting 65-63 and basically not losing to anybody in stroke play was really cool.”

Wu played last year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He followed up at Korn Ferry qualifying school, playing well enough to earn his card but falling a handful of shots shy of garnering exemption for all tournaments.

His odyssey this year has been wide ranging. He’s played in 10 Korn Ferry Monday qualifiers and three West Coast PGA Tour Monday qualifiers.

When those didn’t secure tournament spots, he ventured to Canada for a couple events. One of those was the Canada Life Open, in which he was 18 under and placed fourth.

Wu said the most he missed by in a Korn Ferry qualifying round was three shots.

“I can tell you I played pretty well in all of them,” he said. “ I was shooting a lot of 67s and 68s and missing by one or two. It was frustrating because they are kind of shootouts. If you’re playing easier courses, it doesn’t separate the field much. It’s kind of a birdiefest.”

During his first Korn Ferry event, in Knoxville in mid-May, Wu made an adjustment in his putting that has served him well.

He went to a cross-handed style, or left-hand low for right-handers. He hadn’t tried it since high school, but the style felt good and improved his consistency on shorter putts.

Wu — who studied video of PGA Tour pro Xander Schauffele and discussed the switch with his college coach — goes left-hand low from 30 feet and in and reverts to the conventional method when more speed is needed on longer putts.

“Golf seems a lot easier when you get the putter going,” he said.

It worked for him the week after Knoxville, in an event Wu hoped would be the springboard he needed.

The tournament was in the Chicago area, played at The Glen Club, a course Northwestern used through Wu’s four years. He targeted that tournament from the time he got his card in Q school in December and tried hard to get a sponsor’s exemption.

Wu likely played the course 300 to 400 times, he said, and it stung when he didn’t get a pass into the tournament.

“I kind of used it as a little fuel for the fire,” he said. “I was kind of angry I didn’t get one, being from Northwestern and being a pretty good college golfer.”

He entered the Monday qualifier, played in the last group and missed out on a tourney berth by one stroke.

It was the last Monday qualifier he played.

Wu played that week and the next in Canada, then took a week off. He had a plane ticket to play again in Canada the week of June 10 when he got word he was selected from the alternate pool for the Springfield tournament.

Wu took a red-eye flight to Chicago, had a former college teammate pick him up and serve as his caddie, then set about changing his professional course.

The Lincoln Land Championship was played at Panther Creek Country Club. The conditions were U.S. Open-like the first two days, said Wu — hard grounds accentuated by 20 mph winds.

A storm after the second round threatened to cancel play Saturday, but the show did go on on a much softer, receptive course.

Wu started the weekend tied for 28th place, moved up to 15th with his 65, then flourished with a 63 on Sunday. After birdieing the 16th, an easy par 5, Wu faced a moment of truth in the 18th fairway.

He had 210 yards downwind to the hole on the par 4.

“I turned to my caddie and said, we’re gonna go for the pin,” said Wu, who was five groups ahead of Zhang. “I saw on 17 that I was leading by one. I was like, we didn’t come all this way just to make par and play it safe. I know I can hit this shot.”

He grabbed his 5-iron, flushed it right at the pin and was 12 feet away. A solid putt netted birdie and had him thinking victory.

Zhang had a closing 66, birdieing Nos. 15 and 16 and finishing with two pars to tie Wu.

In the playoff, Wu barely missed a 20-foot birdie putt to win. Two holes later, Zhang, the tour points leader by a comfortable margin, made a 25-footer for birdie and the title.

“I hit a lot of good, quality shots in the playoff,” said Wu. “The one thing I told myself is, I didn’t beat myself, I didn’t give it away, I didn’t make it easy for him. The first time being in a playoff in my second Korn Ferry event, I really couldn’t have asked for more. Of course, I wanted to win and played well enough to win, but it was just an amazing experience.”

He hopes more are in the offing.

The tour heads to Findley Lake, New York, next week, then circles back to Colorado. Wu will likely take one of the remaining weeks off to recharge his battery for an end-of-season push.

He’s confident that if his game is on, he belongs.

“The level of play is so close that good golf translates,” he said. “One thing a lot of young guys have is, once they come out of college, they play without much fear. They think they’re good enough to play, and that’s just a testament to all the training and preparation.”

“It’s crazy, though,” he added. “A couple guys on the PGA Tour have said one week can really change your life. It gave me a chance to really make something out of the rest of the season, and really move forward and keep advancing my golf career.”

And made it that much easier to find work.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com

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