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Fast start puts Wu in good place

There are two sides to Dylan Wu’s forced hiatus from competitive golf because of the coronavirus.

On one, the Korn Ferry Tour member from Medford played so well to start the season, fewer tournaments strengthen his position to earn his PGA Tour card for next year.

On the other, he played so well in six tournaments before the season stopped, he longs to keep going.

Wu, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, is fifth on the tour in points. The top 25 at the end of the season earn promotions to the big circuit. Another 25 PGA cards will be issued based on Korn Ferry playoff performance.

“Luckily,” said Wu, “I have played well enough at the beginning of the season to be in a good spot. It’s unfortunate that I can’t keep playing because I feel like I’m playing well, and you want to play in as many tournaments as you can. At the same time, it almost kind of helps my situation; it helps my good start be more important. Who knows how many events we’ll have or how many events they’ll add or what’s going to happen once we restart. It just took a lot of pressure off by playing well early.”

The Korn Ferry takes its lead from the PGA Tour and has canceled or postponed eight tournaments through May 17. The next scheduled event is the Evans Scholars Invitational May 21-24 in Glenview, Illinois.

The first six events — all but one of them outside the United States — were completed by March 1. A two-week break preceded the seventh tournament, set to begin March 19, but it was the first casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wu and his golf brethren are adhering to safety orders like everyone else.

Golf courses in the Phoenix, Arizona, area remain open, and Wu does most of his practicing and playing at the TPC Scottsdale course, site of the popular Waste Management Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour.

“Golf is kind of the last thing on our minds, as far as pro athletes,” he said. “You’re kind of just making sure your loved ones, your families and friends are doing good. It kind of puts things in perspective a little bit, the importance of things outside of golf. Luckily, I’m allowed to play golf for a living so far.”

He recalls playing his last event in the El Bosque Mexico Championship as concerns over the virus escalated.

“I knew it might be something,” he said, “but I didn’t think it’d be as impactful on the entire world as it has been.”

That last event sent Wu into an unexpected “off season” on a good note.

He tied for fourth place, giving him three top 10s in the first six tournaments. Included was a co-second place in the first event of the year in The Bahamas.

Wu has earned $115,318 and is sixth on the money list. As a testament to his consistent play, he’s the only one in the top seven who has yet to win.

The two-time state champion for St. Mary’s and 2018 Northwestern graduate is one spot higher on the points list with 584. Mito Pereira leads with 759.

Wu is treating the stoppage as he would his time between seasons, working on his game and taking time away from the course for strength and speed training.

TPC Scottsdale has a back range reserved for touring pros, and he makes use of it.

“I analyze what I’ve been doing well, the things I want to continue doing well and some things I need to work on,” said Wu. “There’s a fine balance where you’re working on your strength and making a weakness a strength.”

He’s assembled a team to help.

His college coach, Pat Goss, had been his primary mentor for all facets of the game since Wu arrived at Northwestern, and Goss remains his short-game coach.

Last fall, on the advice of buddies who played on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, Wu hooked up with Montreal coach Shauheen Nakhajavani. He has coaches under his guidance and works primarily online through the sharing of videos and other material.

Wu found Nakhajavani’s analysis and philosophy of the game appealing.

The two worked together for only about two weeks when Wu, with little preparation, made it through a Monday qualifier for a PGA Tour event in Las Vegas in early October. He then shot 66 in the opening round before a 74 on Day 2 led to a missed cut.

It was clear to him Nakhajavani was a strong addition.

“He’s really helped me work on my swing,” said Wu, “make improvements in my long game that definitely made dividends the first six events of the season.”

Wu is fourth on the tour in driving accuracy and scoring average.

Another key figure has been his caddie, Bryan Beasley, a veteran of several pro tours. Wu connected with Beasley through college teammate Sam Triplett, the son of Champions Tour player Kirk Triplett.

After numerous phone conversations, Wu and Beasley, who lives in Virginia, met for the first time at the first tournament in The Bahamas. Their initial deal was to partner for eight weeks, then take stock. After success the first couple weeks, the agreement was extended through the year.

Wu also has two sponsors: Granite Mafia, a Central Point countertop company; and JJ’s Delicatessen, an eatery near his apartment that is popular with the golf community and that now supplies him with food for the year.

Granite Mafia’s logo goes on Wu’s shirtsleeves, and the JJ’s goes on his bag.

The Korn Ferry doesn’t get near the TV time as the PGA Tour, but Wu did get ample exposure in The Bahamas.

The strong start gave Wu control over his schedule. His plan is to not play more than four weeks without a break. He scheduled a couple weeks off so he could attend the graduation ceremonies of his golfing brothers, twins Jeremy (Valparaiso) and Josh (Air Force), but those plans are up in the air.

The idea is to be fresh and peaking for the season-ending playoffs, which consist of three tournaments.

There were highlights from virtually every tournament the first six weeks, said Wu.

“I think I had the lead at one point in five of the six events,” he said. “Every tournament I played was just adding more experience and memories in my mind.”

Most surprising, he said, were the first two rounds of the season.

At the Great Exuma Classic, he opened a seven-shot lead through two rounds — matching the tour record for a 36-hole advantage.

“I was pretty shocked,” said Wu. “One thing I’ve learned is good golf translates, no matter where you’re playing. Everybody’s good golf is good enough to play against the best. It’s the days you don’t have it and can make what looks like a 73, 74 into a 69 or 70, those are the days the best players in the world are good at.”

While the first two rounds were phenomenal, the next two might be the most defining so far of his 2020 campaign.

Wu made a triple bogey and two bogeys in his first six holes of a windy Day 3, dropping out of the lead. He continued to battle en route to tying for second.

“The third and fourth rounds were really big for me, just mentally,” said Wu, “being able to resolve myself after losing the lead and having a great tournament after that. That gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the five events because you can easily throw in the towel when it gets really tough.”

His perseverance was on display a week later at the second of two tournaments in The Bahamas, the Great Abaco Classic. He made the cut by one shot and was in the bottom third of the field entering the final round.

Wu finished with a 70, the third-best score in the field in difficult conditions, and placed 18th.

“Those tournaments where you backdoor finish in the top 15, top 20, top 25, that kind of gives you momentum in the upcoming week,” he said. “Those are the weeks you really don’t have it and just kind of get a lot out of it at the end; you stay mentally strong to run up the leaderboard that last day.”

He hopes to do that again sooner rather than later, but only time will tell.

“Hopefully,” he said, “we get back to playing this summer.”

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

GREAT EXUMA, BAHAMAS - JANUARY 13: Dylan Wu reads the 18th green during the second round of the Korn Ferry Tour's The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay golf course on January 13, 2020 in Great Exuma, Bahamas. (Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)