Curtis Thompson, Braden Thornberry secure full Korn Ferry status with Q-School tie

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Curtis Thompson, Braden Thornberry secure full Korn Ferry status with Q-School tie

Korn Ferry

Curtis Thompson, Braden Thornberry secure full Korn Ferry status with Q-School tie

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WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – A year ago, Curtis Thompson went 14 under at the first stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School and missed advancing by a shot. There’s a lot to unpack in that, not the least of which is the difficulty of making a living as a professional golfer. Thompson, who turned professional in 2014, left Lakeland, Florida, that week ready to be done with this lifestyle.

“Hung it up for two or three months and didn’t really know what to do with myself,” he said.

On Sunday, Thompson holed a 30-footer for birdie on the final hole of Orange County National’s Crooked Cat course that he believed would send him to a playoff with Braden Thornberry for fully exempt status on the developmental tour in the 2020 season. Turns out both men earned full status for the following year.

All 154 players who started the week at final stage already had Korn Ferry Tour membership for next season. This week was about improving status. Only Thornberry and Thompson are fully set up for next season. The top 10 players (and ties) earned what amounts to 12 guaranteed starts next year while Nos. 12-40 earn eight starts.

KORN FERRY TOUR: Q-school leaderboard

“It’s a long day,” Thompson said of a final-round 66 that got him to 21 under. “It’s hard to stay focused for some of it. There’s a few different things you’re thinking about. How do I stay inside the number? How do I stay inside the top 10 and then at the end, how do you try to win it?”

In a field of varied professional experience, Thompson has probably seen as closely as anyone what it takes to compete at the very top level. The former LSU player competed on the Korn Ferry Tour from 2015-18. Struggling with his game, he took all of 2019 off and used a year of uncertainty to test out his caddie skills. He worked as both a club caddie and also carried the bag for his younger sister Lexi Thompson, who is currently No. 10 in the Rolex Ranking.

Curtis Thompson carries his sister Lexi’s bag at the 2018 CME Group Tour Championship. (Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Curtis was on the bag about this time last year when Lexi won the CME Group Tour Championship, which now awards the largest check in women’s professional golf. With so much golf in the Thompson family – older brother Nicholas was also at final stage, though a T-53 finish didn’t do much to improve his status – hanging it up was never really a viable option for Curtis.

“There’s been a lot of downs in the last two years,” he said. “Six months ago, didn’t know if this was possible.”

Thornberry, meanwhile, is on the way up. This time last year, he was a senior at Ole Miss. He entered Q-School uncertain whether he’d turn professional or return to college to finish his senior season – which was a challenging mindset to face in itself. He ultimately chose the former option, but without guaranteed starts, faced a hectic year.

“It’s very much a relief to know I can pick my schedule and basically play wherever I want,” Thornberry said of the co-medalist perks he secured with his closing 65.

Thornberry poured in putts on the front nine. Thompson, playing in the same group, said he’d never seen anything like it. Thornberry opened with birdie, then made six consecutive from Nos. 4-9 before the putter went cold on the back nine. His only birdie was at No. 17.

“It’s hard to complain when you made that many on the front,” he said.

At Q-School, when one player birdies, it tends to have a ripple effect on everyone else in the field. Zach Zaback might be the best example of that.

When Zaback birdied No. 18 on the Panther Lake course, it bumped him from 11 to 12 under, effectively moving the cut-off for status right up with him. That was potentially year-changing for the 12 players who were sitting at 11 under with an outside chance.

Duke senior Chandler Eaton was among them. Having come so close to earning something tangible for next year, he said he had some questions to ask before he made any immediate decisions about his future.

“It’s a weird type of pressure,” he said of the week. “I definitely feel like I’m a more mature player than I realized. I feel like I can hang with these guys.”

Mr. Monday earns status

Chip McDaniel, the player who garnered the moniker “Mr. Monday” after making something out of a season he entered with no status on any tour, was another one of the men left out at 11 under.

McDaniel, who successfully Monday qualified for three PGA Tour events in 2019 in addition to navigating his way through U.S. Open sectional qualifying, hammered his driver on No. 18 of Crooked Cat into a fairway bunker on the left side of the hole. He blasted it out to 20 feet and had to face that putt with an electronic scoreboard in his sightline. He said he didn’t pay much attention to that.

The 24-year-old had birdied No. 17 to give himself a shot, but ultimately missed the birdie putt on No. 18 to finish T-41.

“I have status,” he said. “This time last year I didn’t have status. I learned a lot this year, playing with the big boys.”

John VanDerLaan during the final round of the final stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School. (Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

John VanDerLaan navigated his way to 18 under and a T-7 finish – which was just good enough to earn 12 guaranteed starts for 2020. VanDerLaan, who won the 2018 NCAA Division II individual title at Florida Southern, made sure to sign up for the first-stage qualifier at the Mocs’ home course in nearby Lakeland, Florida.

VanDerLaan was a combined 40 under for the first and second stages (which he played at another familiar course in Brooksville, Florida), and won second stage by eight shots (interestingly, over Broc Everett, the 2018 Division I NCAA medalist).

The 23-year-old felt that a culture of winning at Florida Southern helped shape him as he charted his way to a professional career.

“No matter how far you go, you have to win if you want to be successful,” he said. “I kind of had a little bit of it, but it definitely molded me more into that when I was there.”

Taking the next step

Perhaps nobody, though, represents the long and arduous road to professional success quite like Taylor Dickson. With a T-13 finish and eight guaranteed starts for the next year, Dickson will finally make his first sanctioned tour start after bouncing around mini-tours since his graduation from Winthrop University in 2015.

“Getting in the car, driving all over, just to play some golf,” he said of that journey.

Dickson has filled the downtime in those past four years doing odd jobs for his dad, who owns a Napa Auto Parts store. He’s careful to clarify that he’s an errand guy, not a mechanic. A budding Korn Ferry career might be the big break that allows him to move out of his parents’ house as he continues pursuing the dream.

Dickson was “late” to pick up this game as an 11-year-old. How he has blossomed since.

“I used to get down on myself some, and that’s probably one of the reasons it took me so long. This year I just tried to believe in myself that I can hit the shots required to play out here with these guys.”

His time is now.

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