A year ago at the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft Heinz, Lee Hodges got up and down for birdie from just short of the 18th green to “keep his job.” He finished 73rd in the points standings, knowing the top 75 retain their Korn Ferry Tour status for the following year, when a par would have left him on the outside looking in.
On Sunday, Hodges again got up and down for birdie from just shy of the 18th, this time for his first Korn Ferry Tour victory and a spot in the 2020 U.S. Open.
“It was pretty emotional down the stretch, I just tried to keep it together,” said Hodges. “It has not sunk in yet. It probably won’t sink in today, maybe tomorrow. It’s special. You look back on it and you see how hard you fought and it’s pretty cool. I didn’t feel like I had my best game this week, obviously I played well, but I didn’t feel like I was clicking on all cylinders. To get a win while doing that, that’s special.”
The win is the biggest of Hodges’ young career after spending a year on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada and two years on the Korn Ferry Tour. The 25-year-old had finished top-20 in five straight tournaments entering the week and finally broke through with an even-par 71 on Sunday for a two-stroke victory on the Witch Hollow Course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. Hodges began the week 15th on the Korn Ferry Tour points list but is projected to jump to third after his win. Most significantly, he jumped inside the top five to earn an exemption into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Hodges joined Will Zalatoris (1), Davis Riley (2), Taylor Pendrith (4) and Paul Barjon (5) as players to receive exemptions through their standing. Zalatoris, Riley and Pendrith were safely inside the top five when the week began, but Hodges and Barjon (started the week seventh) were forced to earn their exemption through strong play in Portland.
“It will be sweet to play in a major; it will be special,” said Hodges. “I’ve always admired the U.S. Open, the way you have to play out there, it’s proper golf. I think I play a lot of proper golf and I hope to go and play well.”
The University of Alabama alum got emotional when talking about his support system back home. He had to pause to call his fiancée, Savannah, and his dad before accepting the trophy.
“Everybody was pretty emotional when I called them back home,” reflected Hodges, who played collegiately for two years at UAB before transferring to the Crimson Tide. “Just super happy. This means a lot to a lot of people back home and a lot of people in north Alabama. It’s not just me, it’s everybody back home. I’m sure they’re celebrating a lot in north Alabama right now. We’re going to do some 12-ounce curls.”
It was far from smooth sailing for Hodges during his round. He opened with a bogey but followed it up with a 30-foot birdie at the second hole to recapture the lead. After a string of pars, Hodges bogeyed the ninth before getting back to even with a birdie at the par-5 11th. He entered the 14th hole with a two-stroke lead, but bombed his approach shot over the green and had to take a drop.
“I didn’t even know it at the time, but 14 was probably the biggest hole of my life,”
laughed Hodges. “I had 168 yards in and we thought it was straight into the wind. I hit an 8-iron just to make sure I didn’t go long and I just flushed it. It was the best swing I’ve made all day. I just rocketed it over the green and then hit a great chip…I told myself to just hit a solid stroke and get out of there with a bogey. It almost went in and it was nice to make a bogey there.”
With his lead narrowed to one stroke, Hodges parred the next three holes before a closing birdie to stretch the final margin to two strokes.
“It’s really nice to know that you can get it done when you have to,” said Hodges. “It creeps into your mind down the stretch that you have to hit these shots and when you do, it’s very rewarding. It was a very rewarding day.”
Four players finished in a tie for second: David Lipsky, Carl Yuan, Chad Ramey and Paul Barjon. It was the third runner-up finish of the year for Barjon, while it was the highest finish of Yuan’s career.
With the ascension into the top-five, Barjon will make his debut in a major championship at Winged Foot.
“My goal at the beginning of the week was that U.S. Open spot,” said Barjon, a Frenchman and Texas Christian University alum. “Obviously the goal every week is to win, but this week there was a little extra incentive. I didn’t know where I had to finish, but I figured top-10 and I would have a chance to jump a couple of guys.”
Paul Barjon, Lee Hodges share third-round lead at WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft Heinz
Both Paul Barjon and Lee Hodges have grown accustomed to the top of the leaderboard of late. Barjon has finished inside the top three on three different occasions this year, while Hodges has earned five straight top-20 finishes. The duo has done everything but win so far this season, but each will be looking to change that narrative entering the final round of the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft Heinz.
Barjon and Hodges are each 11-under through 54 holes at the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, two clear of the field. While both will be focused on earning the biggest win of their careers to date, another incentive is in play. The top-five players in the season-long Korn Ferry Tour points standings at the conclusion of the tournament will receive exemptions into the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Both players would likely jump into the top-five of the standings with a top-two finish.
“We’re [basically] playing sectionals this week, right?” laughed Barjon. “That’s how I take it…I’ve never played a major, not even close, so it’s in your mind…Playing a major, and it being a U.S. Open, the toughest of the four, that would mean a lot. That would be a great experience.”
Barjon grew up in New Caledonia, a small French island in the South Pacific, where he lived until he was 16. He then moved to France during high school before coming to America to play golf at Texas Christian University.
At one point this season, Barjon had been positioned inside the top-three of the leaderboard after 11 rounds in a 20-round stretch. He suffered a back-breaking defeat in a playoff at the El Bosque Mexico Championship by Innova in February. The 27-year-old entered the par-5 18th hole on Sunday tied for the lead and hit the green in two, setting himself up for a two-putt birdie to win the tournament. A three-putt from 70 feet left him in a playoff where he eventually fell to David Kocher. The tournament ended up being the final event before the COVID-19 pandemic forced a three-month shutdown.
“Over four days and 270+ golf shots, a lot of different things can happen,” said Barjon. “If you finish one shot back did you really play that much worse than the guy who won? I want to have a chance on the back nine on Sunday, that’s what my TCU golf coach used to say. He used to say the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday. If I can have a chance on the back nine here at Pumpkin Ridge, that will be cool.”
On the other hand, Hodges will make his debut in the final pairing on a Sunday on the Korn Ferry Tour. The 25-year-old has been very consistent this season with eight top-25s in 12 starts.
“It would be awesome to win,” said Hodges. “I think it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been playing some really, really nice golf. It feels like every tournament I’ve played in lately I’ve had a chance. Hopefully tomorrow I get it done.”
Hodges had an up-and-down front nine on Saturday and turned at even par but hit a 6-iron to 25 feet at the par-5 11th before sinking the eagle putt to jump into contention. He added a closing birdie at the 18th to reach a three-day total 11-under.
“I’ve been playing smart, hitting it nice, chipping and putting it nice, I haven’t been doing anything poorly,” said Hodges, a University of Alabama alum. “I kind of know who I am a little more and don’t try to be someone that I’m not. I’m not trying to hit it further; I’m just trying to be Lee Hodges. It’s been good enough for the past few weeks for me lately.”
While Barjon and Hodges will each be seeking a win tomorrow, several other players will have a close eye on the leaderboard with U.S. Open exemptions on the line. The top-three players in the points standings are likely safe (Davis Riley, Will Zalatoris and Taylor Pendrith), but players like Mito Pereira (projected sixth) and Jared Wolfe (projected eighth) will try to improve their standing on the final day.
Barjon and Hodges hold a two-stroke advantage over Anders Albertson and a three-stroke lead over 54-hole co-leader Charlie Saxon.
Sunday’s final round will be broadcast live on Golf Channel starting at 3:00PM.
Steven Alker, Charlie Saxon share 36-hole lead at WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft Heinz
Charlie Saxon carded six consecutive birdies on Friday on his way to a second-round 7-under 64 and a share of the lead with Steven Alker at the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft Heinz. Saxon and Alker sit 9-under through 36 holes at the Witch Hollow course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.
“I think my previous best [this year] going into this week was two birdies in a row, so I’ll definitely take six,” laughed Saxon. “It was fun. I was hitting good golf shots and the putter got going a little bit. It’s kind of the stretch I’ve been waiting on all year.”
Beginning at the 10th hole, Saxon bogeyed his first and last holes but tallied nine birdies in between to record his lowest round of the year. He became the sixth player this season to count six birdies in a row with circles on Nos. 14-1.
“[a highlight was] Probably my shot on 18,” said Saxon of the risk/reward par-5 hole. “I hit a not-so-great second shot and left it in a weird spot in the rough above a bunker. But I hit a sweet little pitch in there for a tap-in, which was my fifth birdie in a row and made the next one for six.”
Saxon entered the week 76th in the Korn Ferry Tour points during an up-and-down season. The former University of Oklahoma star missed his first four cuts of the season but has earned two top-20 finishes in his last four starts. The 27-year-old has competed full time on the Korn Ferry Tour over the past two seasons after winning twice on PGA TOUR Series-China in 2018. With four wins in China, he is the all-time leading money winner on that Series.
While Saxon enjoyed his own fireworks in the second round, New Zealand native Steven Alker was looking for some stability. After an opening-round 68 that included an ace, five birdies and four bogeys on the scorecard, Alker carded a bogey-free 65 on Friday to grab a share of the lead at 9-under.
“I kept bogeys off the card today and made some nice saves,” said the 49-year-old. “That always keeps the round going. Yesterday was sort of topsy-turvy; I threw a hole-in-one in there but also had a couple of sixes. It was quite a mixed bag. But today I was more committed to the shots and putted well.”
While Alker has made the cut in two-thirds of his starts this year, he has been unable to capitalize with any high finishes. Over his last four events he’s finished T52-T50-67th-T44 and entered the week 138th in the points standings.
“It’s just confidence building; I haven’t had a great year,” remarked Alker. “I’ve made a bunch of cuts but finishing 40th or 50th doesn’t get it done. I’ve just been picking my targets and firing at them. I think today was good for me because I made some nice saves and kept the bogeys off the card.”
In four previous starts at the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by KraftHeinz, Alker has finished T5-T50-MC-T60.
Tomorrow’s third round will be broadcast live on Golf Channel at 4:00PM.
Drew Weaver cards 65, earns first solo lead of career at WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft Heinz
Competing in the third group of the day on a rainy morning at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Drew Weaver opened with a 6-under 65 to take the solo lead at the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft Heinz. Weaver punctuated his round on the Witch Hollow course with an impressive up and down from the greenside bunker at the par-5 18th to take a one-stroke lead and tie his lowest round of the year.
“It’s good to get off to a nice start; I’ve really struggled with that the past month or so,” said Weaver, who has missed his last three cuts. “When you come out of the gate cold, that makes the second round hard and you’re fighting uphill to make the cut…I can’t control what anybody else does but I’m really happy with the way I played today.”
Weaver, a 33-year-old Virginia Tech alum, carded seven birdies against a lone bogey on Thursday in a round reminiscent of his first round on the same course in 2017. At the 2017 WinCo Foods Portland Open, Weaver posted a first-round 63 to take a share of the lead but followed it up with a second-round 78 before eventually finishing T30.
“I think I missed a number of cuts in a row coming into that week [in 2017] and I’d missed three straight now,” reflected Weaver, who became the first American winner of The Amateur Championship in 29 years after winning the 2008 tournament. “You do your best to forget the bad play, but it can still be tough to get over sometimes.”
For Weaver, golf has been secondary on his mind a lot this year. In the last few months, the former Hokie has closed on a house, moved to North Carolina and had his first child with his wife Elizabeth.
“It’s been an amazing year; we had our first child, our son Bills was born five months ago, so that’s been life-changing and has changed my perspective on everything,” said Weaver. “Being a dad is amazing and watching my wife be such a great mother is inspiring. It makes it hard to leave, but I’m thankful to have a place to play and have an opportunity to do well each week out here.”
Despite his opening 63 in 2017, Weaver has missed the cut twice in three attempts on the Witch Hollow course, a course he calls “demanding, but not unfair.”
“I look at this golf course a lot like Muirfield Village,” remarked Weaver. “I’ve gotten the opportunity to play out there twice with the Memorial, and it’s a place where if you’re on, you can score well. But if you’re not then it’s going to show…If you hit good shots you are going to have opportunities to make birdies.”
Weaver, who has averaged a shade under 295 yards per drive this season, leads a pair of long-hitting players by one stroke. Brent Grant and Max Greyserman, who rank third and fourth, respectively, in driving distance on Tour, carded matching 5-under 66s on Thursday. Each averages more than 329 yards per drive. Greyserman went 5-under on the back nine (his first nine) before coasting in, while Grant used an eagle at the par-5 fourth as the catalyst for his round.
Second-round tee times will run from 7 a.m. to 2:26 p.m. on Friday. The tournament will be broadcast live on Golf Channel at 4pm.
Story by WADE EVANSON, Pamplin Media Group
In his first full season a PGA Tour card is within his reach
If you look at Dylan Wu’s Korn Ferry Tour profile, you’ll find some interesting things.
He owned a set of Snoopy golf clubs, played more than a half-decade of hockey, and aspires to work in wealth management. But while an early affinity for the Peanuts, Canada’s Winter National Sport, and finance, don’t kid yourself, Wu is a golfer — and a damn good one.
In just his second year of professional golf, the Medford, Oregon native finds himself in the thick of the hunt for his PGA Tour card. Following the TPC San Antonio Challenge at the Canyons, July 9-12, the 2018 Northwestern University graduate ranked fifth on the Korn Ferry Tour’s season points standings, with three top-5s, four top-10s, and six top-25s in 11 events this season. He ranks ninth in driving accuracy, 14th in greens in regulation percentage, and eighth in scoring average (69.08). So if you’re in the market for a financial advisor, you may want to look elsewhere for the next couple of decades.
“Wealth management is definitely my back-up plan,” Wu said with a chuckle. “If I can play golf for the rest of my life, that’s the plan. And if I could make a nice amount of money doing it and have other people manage it, that’d be even better.”
Wu started playing golf as a toddler when his dad was learning the game. At the age of 10, he got into ice hockey, and for the next five years, played travel hockey across the Pacific Northwest. Wu later captained the team at North Medford High School, where he earned the team’s best defenseman award three times. But while good on the ice, he was great on the links, where he led his St. Mary’s (Medford) squad to three 3A/2A/1A state team titles and won individual state championships in each of his last two seasons. From there, it was off to Northwestern, where his success continued to the tune of a first-team all-Big Ten selection his senior season and a spot on the Ping Midwest All-Region team. He also led the Wildcats in five different statistical categories during his final season in Evanston, including a 72.19 stroke average and most birdies. And now? He’s got 25 Korn Ferry Tour events under his belt, recently bought a house in Scottsdale, Arizona, and is all-systems-go in his quest for the PGA Tour.
“This is what I want to be doing, and I feel like this year I’m more comfortable and getting better all the time.”
After earning his way onto the Korn Ferry Tour in June 2019 following a second-place finish at the Lincoln Land Championship in Springfield, Illinois, where he lost in a playoff to Xinjun Zhang, Wu finished 72nd in the final standings. He's earned full privileges on the tour this season, of which he’s made the most of. He attributes the bulk of his heightened success this season to experience but also cites a “gritty mentality” that can often be the difference between a “good” and “bad” week.
“I need to be as strong as I can mentally,” Wu said. “The goal on the Korn Ferry Tour is to get to the PGA Tour, and every shot and every point matters so much. So often, the weeks where you don’t have your best, but you’re still able to finish in the top-10 or top-20, or even just make the cut, can be the most satisfying and really make a difference.
“You’re playing for a living and playing for your livelihood, so every shot does matter.”
The 23-year-old also cited off-the-course duties as a necessary adjustment for relatively new professionals like himself. College golfers bear no responsibility for coordinating travel, managing expenses, or any other myriad of obligations thrust upon young pros. Consequently, getting comfortable off the course can often correlate to future success on it.
“You’ve got to manage your travel, manage your rest, map-out the course and figure out a game plan,” he said, “And learning that stuff is a process, but it definitely adds up.”
Despite his age and the relative hurdles that come with youthful inexperience, some of Wu’s peers' recent success has only aided in his belief in his chances of making it to and eventually succeeding on the PGA Tour. Twenty-three-year-old Collin Morikawa has already won twice on the PGA Tour, 21-year-old Matthew Wolff once, and 22-year-old Viktor Hovland has a win and more than $2 million in earnings since turning professional last summer. Wu has taken notice of their success, and it has and continues to fuel him as he chases his dream.
“It’s nice to see those guys you’ve played with do well because you’ve played with them before, and you’ve beat them before,” Wu said. “The reality is that we all can play good golf, but some guys’ bad golf is better than other guys’ bad golf, which is where we’re all trying to get.”
In addition to the mental aspect of the game, Wu also continues to work on the physical aspect. He still works with Northwestern Director of Golf and Player Development, Pat Goss, on his short game, and recently started working with Montreal instructor Shauheen Nakhjavani in hopes of improving and already impressive tee-to-green game — and it’s paid off.
“I wanted to be able to hit the ball a little higher with my longer clubs and control my spin into firm greens,” Wu said. “It’s really helped, and I think that combined with having a better short game, I have a more complete game.”
And will that equate at the Winco Foods Portland Open? There’s no way of knowing, but Wu loves the course, believes it sets up nicely for his game, and is looking forward to representing the state of Oregon the best he can when he tees it up for the first round on Aug. 6 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course in North Plains.
“I love that golf course, and if you ask the guys on tour, most would tell you they’d put it in their top-3 courses we play,” Wu said. “It’s a course where you need all facets of your game in order to play well, and I definitely want to play well for Oregon.”