As locals miss cut on record-tough day at Ascendant, Nicholas Lindheim grabs 36-hole lead on eve of returning to PGA Tour; despite missed cut, former Air Force Academy golfer Tom Whitney in good shape to earn PGA Tour card in fall
By Gary Baines – 7/14/2023
As one of the contestants in last week’s CGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Stroke Play noted about golf, “Some days you’re the bug and some day you’re the windshield.”
On Friday, all of the local players competing in the Korn Ferry Tour event at TPC Colorado in Berthoud definitely played the part of the bug.
Some got the raw end of the draw the first two days at The Ascendant presented by Blue — those with afternoon tee times on Thursday and morning ones on Friday, where the wind early in the day was crazy strong at times. Others simply didn’t play very well.
The bottom line is that, after a half-dozen players with strong Colorado ties started the event, none made it to the weekend following the 36-hole cut.
Most notably, former Air Force Academy golfer Tom Whitney, who was seventh on the KFT’s season-long points list entering this week, was sent packing, as were former University of Colorado golfer Jeremy Paul, who placed a KFT-career-best third at TPC Colorado last year, and Fort Collins resident Sam Saunders, who was 5 under par for his first 13 holes of the tournament but 6 over for his last 23.
TPC Colorado, from over 8,000 yards, is difficult to begin with, but with high winds it can be a bear. The worst of Friday’s breezes definitely were in the morning, but it was not ideal in the afternoon, either.
“I’m staying on property with a host family and it was blowing really hard this morning (before his midday tee time),” said 38-hole leader Nicholas Lindheim, winner of two Korn Ferry Tour events in his career. “We really made out in our wave (morning Thursday, afternoon Friday). … I’ve been on the bad side of a wave and I definitely feel pretty lucky that I was on this side of the wave.”
All in all, the stroke average on Friday was the highest of the 18 days the Korn Ferry event has been played at TPC Colorado — from 2019 to present. The norm on Friday was 73.013, surpassing the previous high of72.465 in round 1 of 2020. And of the 78 players who teed off in the morning on Friday, a grand total of three broke 70.
Whitney and Paul were among those in the morning wave on Friday, and both followed up a Thursday 71 with a 74.
Former CU golfer Jeremy Paul, who finished third at TPC Colorado last year, saw his putter let him down this week.
Paul was in line to make the cut until he double bogeyed his last hole — No. 9 — after his drive went through the fairway into a bunker that was about 350 yards from the tee.
“It’s disappointing because I actually played really well the last two days — almost better than I think I played last year,” Paul said. “The score doesn’t really represent that. I didn’t get the ball in the hole. But from a long-game perspective I hit it really good. I didn’t make (hardly) any putts this week. Then I had a bad finish. That’s how it is. I’m obviously disappointed. I would like to play better here. But if I don’t look at the score, I’m really satisfied how it went.”
Whitney battled back from being 3 over par through 11 holes on Friday, making birdies on both par-3s on the back nine. But a long three-putt bogey on 18 essentially ended his hopes of advancing to the weekend. And, as it turned out, even a par on 18 wouldn’t have been enough.
If all goes well, former Air Force golfer Tom Whitney (leaning on sign) will be leaving the Korn Ferry Tour for the PGA Tour next season.
Still, despite the missed cut, Whitney is in very good shape to earn a PGA Tour card for the first time in his career. He’ll need to finish in the top 30 on the season-long point standings after the Korn Ferry Tour Championship, which ends Oct. 8. Thanks to five top-6 performances this season, he stood seventh in the standings coming into the week. With 781 points, he’s likely not a lock for a PGA Tour card quite yet, but he has nine tournaments left.
“It’s great,” the 34-year-old said of his position. “I’m well ahead of the curve. When my game is sharp, I’m in contention. Even if I have a few off weeks between contending, hopefully I’ll get enough points to move on up.”
Ask what finally earning that elusive PGA Tour card would mean to him, Whitney said, “It would be nine years in the making. It would be a long journey, a dream realized. It would give me a lot of joy. Then the hard work starts all over again once I get up there.”
Whitney has made just three PGA Tour starts in his career — all in the 2017-18 wraparound season.
So what has — very nearly — put him over the top this time?
“I’ve worked a lot on my wedge game — 50 to 100 (yards out),” he said. “I’m converting a lot more of those on par-4s, par-5s. Overall, the entire game is tight. I don’t have a lot of big misses. I keep it in play.”
Quade Cummins shot a 65 on Friday despite a final-hole bogey.
While locals won’t be around for the weekend, three players somewhat separated themselves at the top of the leaderboard — Lindheim, who leads outright after sharing first following the opening round, Quade Cummins and Max Greyserman.
Lindhelm, making his final rehab start (back-related) before returning to the PGA Tour, stands at 11 under par, while Cummins and Greyserman are one back.
Lindheim went bogey-free in Friday’s 67 after making just one bogey on Thursday.
“Especially on a course like this where if you shoot under par, you played pretty solid, the par putts I think are almost as important as making birdies,” Lindheim said. “To be able to do that and to stay focused kept me going.”
In his four previous Korn Ferry Tour starts this season, Lindheim has finished third once and eighth twice, so he’s no stranger to being in contention.
“Just to be competitive, that’s why we all do it,” he said. “I enjoy it, it gets my nerves going and gets my stomach a little sick once in a while, but that means I care and I relish it.”
And starting next week — at the Barracuda Championship — Lindheim will return to the PGA Tour, where he’s made 67 starts.
“I think (the Korn Ferry Tour) is a great steppingstone, but it’s just a bigger arena out there (on the PGA Tour) — a lot more people, a lot more stuff going on, purses are bigger. I mean, that can put some nerves in you.”
As for Cummins, he could have tied Lindheim for the lead, but he three-putted for bogey from the front collar on 18. Even with that, he matched the low round of this tournament — with a 7-under-par 65, including a 31 on the back nine. He holed out from 89 yards — spinning his ball back in the hole — for eagle on the par-4 10th.
“Today was one of those days where I was hitting good shots, hitting my numbers and had a lot of uphill putts. It was pretty stress-free,” Cummins said. “That hole-out on 10 really got it going for me. I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could.”
Greyserman, who late last year was considering retiring from tour golf following wrist surgery, posted a bogey-free 66 on Friday. He also used an eagle — in his case on the par-5 fifth — to help the cause. He chipped in twice on Friday, including for the eagle.
Jonathan Kaye (left) and Sam Saunders chat on the 17th tee on Friday.
Notable: The 67 players at 1 under par or better made the 36-hole cut. Among those failing to advance to the weekend were all six PGA Tour winners in the field: Camilo Villegas, Jonathan Kaye, Boo Weekley, John Rollins, Steven Bowditch and Fabian Gomez. The two past winners at TPC Colorado in the field — Nelson Ledesma and Tag Ridings — likewise made an early exit. … Every year the event at TPC Colorado has been held, 1 under is what has been necessary to make the cut. … Tee times for Saturday’s third round will run 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Local Scores: Here are the scores for the players with strong Colorado ties competing in The Ascendant this week:
MISSED 36-HOLE CUT
Former Cheyenne resident and onetime CU golfer Josh Creel 71-73–144
Fort Collins resident Sam Saunders 71-74–145
Former CU golfer Jeremy Paul 71-74–145
Former Air Force Academy golfer Tom Whitney 71-74–145
Valor Christian and CSU grad Jake Staiano 74-76—150
Denver native and former CU golfer Jonathan Kaye 77-78–155
For Saturday’s tee times, CLICK HERE.
Jake Staiano puts some body English on his pitch to the 15th green.
About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates ColoradoGolfJournal.com