On Deck

From Scottie Scheffler to David Duval to Angel Cabrera to Mike Weir to Will Zalatoris, The Ascendant KFT event in Berthoud has a rich history for attracting big names in golf, past and future

By Gary Baines – 6/19/2024

It must have been an unusual sight, thinking back on it. 

David Duval, a former No. 1-ranked golfer in the world, and Scottie Scheffler, now No. 1 on the planet, together on a rooftop at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Fort Collins in 2019, hitting golf balls to a target on the ground — 130 feet below. 

It was a promotion leading up to the inaugural edition of the Korn Ferry Tour tournament now known as The Ascendant presented by Blue. Free beer — for spectators during a day of the tournament — was at stake.

“Seeing the success Scottie has had, I pull out my phone (with the photos) and there’s Scottie and David hiking up and hitting off the scaffold,” Drew Blass, the tournament director for The Ascendant, said with a laugh on Tuesday, recalling the event.

And while it does indeed seem an odd setting in retrospect — Scheffler initially was reluctant to participate as he said he’s afraid of heights — it does illustrate something noteworthy about the event that will be held at TPC Colorado in Berthoud for the sixth time come July 11-14: It has attracted some big-time players over its short lifespan.

While Scheffler (winner of 11 PGA Tour events, including two Masters) and Duval (13 PGA Tour victories, including a British Open) may have been the only No. 1-ranked golfers in the world — past or future, relative to them competing at TPC Colorado — to have played in The Ascendant, numerous other players with stellar resumès at golf’s highest levels have teed it up at least once in the tournament.

(For the record, Scheffler finished 29th in 2019 at TPC Colorado, while Duval missed the cut in both 2019 and ’21).

Here are some of them:

— Angel Cabrera, winner of a Masters and a U.S. Open (55th place in 2019 at TPC Colorado).

— Mike Weir, who counts the 2003 Masters among his eight PGA Tour victories (missed cut in 2020).

— Will Zalatoris, a one-time winner on the PGA Tour who reached as high as No. 7 in the world (won in 2020, 37th in 2019).

— Camilo Villegas, a five-time champion on the PGA Tour (missed cut in 2023).

— Among the other PGA Tour winners who have competed at The Ascendant are Robert Allenby (four PGA Tour victories); and Jonathan Kaye, Frank Lickliter and Sangmoon Bae (two PGA Tour wins each). And Steven Alker, an eight-time winner on PGA Tour Champions, played at TPC Colorado in 2020 and ’21.

— Also, regarding players who have won on the PGA Tour more recently after having competed in The Ascendant, there’s Austin Eckroat, Stephan Jaeger and Jake Knapp.

Some of the spoils that go to the winners of The Ascendant.

And those are by no means the only examples of competitors at The Ascendant who had won — or subsequently won — major championships or on the PGA Tour. 

“This is truly a place to view the next level of players, and who you’re going to be watching on Sundays on the PGA Tour” in the future, Jon Squeri, the senior manager of tournament business and sponsor relations for the KFT, said on Tuesday during a visit to TPC Colorado.

And then there are Ascendant “alums” who have excelled in other ways without PGA Tour victories to their credit. For example, Cameron Young, who’s ranked in the top 25 in the world, played at TPC Colorado in 2021. And Zecheng “Marty” Dou, who won The Ascendant in 2022, and countryman Carl Yuan (runner-up in Berthoud the same year) are the two Chinese representatives in the men’s Olympic golf competition that will take place in early August near Paris.

“All these players have walked these grounds and played this course in these past five years,” said Blass, who’s coordinated things for The Ascendant since the beginning. “For me, seeing that opportunity that we’re giving them for that steppingstone, that chance to get where they want to go is because this community said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And look at the success they’re having, knowing they were here less than five years ago.

“They’ve all been here and (established) the memories and the experiences: ‘Hey TPC Colorado is part of my history, part of me getting to where I am now.’”

This is certainly not to say the field for The Ascendant — or other KFT events — is full of competitors who are “name” players or who will become such. But every year there are several golfers at TPC Colorado who fall into those categories. Sometimes it just takes a discerning eye to spot those who set themselves apart.

For the record, among the winners of more than one tournament — in this case two each — on the 2024 Korn Ferry Tour are Tim Widing and Harry Higgs and Taylor Dickson.

The picturesque scene from beside the second green at TPC Colorado.

Locally Speaking: Though the field is far from set for The Ascendant next month, it’s a good bet that some of the following players — all of whom have significant Colorado ties — will tee it up in Berthoud:

— Former University of Colorado golfer Jeremy Paul, who won the KFT season-opening Bahamas Great Exuma Classic and currently stands ninth on the season-long points list. (The top 30 players on that list at season end will earn 2025 PGA Tour cards.) Paul finished third at The Ascendant in 2022.

— Former Air Force Academy golfer Kyle Westmoreland, who started the season with two top-5 finishes in January and sits 21st on the KFT points list.

— Fort Collins resident Sam Saunders, who has posted three top-5 finishes in 158 starts on the PGA Tour.

— Part-time Denver resident Kevin Stadler, winner once on the PGA Tour and four times on the KFT, who’s been playing regularly on the Korn Ferry circuit of late.

— Josh Creel, a Cheyenne native who started his college golf career at CU, has won once on the Korn Ferry Tour.

A Different Path: Each Korn Ferry Tour event is allowed to give out four sponsor exemptions, two of which have to go to KFT/PGA Tour members who aren’t otherwise exempt. But this year, The Ascendant is taking a different direction regarding sponsor exemption, awarding them on the basis of how players perform in three separate tournaments at TPC Colorado on July 6. 

Two spots will be given to the top performers among KFT/PGA Tour members, with one going to a player 18 or under (out of a field limited to 30 golfers), and the fourth through open competition, which will include college players, Colorado PGA members and many others.

Then eight berths into The Ascendant field will be given to the top finishers in Monday qualifying on July 8 — four each at Colorado National in Erie and Broadlands in Broomfield. 

“I talk to agents and all these people and when I bring up (the tournaments for the sponsor exemptions), they say, ‘That’s what you’re doing? I love the idea.’ But it’s like a totally new concept,” Blass said.

It should be noted that players who are unsuccessful in the July 6 sponsor qualifying tournaments can compete in July 8 Monday qualifying.

“To provide players an opportunity that’s merit-based is a really rare and unique opportunity,” Squeri said. “So kudos to you for trying to be the first tournament to do this.”

Tyler McCumber, a PGA Tour player and former Lyons resident who was on hand Tuesday at TPC Colorado, agreed.

“I love it,” he said. “The chance at any age to have a merit-based performance opportunity to prove yourself … It’s kind of nice to see where you’re at. There are so many good young players.”

Former Lyons resident — and current PGA Tour player — Tyler McCumber is interviewed Tuesday at TPC Colorado.

McCumber Update: McCumber, son of 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber, lived in Lyons for a time before moving out a couple of years ago. But Tyler, while residing in Florida, still spends quite a bit of time in Colorado — mainly due to his medical issues. In recent years, he’s undergone three major surgeries — two on hips and one on a shoulder.

“It’s been a rough road, injury-wise,” said McCumber, who has competed in 60 PGA Tour events, placing in the top five twice. 

That’s led to him being a regular at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, where he gets medical work done in hopes he can return to action in the fall. He anticipates trying to return to the PGA Tour at the beginning of 2025. He’s on a major medical extension from the Tour, and he has 14 PGA Tour starts in which he’ll need to earn 175.766 FedExCup points in order to retain fully-exempt status.

“Definitely the fire is burning to get back and do what I enjoy, which is to compete,” the 33-year-old said. “I’m excited to get back in the ring.”

McCumber played in The Ascendant once — in 2022 — as a “rehab start” before he underwent shoulder surgery. He shot a 78 in the first round and withdrew.

“The course was great, my body was terrible,” he said. 

Asked to rate TPC Colorado as a PGA Tour/KFT host course, McCumber said, “You have a big golf course here. The majority of the courses on Tour are bigger golf courses, so I’d say it’s very comparable regarding the driving, the demands into the greens. It’s a championship design. I think it’s a great test in regards to it being reflective of PGA Tour courses.”

“It’s a beautiful test of golf — at a beautiful place, obviously.”

Attendance: The fifth edition of The Ascendant, held last year, drew the highest attendance of its run, just shy of 30,000 for the week, according to Blass. 

“We keep going in the right direction,” he said. “This golf course sells itself, the community sells itself. I’m not going to say my job is easy, but I’m definitely in a nice spot.”

For ticket information about The Ascendant — and other tournament information, CLICK HERE.

Solich Caddies Get In On the Act: The Fort Collins Country Club chapter of the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy will have an opportunity to take part in next month’s Ascendant. On Tuesday of tournament week (July 9), those caddies will shadow professional caddies — and their players — learning about that aspect of a Tour-affiliated event.

“They’re getting that full-day experience,” Blass said. “They’ll be out wearing their Solich caddie bibs on Tuesday and see how (the pro caddied) help their players read the putt, showing them the yardage book (etc.). The caddie even may let them carry the bag.”

The Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy, which debuted in 2012 and is overseen by the CGA, promotes the use of caddies through a subsidized system — by paying their base fees through an educational grant, with participating golfers having the option of adding a tip. Other key components are leadership and personal-finance classes, and all participants do community-service work as part of the programs. 

The Academy’s participation is part of a growing initiative by The Ascendant to give youngsters an inside look at the impactful background work done at a Tour event by various groups — caddies, agronomists, rules officials, etc.

Notable: The Ascendant presented by Blue has been named the Korn Ferry Tour Tournament of the Year two of the last three years. “We had a meeting with the Tour last week. (Manager of PGA Tour Pathways) Zach Dirlam said, ‘Drew, your event sells itself. Those players and caddies love your event. The service, the amenities, the golf course, they just love coming here.” … Kids age 15 and under — when accompanied by a ticketed adult — will be admitted free to The Ascendant again this year. Also getting in free are U.S. active-duty military and retirees showing a valid military I.D. at a ticket sales window. … Trolleys will be available to carry interested spectators to areas of the course far from the clubhouse during championship rounds July 11-14. … About 500 volunteers will be utilized for this year’s tournament at TPC Colorado. … The Ascendant will feature a $1 million purse, with $180,000 going to the winner. … TPC Colorado is expected to be set up at about 8,029 yards (par-72) for The Ascendant.

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 since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates