The 2023 Ascendant

Paul twins could ascend to top peak in game — PGA Tour — at the same time if golf balls bounce the right way; former CU golfers on parallel tracks — Yannik on DP World Tour and Jeremy on Korn Ferry Tour, where he’ll play in The Ascendant next month

By Gary Baines – 6/28/2023

Last year, after the opening round of the Korn Ferry Tour’s event in Berthoud, former University of Colorado golfer Jeremy Paul was asked about the professional golf prospects of him and his identical twin brother Yannik — also a former Buff. 

“At the end of the day we both want to be playing on the PGA Tour at some point in time,” Jeremy said then. “If it’s next year or maybe in two years, that would be awesome. That’s kind of our dream.”

A lot has happened since then, and those prospects may be closer to becoming a realty, but it’s far from a lock.

Here’s where things stand regarding the 29-year-olds from Germany:

Yannik Paul is looking more likely to earn his PGA Tour card later this year as he won on the DP World Tour for the first time last fall (at the Mallorca Golf Open) and currently sits 13th in the DP World Tour season-long standings. The top 10 on that list at the end of the season — not otherwise exempt — will be headed to the PGA Tour in 2024. But a few people ahead of Yannik in the standings are indeed already exempt on the PGA Tour, including Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland.

Meanwhile, just three days after uttering the quote above, Jeremy Paul finished third at The Ascendant presented by Blue at TPC Colorado, which remains his best-ever Korn Ferry Tour finish. A little more than halfway through the 2023 season, Jeremy sits 49th in the KFT standings. And at the end of this season, the top 30 on the points list will land PGA Tour cards for the 2024 campaign.

With that as background, Jeremy was asked Wednesday what it would be like for both him and his twin brother to both be PGA Tour members in 2024?

“Our end goal is obviously to play on the PGA Tour together,” Jeremy said during a Zoom call organized by The Ascendant ahead of its fifth playing at TPC Colorado, July 13-16. “There’s a good path for our goals to align at the end of the year. That would obviously be a dream come true for both of us.

“When we started our professional career we used to travel together all the time. When Covid happened, he had a couple of opportunities in Europe and he played really well. I did OK over here (in the U.S.). That’s kind of how our paths split. But for us to (potentially) be able to do that at the highest level would be something obviously we’ve dreamed of our whole life. That’s kind of the pursuit. But it shows that there’s so many different ways in golf to achieve certain things. You keep your mind open and take the route wherever it takes you. Hopefully at the end of the day, it leads to whenever you want to go.”

As for Yannik, last week he told the DP World Tour website that he feels like he’s on track for still-bigger things in the game of golf.

“I always believed that I could be one of the top players in the world,” he said. “… I have really high goals and I want to become one of the best players in the world, contend in majors, win as many times as possible on the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour. I feel like I’m just getting started and I can continue that form.”

Yannik Paul sits at No. 101 in the world rankings after finding success on the DP World Tour.

For the record, Yannik is currently No. 101 in the official world rankings, while Jeremy is No. 490. But with good performances by both from now until the fall, it’s not at all out of the question that the brothers could be owners of PGA Tour cards by year’s end.

Since the beginning of the 2021-22 season, Yannik has recorded 10 top-10s on the former European Tour, including the win in Mallorca in October, three second places and a third. His outstanding play has moved him to third place on the European Ryder Cup point standings, behind only Rahm and McIlroy, though Yannik is involved in a very tight race.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, Jeremy has recorded one top-10 finish this year on the Korn Ferry Tour — a seventh — giving him four top-10s overall in his three seasons competing on the KFT. As noted, his third place at The Ascendant in 2022 was his career best on the circuit.

“I’ve had like a decent season so far,” he said. “A lot of top 25s (six), but I haven’t had four really good rounds together. It’s kind of crunch time in the season now. Any good week can change the rest of the season. It’s nice coming back to a place (TPC Colorado) I played well last year.

“I really look forward to it. It’s one of my favorite tournaments of the year obviously. I really like the course. I had a good week last year. Hopefully do a little better this year.”

And with the CU football team getting plenty of attention in the wake of the Deion Sanders hiring as head coach, Jeremy won’t be surprised to hear an occasional “We Comin’” from the fans at TPC Colorado this year, in addition to the more traditional “Go Buffs”.

“If I could choose any tournament out of the year that I’d love to win, it would be Colorado,” he said. “I still have a lot of friends there. I have good memories being there. My fiancé’s family is from there so we still go back to Denver quite a bit, so I have a lot of ties to Colorado. That would be awesome to win there.”

Though they’re often separated by thousands of miles, the Paul twins remain very close to this day.

“We talk every day — FaceTime and stuff,” Jeremy said. “We’re very much involved in each other’s career and we give each other a little advice here and there and see how it’s going, what the current status is.” 

Fort Collins resident Sam Saunders finished 37th in The Ascendant last year.

Coloradan Sam Saunders Eyeing Long-Awaited Return to PGA Tour: No matter how the field for The Ascendant takes shape, few contestants will have more of a home game at TPC Colorado than Sam Saunders, who calls Fort Collins home.

The soon-to-be-36-year-old grandson of Arnold Palmer was a full-timer on the PGA Tour from 2014-19, competing in 158 events on that circuit overall to date. But since then, the Korn Ferry Tour has been the norm for him.

Saunders’ goal, of course, is to return to the PGA Tour full time, but victories on the KFT have barely eluded. In fact, he has three runner-up finishes to his credit, including one this year at the Panama Championship.  

“My main goal — and only goal — is to win a golf tournament this year because I’m in a position now where if I do that, it will guarantee me moving on and getting back to the PGA Tour,” Saunders said on Wednesday’s Zoom call.

Even without a victory in 2023, Sanders sits 30th on the season-long Korn Ferry Tour points list. And the top 30 on that list at the end of the season will earn PGA Tour cards.

So far in 2023, besides his runner-up in a playoff, Sanders has a fifth-place and a 10th-place showing on the KFT. 

Asked why he keeps grinding away on the Korn Ferry Tour, Saunders said, “Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it. No, I love the game and I love to play golf. Professional golf has been a little bit of a struggle for me lately, I’m not going to lie. … But at the end of the day I love the game of golf and I love to play. Having that level of competition against something other than yourself and the golf course is great for me. It’s what makes me want to play. … It’s been a great career for me. But I still feel I haven’t accomplished what I really could have and should have accomplished on the PGA Tour. Injuries have been a hard thing for me in my career. I’ve broken a lot of bones and had some unfortunate timing of injuries. Covid slowed things down as well.

“I really want to get back to the PGA Tour next year so that I can try to accomplish the goals I set out to when I decided to turn pro and take on this whole career — winning at the highest level of professional golf . … I think I’ve still got some old tricks — and enough game to win out there for sure.”

Even though Palmer passed away almost seven years ago, what he did remains very much fondly remembered in the game — by Saunders and just about everyone else in golf.

“I idolized him. I watched him,” Saunders said of Palmer. “To be able to see what he did in his career and make such an impact on the world, it obviously was something I wanted to do and be a part of. I think what I admired most was the impact that he made on the game. He made it better for everyone. Golf used to be an elitist country club sport before he came along.”

If You Can Make It Here, You Can Make It Anywhere: Saunders may be more qualified than most to evaluate the level of play on the PGA Tour compared to the Korn Ferry Tour, given that he’s competed in a similar number of events on each circuit.

“I actually feel today it’s harder to make cuts on the Korn Ferry Tour Tour than it is on the PGA Tour just because the courses lend themselves to birdies a lot,” he said. “Making cuts is hard on the Korn Ferry Tour. These guys are all so hungry. They’re young, they all have energy. They don’t get tired on Friday. They’re just going, and they’re not afraid to make birdies.

“It’s tough for me honestly, playing on the Korn Ferry Tour. The level of talent out there, it’s so young and you see these guys who are not afraid to fire at all pins. When I played my five years in a row on the PGA Tour, one of the biggest differences is there are times when you play a little more conservatively out there. You don’t really have the luxury of doing that on the Korn Ferry Tour. You have to be all in all the time because there’s no letdown from these guys. It’s not a surprise to me when you see guys that come off the Korn Ferry Tour and immediately have success and go win (on the PGA Tour) and become the No. 1 player in the world, like Scottie Scheffler did.”

Indeed, Scheffler competed on the KFT in 2019, winning twice, finishing second twice and posting 10 top-10 finishes.

“If you can win there, you can win anywhere,” Saunders said of the Korn Ferry circuit. “… In my opinion the Korn Ferry Tour is arguably the second-best tour in the world. 

Notable: Monday qualifying for The Ascendant will be held July 10 at Colorado National Golf Club in Erie and Highland Meadows Golf Course in Windsor, with the top four scorers at each site earning a berth into the tournament. … With a slight lengthening of holes 10 and 15, TPC Colorado will play about 8,029 yards and to a par-72 for The Ascendant. … The purse for The Ascendant will be $1 million, with $180,000 going to the winner. … A free junior golf clinic, presented by Citywide Banks, will be held at the TPC Colorado practice facility on July 10. … Tee times for the July 12 pro-am will run 6:30 a.m.-2:40 p.m. on the first tee. … Tee times for the first two rounds of the tournament, July 13 and 14, are planned for 6:50-9:01 a.m. and 12:20-2:31 p.m. off both holes 1 and 10. … For the final two rounds July 15 and 16, tee times are tentatively scheduled for 9:50 a.m.-1:30 p.m. off No. 1. … Brady McKinlay, the Utah Valley golfer who counted the Mark Simpson Colorado Invitational and the Ram Masters Invitational among his four college victories last season, will be in The Ascendant field as a sponsor exemption. … About 520 volunteers will work The Ascendant at TPC Colorado. … Three pro-ams will be held in conjunction with this year’s tournament, with the addition of one on Monday in which 24 local junior golfers will play six holes each with tournament pros.

Tickets Sales Up: Drew Blass, tournament director for The Ascendant, said ticket sales for the event are 50 percent ahead of the same time last year.  

Tickets are available on the tournament website. A good-any-day grounds pass (for any single day from Wednesday through Sunday) runs $25, while a Wednesday grounds pass for the pro-am/practice day is $15. An all-week grounds pass is $55. For grounds passes and other tickets, CLICK HERE. Free admission is available for kids 15 and under when accompanied by a ticketed adult, and for U.S. active-duty military and retirees showing a valid military I.D. at a ticket sales window.

Blass said trollies will be used at the tournament this year to shuttle fans in need to far-off areas of the course.

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. He was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates