With hard work and sacrifice, Kevin Yu set to realize PGA Tour dream
For practically his entire life, 24-year-old Kevin Yu has been working toward his dream of playing on the PGA Tour.
Since he was 5 years old, learning the game from his dad, Tommy, who played professionally before becoming a teaching pro and buying a driving range in Taiwan.
Since he won gold as a 15-year-old at the 2013 Asian Games, moved across the globe to attend the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy in Florida and eventually decided to commit to Arizona State – prior to even visiting the campus – as one of the top recruits in the country.
Since he ascended to No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and then opted to play an extra year for the Sun Devils, a decision that paid off with Yu earning a Korn Ferry Tour card via the inaugural PGA Tour University.
Now, Yu has realized that dream.
“If you would’ve told me last summer that I’d be on the PGA Tour within a year of graduating, I would’ve said, ‘No way,’” said Yu, who locked up his Tour card last month via the KFT’s regular-season points race, though with the KFT Finals wrapping up Sunday, Yu can now turn his focus toward the PGA Tour’s season opener Sept. 15-18 in Napa, California.
The magnitude of such achievement is certainly not lost on Yu. He missed the cut at the KFT’s regular-season finale in Omaha, Nebraska, and could’ve easily headed to the first playoff stop in Boise, Idaho, but he opted to stick around for the card-giving ceremony.
When KFT officials handed him his copper-plated Tour card, they also gave him an iPhone with a video to be played. On the recording end was Yu’s college coach, Matt Thurmond, who had a heartfelt message for his former player.
You did it!
You’ve shown such a toughness, such a resiliency … and it’s gotten you to the PGA Tour.
This is just the beginning.
After watching the 45-second clip, Yu was asked how he was feeling.
“A little emotional right now,” he began. “I went through a lot of stuff…”
Yu couldn’t finish as he broke down in tears.
“I normally don’t show much emotion, but watching that video, I just couldn’t control it,” Yu says now, looking back.
Like many of his fellow KFT graduates (two other PGA Tour U guys, Davis Thompson and Trevor Werbylo, joined Yu in The 25 while Austin Eckroat earned his card via the Finals), Yu had been no stranger to adversity along his journey to the big show. While Yu prefers to keep some of those obstacles private, it’s no secret that professional golf can wear on players, especially those in their first year.
In Yu’s case, he had to navigate the beginning of his pro career with his parents back in Taiwan. While Yu’s sister, Han-Hsuan, plays college golf at Oklahoma State, he hasn’t seen his father and mother in over three years.
So, once he had that Tour card in his possession, he dialed his parents up on FaceTime, like he has done after countless tournaments the past few years. It was 12:30 a.m. back home, but his parents wouldn’t miss sleeping through their son’s big moment.
“They were really happy,” Yu said. “In junior and amateur golf back in Taiwan, my parents did a lot for me. Them and all my coaches, we’d talk about the future and how to get better every day, and everything we did as a family was for me to be in the best situation to get to the PGA Tour, and I finally did it. Twenty years of playing golf and dreaming about that moment, and then thinking about all the sacrifices that were made, I just kind of lost it.”
Added Thurmond: “To the average fan watching these kids play from a distance, they have no idea what’s really going on in their lives and the challenges they’re dealing with and the struggles and the up and downs, the emotion and drama. Being the coach, you know a lot more about that, and certainly being the kid, you’ve experienced it all, and that’s what you saw with Kevin is maybe a bunch of things that nobody knows anything about coming out in that moment and him realizing that he was able to overcome it all and achieve a dream.”
During Yu’s five-year career with the Sun Devils, Tempe became Yu’s home away from home, so much so that’s he’s remained in town and still spends time at Arizona State’s team facility at Papago Golf Course. What was tough, though, was graduating and realizing that moving forward, there would be no team surrounding him – at least not in the college sense.
That’s where SportFive’s Jeff Koski, Yu’s agent, comes in. Koski also represents ASU great Jon Rahm, so he knows how many moving parts there are for players entering the play-for-pay ranks, particularly international players, whose to-do lists may include all or some of the following: securing their elite-athlete visa, finding insurance, getting a driver’s license. Those are in addition to the shock of being responsible for your own expenses, travel arrangements and scheduling.
“Coming out of college you go from having a coach like Matt Thurmond, who does an incredible job at ASU managing everybody’s time and practice regimens – you go from that to professional life where you really don’t have that structure,” Koski said. “Understanding how to travel, how to practice, how to prepare for a tournament; just communicating with Kevin weekly, he was able to form, with some help, an idea of how to do it his way. Once he did that, he started performing at a high level.”
With guaranteed KFT starts at his disposal for finishing in the top five of the inaugural PGA Tour U class, Yu bypassed sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour to focus on earning his way to the Tour via the KFT. The only problem was last summer marked the last part of a two-year KFT super-season because of the pandemic and earning enough points to finish inside the top 25 in regular-season points would take a monumental effort. Heck, even cracking the top 75 to qualify for KFT Finals would be unprecedently difficult.
Yu – with the kind of game that, in Thurmond’s words, can “dominate a golf course” – nearly pulled it off, too. In just eight starts, Yu had five top-25s, including a T-2 in Colorado and T-5 in Kansas. However, that performance, while likely good enough to at least secure a Finals berth in most years, only landed Yu 101st in points.
On the surface, it was a notable setback, as Yu was forced to go to Q-School to keep his KFT card. But as Yu reckons, it taught him a lot about perserverance.
“After nationals, I played eight events with not that many weeks off,” Yu said. “You just had to play week after week, even if you finish good, still gotta play next week. That’s a lot of golf out here, and you really have to be disciplined. … I know people who have gotten on tour and they got really excited, they just turned pro and are trying to do some great things and then you spend too much time on the course or practice too hard and do the things that you usually didn’t do in college.
“I learned, don’t do anything too special, just stick to your normal routine and trust that.”
This past year, Yu has stayed his course, even when it’s been trying. He kept his KFT status at Q-School, where he was exempt into final stage, but began his first full year on the KFT with four missed cuts in his first seven starts, a run that included a lot of lonely weeks in foreign and small towns.
But in early May, after missing the cut for a third straight week, Yu nearly won the Simmons Bank Open outside of Nashville, Tennessee, finishing second and jumpstarting his season. He had two more top-3s, and though he missed cuts in the first two Finals events before tying for 49th at the KFT Championship on Sunday, Yu enters his rookie season on the PGA Tour strengthened by resolve.
“Stepping into that mega-season … 100% that gave him confidence knowing that he had what it took to graduate off the Korn Ferry Tour,” Koski said, “and now he’s gotta continue to build on that. This is now a very important fall. Coming out of the gate is important.”
Yu, in true twentysomething fashion, is most looking forward to the courtesy cars, though the player in him is excited to test his game against the world’s best.
And though official plans have yet to be made, he hopes to do so this fall in front of his parents, too.
“They’ve watched me play golf my entire life,” Yu said. “Hopefully, they can make it.”