China’s Bobby Bai woke up one morning last week with an intuition to sign up for the Barbasol Championship Monday Qualifier. His reward for following his instinct is a first ever PGA Tour start on U.S. soil.
The 23-year-old Bai earned co-medallist honours following a superb 8-under 64 to become one of four qualifiers for the Barbasol Championship, which starts at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Kentucky on Thursday.
“Barbasol was not on my playing schedule unlike the other events. I woke up last Friday and texted my agent to register for the Barbasol (qualifying) as that was the first thing that came to my mind. There was no logic to it and I just followed my heart,” said Bai.
“I am glad I finally made it and I’m very excited to play in my first PGA Tour tournament.”
Bai, who is based in Florida, is a regular on the Korn Ferry Tour but has yet to find his feet on the development circuit which is the pathway to the PGA Tour. Since his debut last year, he has missed more cuts than made the weekend play, and has registered only one top-10 to date. He remains undeterred, saying it was a learning curve towards his fledgling professional career.
The University of Central Florida alum has played in Monday Qualifying on many occasions without success and was thrilled after he tied Scott Gutschewski for the low score at Trace National Golf Club where they will be joined in the Barbasol field by David Gazzolo and Trey Shirley.
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“I started to play pre-qualifiers since college as an amateur. I also played a few Monday Qualifiers when I travelled over from China, like arriving on site in the morning and then taking a two-hour nap in the men’s locker room before teeing off. Most of the time, I played without a practice round and I have travelled all over the country to play Monday Qualifying, playing in no less than 15 Mondays and often missing by one shot. There were other random incidents that I missed to qualify… So yes I’m happy,” said Bai, who is coached by Sean Foley.
His only PGA Tour experience was at the 2019 World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China where he made it into the elite field through the China Golf Association rankings. He finished tied 70th out of a field of 78 players in the tournament.
“In Shanghai, I got through the ranking, which was different than trying to get in through Monday Qualifiers. Ranking takes into account many tournaments, one tournament takes four rounds while a qualifier only has one round. So Monday Qualifier is definitely more difficult because in one round, someone will be perfect, and only by being perfect will give you a ticket,” he said.
He is expecting a stern test at Keene Trace where the Barbasol Championship is being played opposite of The Open Championship at Royal St George’s in England.
“I think the fact that a PGA Tour venue is more challenging will prompt players to be more focused. A difficult course will separate the good ball strikers from the good putters, so I am looking forward to test every aspect of my game. I will definitely have some fun out there,” said Bai.
He is currently ranked 122nd on the Korn Ferry Tour points list and needs to make a big jump to get into the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in August, a three-tournament series which will reward the top-25 finishers with PGA Tour cards. The top-25 at the end of the Regular Season will also graduate to the PGA Tour.
“To be honest, the Korn Ferry Tour being the only path to the PGA Tour is super crowded with many good players. I am definitely disappointed at the small progress I have made, but I am learning to be more patient. The Korn Ferry Tour is like the growth of a bamboo, it takes time to grow the roots before visible growth above the ground,” he said.
Since turning professional two years ago, Bai has accumulated two professional victories, including the 2019 Foshan Open which made him the first Chinese winner on the European Challenge Tour. He was also victorious at the Huangshan Championship on PGA Tour Series China two years ago, which propelled him to the Korn Ferry Tour.
Text courtesy: PGA Tour