Carl Yuan is ready to join the group of former Washington Huskies who are playing on the PGA Tour.
But before realizing that goal and joining Joel Dahmen, C.T. Pan and Nick Taylor, Yuan has a chance to do something that no Husky has done — rank first on the Korn Ferry Tour, the top developmental circuit for the PGA Tour.
Yuan is dominating the Korn Ferry Tour with 1,395 points, 456 more than Seonghyeon Kim, who is in second place.
Players who reach 900 points gain automatic entry on the PGA Tour for the following season. Yuan reached that number in just seven events this season with the help of a win, a second-place finish and a third-place finish.
Yuan’s goal is to remain No. 1, which will place him higher on the PGA Tour’s priority list when the new season begins in August.
If Yuan can stay No. 1, he would join an elite list of players who have finished first on the Korn Ferry Tour, a group that includes major winners Tom Lehman, Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Jimmy Walker.
That’s pretty heady stuff for Yuan, who has had to work hard to get to this spot.
Yuan, 25, left UW after his junior season in 2018 to represent China in the Asian Games — helping his team to a silver medal — before turning pro. He played half a season on PGA Tour China before earning a spot in 2019 on the Korn Ferry Tour.
He has steadily improved and might have earned a PGA Tour card last season by finishing in the top 25 of the Korn Ferry Tour. He was in the top 25 when he missed the final six events of the season and the three-tournament finals to play for China in the Olympic Games, where he finished 38th.
“It took me time to think through it, but it’s not something I am going to regret,” Yuan said of falling out of the top 25 last season because of the time off. “Every athlete’s goal is to be in the Olympics and play for your home country. Definitely some sacrifices were made, but I came back this year and played strong.”
That is a bit of an understatement. With six top-seven finishes in 13 events this season, Yuan has earned $349,000 and has a PGA Tour card waiting.
“It’s my fourth year (on the Korn Ferry Tour) and I kind of know what it takes to win or play well on each course,” Yuan said. “Knowing that I will be on the PGA Tour next season takes off a lot of pressure for the remainder of the season, but there is still a lot of work to be done to keep myself in the No. 1 seed.”
Yuan grew up in China and began playing golf at 10. At 14, he moved to Florida to help further his game. He was ranked among the top 25 recruits in the nation when then-coach Matt Thurmond recruited him.
“I knew (Matt) Thurmond had produced some great players — Nick Taylor, Chris Williams and C.T. (Pan) — who were all ranked No. 1 (in the world amateur rankings),” Yuan said.
Yuan made quite an impression on his recruiting visit, playing members of the Husky golf team in table tennis. As the legend goes, Yuan crushed his future teammates by using his cellphone as a paddle.
“Yeah, it is true,” Yuan said sheepishly when asked about it. “It was just to make it more challenging. Coming from China, I played a little bit when I was young and I have a fair game.”
He also proved he had a fair golf game. He made the all-Pac-12 freshman team, then continued to excel the next two seasons under new coach Alan Murray.
Yuan led the Huskies in scoring as a sophomore and was second-team All-Pac-12, then led his team in five of nine events as a junior and had two top-five finishes.
Yuan said he learned a lot from Thurmond and Murray, who saw immediately that Yuan had a lot of ability.
“From the very first time I saw him play golf, you could tell he was a world-class ball striker,” Murray said. “His ability to get the club on the meat of the ball every time — there are not many guys like him. He’s got an amazing shot-making ability. His game is very suited to professional golf, and look at the year he has had.”
While at UW, Yuan met Ying Luo, who helped the Washington women’s golf team win the 2016 national title. The two were married in 2020.
“This is what I say: ‘I work for her,’” Yuan said. “She does a lot more than anyone can imagine. She knows the game so well, being a great golfer herself. She knows how tough this job is, how hard golf is, so she is always there to encourage me and to help me out with my game.
“She always keeps me on the right track. Sometimes golfers can get lost in their own world, and she is always there to pull me back. She views my game from a different perspective, which is great.”
Yuan thinks it is an advantage that he had several seasons to develop his game before joining the PGA Tour. He has been a great driver of the ball for years, and Murray said if there was an area of improvement leaving college for Yuan that it was in his short game.
Consider that taken care of.
“I am glad I didn’t take any shortcut (to the PGA Tour),” Yuan said. “I did it step by step. It has really helped build me up and I definitely grew a lot in these years and it has prepared me for the PGA Tour.”
And he’s proud to represent the Huskies.
“That is so cool and something that I always wanted to do — represent the Huskies on the PGA Tour,” Yuan said. “Huskies can play.”
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