Lake Forest's Hopfinger gets closer to making the PGA leap
This is a local golf success story that is still in the making.
Lake Forest's Brad Hopfinger put himself in position to earn his PGA Tour card in the last eight weeks of his Tour's season. He has another full year before he can join golf's premier circuit, but his chances of making it to the big time are much brighter now than they were a year ago.
Hopfinger, 31, has played on the Korn Ferry (formerly Web.com, Nationwide, Ben Hogan) since 2015. That was a few months after he won his only pro tournament, the 2014 Illinois Open. He turned pro in 2011 after winning that year's Illinois State Amateur.
Only 10 players own titles in both events, but Hopfinger found that carrying his in-state success to the next level wasn't easy. He never considered giving up, though.
"I don't like the question, but that's the reality of sports," he said. "I'm a professional golfer. That's what I do."
And lately he's been doing it quite well. He started 2020 with only conditional status on the Korn Ferry. Now he's inside The 25 -- the circuit's coveted status that assures advancement to the PGA Tour at season's end.
"It doesn't mean much with this wraparound season," he said, "but when the year started, with conditional status, I wasn't even sure when I could play."
Because of the pandemic, the end point for determining The 25 was pushed back to the end of the 2021 season. The PGA and Korn Ferry circuits endured a three-month layoff before resuming play June 11. Lots of tournaments on both circuits were either canceled or postponed.
Hopfinger was quarantined in Chicago for seven weeks, then had a brief tuneup in Scottsdale, Arizona, before the tournament scheduled resumed June 11 in Florida.
A tie for 16th in Mexico in the last tournament before the pandemic-induced stoppage of play assured Hopfinger more tournament opportunities once play resumed, and when it did he missed only one cut in the remaining 15 tournaments.
"(Mexico) was huge," he said. "I wasn't sure what would happen when we could get back out, but I did well in Boise (tie for sixth), which is one of our bigger tournaments. I kept chipping away, and the momentum kept building."
In the last eight tournaments he had two finishes -- a tie for third in Wichita and a tie for fourth at the Evans Scholars Invitational at Chicago Highlands in Westchester -- that were even better than in Boise. Hopfinger went from No. 64 in the rankings to No. 21.
He has some local company in The 25 -- Northbrook's Nick Hardy is No. 15 after a solid rookie pro season, and Northwestern alums David Lipsky (11) and Dylan Wu (16) are also in the hunt for PGA cards.
Hopfinger grew up playing at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park and still plays most of his Chicago golf there. In college he spent one year at Kansas and three at Iowa. This season's Korn Ferry season ended Oct. 11 and the start of the 2021 tournaments hasn't been announced yet. He is just thankful that 2020 went as well as it did in very trying times.
"The big thing for all of us was that it presented so many challenges," Hopfinger said. "We were all incredibly fortunate that the PGA gave us the opportunity to keep working, and doing it the right way. We were the first sport back, and that was good for us and also good for the game."
Here and there:
Justin Fetcho has resigned after six seasons as men's coach at Southern Illinois. A former assistant at Illinois, Fetcho guided the Salukis to two Missouri Valley Conference championships and three NCAA appearances. Assistant Eric Gilpin will guide the team on an interim basis. Fetcho plans to remain in Carbondale and pursue opportunities outside of golf.
• Wheaton's Kevin Streelman is sharpening his game with three weeks left before the Masters. A final round 64 on Sunday gave him a tie for 28th in last week's Zozo Championship in California.
• Winnetka's Elizabeth Szokol, Illinois' only LPGA player, had her best showing since the pandemic stoppage with a tie for 24th in the Drive On Championship in Georgia on Sunday. Her best showing is a tie for 21st in the Australian Open in February, before the LPGA halted play for five months.