Chun An Yu has been in the zone.
The golfer, who also is known as ‘Kevin,’ has struck while the iron is hot during his first two months as a professional golfer. In his first seven events on the Korn Ferry Tour, which is one step on the ladder below the PGA Tour, he has twice contended for victories.
It has been a summer filled with golf for the 23-year-old from Taiwan. Each Korn Ferry tournament must be treated with a sense of urgency. At the conclusion of the season, only 25 golfers will be promoted to the PGA ranks. The tournaments lend themselves to rewarding the ultra-aggressive, with winning scores often eclipsing 20 under par.
“The courses are very doable,” Yu said. “The greens are not too complicated. If you have a good short game and putting, you can shoot a pretty low score out there.”
His early success is unsurprising to his college coach, Matt Thurmond, who mentored Yu during his five years at Arizona State.
“Kevin has thrived at every level since he was a little kid,” Thurmond said. “There’s never been a level he wasn’t ready for.”
Yu began this summer still an amateur. In his last collegiate tournament, he finished tied for 13th at the NCAA Championships at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale. His senior season, which lacked an individual victory, did not have the same level of success of those of his prior three.
Still, most collegiate golfers would have happily traded their season for his, but Yu has earned the right to set the bar high.
“It wasn’t really what I was hoping for,” Yu said. “But those last couple of events I played at ASU I felt really good. It definitely helped me prepare for pro golf, for sure.”
As a Sun Devil, Yu is on the short list of the best Sun Devil golfers from the last two decades. Any list of Arizona State men’s golfing achievements will have the usual suspects, Phil Mickelson, John Rahm, Paul Casey, Jeff Quinney, and others. But consistently in amongst the legends on those lists sits Yu.
His freshman scoring average is second only to Rahm, the current No. 1 player in the world. Like Rahm, Yu was ranked as the world’s best amateur golfer when he was at Arizona State. Through his junior year, Yu had the second best career scoring average of any Sun Devil in the Golfstat era, second only to Rahm once again.
Rahm left Arizona State in 2016 and took the PGA Tour by storm with a victory at the Farmers Insurance Open in January of 2017. Yu still has to qualify for the big show before his own breakout can occur, but Thurmond believes his game is already at a PGA level.
“Kevin has areas where he can improve,” Thurmond said. “But he is definitely good enough now to be successful on the PGA Tour. No question.”
Yu is talented with an iron in his hands and averages over 320 yards per drive on the Korn Ferry Tour despite standing at 5-foot-8. What has held him back at times has been his distance control and play around the greens. His average putts per round of 29.73 has him ranked outside the top 100 on the Korn Ferry Tour.
A large slice of his training has occurred at Arizona State’s Thunderbirds Golf Facility at Papago Golf Course in Phoenix. The flags at the practice range inside 140 yards have been peppered with Yu’s wedge shots as he refines his game.
“Every 15 yards is another green, so you’re just trying to hit the green,” Yu said. “It’s pretty small so you have to hit it straight and distance has to be perfect. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot.”
It almost came together for Yu at the TPC Colorado Championship at Herron Lakes. He stood on the 18th tee with a one-stroke lead, but bogeyed to fall into a playoff. He eventually lost to Tag Ridings, who turned pro the year before Yu was born.
Such is the nature of professional golf, no longer is Yu competing with just the best golfers in their late teens and early 20s. He now has to go out and defeat golfers with double his life and playing experience.
After that close call, Yu called Thurmond on the phone, as he has done after every Korn Ferry event.
“We talk about what happened this week, what part I did good, and what part I did not do good,” Yu said. “He has been helping me a lot with my mindset, with my swing, how to prepare my pro career. I really appreciate what he’s done for me.”
The mindset is now the best way for Thurmond to continue to mentor Yu since he is no longer getting the everyday view of his game. During tournaments in college, Yu would catch himself overspending his thoughts too far into the future or dwelling on past mistakes. Thurmond’s message to Yu has been simple, but effective: stay in the moment.
Yu will have to be in the zone again this weekend at the Pinnacle Championship in Omaha. The tournament represents one of his last great opportunities to qualify for PGA Tour this year. The task will be tall, either a win or a solo second is required.
If Yu does join the PGA Tour with a win this weekend, he already has an event circled on next season’s calendar as a potential ‘Hello, world’ moment, The 2022 Waste Management Open at TPC Scottsdale.
“I know this one better than other courses,” Yu said. “I think when I get in to this event it will feel different because I feel more comfortable and knowledgeable about the course.”
Yu’s Korn Ferry Tournament begins Thursday, and the final two rounds can be seen on Golf Channel.