While most golf fans were focused Sunday on the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, another tournament 630 miles north was playing out with its own bit of major championship intrigue.
Lee Hodges’ two-stroke victory at the WinCo Foods Portland Open didn’t just earn him his first career Korn Ferry Tour title. The 25-year-old Alabama native also claimed a spot in his first U.S. Open when it’s played next month at Winged Foot.
“It was pretty emotional down the stretch, I just tried to keep it together,” Hodges said after his triumph at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. “It has not sunk in yet. It probably won’t sink in today, maybe tomorrow. It’s special. You look back on it and you see how hard you fought and it’s pretty cool.”
Had COVID-19 not shortened the KFT schedule, the Portland Open would have served as the tour’s regular-season finale, with the top 25 golfers on the season points list earning PGA Tour cards. With that tradition on hold, USGA officials, unable to conduct qualifiers to fill out the U.S. Open field this year, decided to use the points list to give five up-and-comers a chance to play at Winged Foot.
Joining Hodges off the KFT points list are Will Zaltoris, Davis Riley, Taylor Pendrith and Paul Barjon. Hodges was ranked 15th on the points list entering the week until his victory lifted him to third. Barjon was also outside the top five starting play at Pumpkin Ridge, but a T-2 finish squeezed him into the last qualifying spot. (Dylan Wu and Mito Periera were the two golfers knocked out.)
The KFT fivesome weren’t the only ones who grabbed Winged Foot exemptions over the weekend. Impressive finishes at the PGA Championship from Matthew Wolff (T-4) and Cameron Champ (T-10) got them into the year’s next major, allowing them to join seven other players (Ryan Palmer, Mackenzie Hughes, Michael Thompson, Adam Long, Daniel Berger, Richy Werenski and Troy Merritt) whose performances in PGA Tour events over the past four weeks have earned them Winged Foot invites.
Two more U.S. Open spots are available at this week’s Wyndham Championship, saved for players who finish in the top 10 this week at Sedgefield Country Club who aren’t already in the major. Additionally, the U.S. Amateur is this week at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon. The winner and runner-up won’t be earning spots into Winged Foot, but rather the 2021 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. But the top seven players on the World Amateur Golf Ranking after the conclusion of play will have qualified for the U.S. Open.
After this week, 15 more exempt spots into the U.S. Open will remain available. The top 10 points earners not otherwise exempt from the European Tour’s U.K. swing will be added to the field, along with five more Korn Ferry Tour players based on a separate points list for the next three KFT events, which would have been the Korn Ferry Tour Finals if not for the coronavirus.