In his 16th Korn Ferry Tour start, Kevin Yu moved to the top of the leaderboard Saturday at the Simmons Bank open for the Snedeker Foundation, taking the outright 54-hole lead with a 5-under 67 at The Grove. With a kick-in birdie at the par-5 18th, Yu reached 14-under par for the week and moved one stroke ahead of Zecheng Dou and Brent Grant.
Yu, who played the final eight regular season events of the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour schedule via PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global, has his second 54-hole lead. Yu previously led the 2021 Wichita Open Benefitting KU Wichita Pediatrics, his second career start on the Korn Ferry Tour, by two strokes; he ended the week T5.
The 23-year-old from Chinese Taipei began the day three strokes off the 36-hole lead and carded six birdies against one bogey in the third round.
Yu’s bogey at the par-4 first was entirely washed away by back-to-back birdies at the par-4 fourth and par-3 fifth. Yu birdied two of the first three holes on the back nine (Nos. 10 and 12), poured in another at the par-3 15th, and knocked a short pitch to 2 feet at the par-5 18th for his field-leading 19th birdie of the week.
“I’ve been feeling good,” Yu said. “Been playing good, too. I missed a few cuts before this one, but I feel like my game has been feeling pretty good. This week I just keep doing what I’m doing on the course, and so far it’s worked out pretty good.”
Yu first announced his presence to the golf world with a win at the 2015 Western Junior, the oldest national junior golf tournament in the United States. The event’s list of past champions includes accomplished PGA TOUR players Collin Morikawa (2013), Rickie Fowler (2005), and Jim Furyk (1987).
The Arizona State University alumni made his way to the Korn Ferry Tour via the newly-established PGA TOUR University presented by Velocity Global. The mission of PGA TOUR University is to elevate the path to the PGA TOUR for college golf’s top seniors. It also incentivizes players to stay in school longer and continue to work toward a degree. The top-five players in the inaugural PGA TOUR University Class of 2021 earned Korn Ferry Tour status and an exemption into Final Stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament. Nos. 6-15 earned PGA TOUR Canada status and an exemption into Second Stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament.
Yu finished No. 4 in the inaugural class and earned starts for the final eight events of the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour season.
“Last year, I played eight events right after college,” Yu said. “I think that’s one of the best things to happen to me. A lot of guys get out of college and got nowhere to play. I had the Korn Ferry (Tour) to play for eight events and get to know all the courses and all the guys. The tournaments are a little different compared to college, so it got me mentally ready, too.”
Yu took full advantage of those opportunities, first contending at both the Wichita Open Benefitting KU Wichita Pediatrics, and again at The Ascendant presented by Blue, where he briefly held the outright lead in the final round but ultimately fell into a three-man sudden-death playoff and settled for a T2 finish. Yu added three more top-25s, giving him five across his eight starts.
“I was leading (at) Wichita… I wasn’t really comfortable,” Yu said. “I felt good, but I just felt kind of weird. My game was feeling good, but my mental… I just felt kind of weird, and then didn’t play my best golf out there. Just being comfortable out there is really important. I just got to trust my game and do what I do out there the last few days.”
Between the end of last season and this past March, Yu Monday qualified into the 2021 RSM Classic and received sponsor exemptions for four more PGA TOUR events. His best finish was a T7 at the 2022 Puerto Rico Open, which gave him an automatic exemption into the Valspar Championship the following week.
A T63 finish at Final Stage of the 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament last November, however, left Yu on the outside the fields for the 2022 season-opening events in The Bahamas.
Yu’s first starts of the season came at The Panama Championship (missed cut) and The Astara Golf Championship presented by Mastercard (T30), both of which he gained entry to via his priority ranking. A T65 at the LECOM Suncoast Classic as a sponsor exemption and T21 at the Lake Charles Championship (in the field on his number) provided enough points to climb the priority ranking following the April 3 reshuffle.
Leading up to the Simmons Bank Open for the Snedeker Foundation, Yu missed three consecutive cuts and posted just one top-25 in seven starts this year, but feels hopeful heading into the final round.
“You can’t give up on yourself,” Yu said. “You definitely have to trust yourself. Last week I missed the cut, a little bit disappointed, but coming out this week I feel like a new man and everything has been working out pretty good.
“Tomorrow is another day and I’m just going to keep going and never look back.”
Final-round pairings will run from 7:04 a.m. through 12:45 p.m. local time off the first tee.