COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since 1988, the Memorial Tournament has presented the Jack Nicklaus Award. Each NCAA Division I winner gets an exemption into the following year’s event, one of the most elite fields on the PGA Tour.
This week the Korn Ferry’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship features three award winners, returning to the Columbus area a mere 20 minutes away at Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course.
2018 D-I and D-II winners Norman Xiong and John VanDerLaan, and last year’s D-I recipient Chris Gotterup, all are in the field and made the cut.
All three are chasing PGA Tour cards awarded to the top 30 finishers at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
VanDerLaan finds it hard to believe that he was sitting at Muirfield Village Golf Club’s interview room just over five years ago trading stories, posing for pictures and obtaining autographs from Nicklaus, all while being recognized for being the most outstanding D-II player.
“That was one of the coolest memories of my golf life for sure,” beamed VanDerLaan. “Kind of a dream to meet Mr. Nicklaus. I came out and won the Barbasol Shootout, too, and got in a PGA Tour event because of that. That was a really special week for me, so obviously a lot of good memories of the area. It’s always fun to be back.”
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As VanDerLaan aluded to, he won the Barbasol Shootout, which is held the day before the ceremony at nearby Scioto Country Club, most recently host of the 2016 U.S. Senior Open, besting Xiong in the process.
This is VanDerLaan’s fourth time playing in this event and first time making the cut and he understands that the Scarlet Course is a true test of your entire golf game, where everything must be on.
In these last couple of seasons, VanDerLaan believes that his play has been solid and though he has not had his best stuff this week and is on the outside looking in for the top 30, currently placing 38th. A solid round Sunday could put him in position to earn one of those PGA Tour cards.
“Really I do my best to try and make it seem like it’s the same as the second tournament or first tournament of the year,” VanDerLaan said of his strategy. “We’re still playing golf out here, so just try to stick to the routine and the process and hopefully everything goes the way we want it to go.”
Gotterup remember the recognition and felt that it was a validation of his hard work.
“It was really special for me,” stated Gotterup. “It was a big tournament and obviously a great honor. I really enjoyed that week and even though I did not play my best, I had a great time.”
The Memorial Tournament was Gotterup’s fourth start of the season and lone event in which he did not make the cut. All three of Gotterup’s other events on the PGA TOUR were held in 2022.
This has allowed Gotterup to focus on earning his PGA Tour card and after Saturday he is well on his way, with his 25th place standing.
“It’s just validation of my hard work and what I’m capable of,” he said. “Obviously I’ve got a lot of work to do still, but I’m in a good spot and just have to keep playing.”
Xiong did not speak after his round, a decision he has stuck to in the past, until after his tournament concludes.
His movement in and out of the top 30 was ever changing, but he is tied for the lead after 54 holes which places him 13th and within the safe zone of earning a card.
While none of this trio have been able to shake Nicklaus’s hand at the 72nd hole, they have all had a coveted Sunday handshake and have joined a list of past winners which include Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Justin Leonard, David Duval, Luke Donald, Patrick Cantlay, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm.
Colston Cooper also contributed to this article.