Chinese youngster raring to resume push for PGA Tour card as second-tier circuit returns in US

After a four-month break, China’s Carl Yuan Yechun cannot wait to get back to tournament play when the Korn Ferry Tour resumes this week.

The 23-year-old has spent the offseason sharpening his game, getting physically stronger and working on his mental fortitude, all in the hope of realizing his dream of earning a PGA Tour card by qualifying from the developmental Korn Ferry circuit. He has also found a new hobby-fishing-as he navigated the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Currently ranked 51st on the Korn Ferry points list, Yuan needs to be inside the top 25 at the end of the regular season in August to earn a PGA Tour card. An additional 25 cards will be awarded at the conclusion of the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, a series of three tournaments that concludes in September with the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.

“I experienced the longest ever offseason,” said Yuan, who is based in Lake Mary, Florida. “Although the break is long, the past few months have been fulfilling. I got more systematic in my training, I improved my short-game skills and swing, and also my physical fitness. I got good advice from my psychological coach (Howard Falco).

“I need to test myself in the upcoming tournament. First (goal) is to obtain a PGA Tour card and second is to win a tournament.”

Since finding his way to the Korn Ferry Tour via the PGA Tour Series China, where he won once in 2018, Yuan has slowly but surely established himself in the US. In his rookie season two years ago, he missed 12 cuts from 23 starts and registered a single top-10. He was more consistent in 2020, securing two runner-up finishes across 18 starts and was in the money on 11 other occasions.

He believes the power of the mind is as important as ripping a huge drive down the middle of a fairway. “It has helped a lot. I didn’t pay much attention to the psychological aspect initially but later found out it is a part of my training, and it helps.

“Sometimes we talk about his (Falco’s) books, and exchange thoughts not relevant to golf, but I can apply those tips and his suggestions to my game and improve on my mentality,” said Yuan, who attended the University of Washington before turning pro in 2018.

“Golf is a sport that requires patience and perseverance. It is not as such that you spend time at it, you get to see good results right away.”

With this mindset, Yuan is prepared to go through the grind on the Korn Ferry Tour in the hope of becoming only the third Chinese mainland golfer after Marty Dou Zecheng and Zhang Xinjun to earn playing rights on the PGA Tour.

“It’s very competitive and players from the Korn Ferry Tour are great. The level is quite close to PGA Tour players, and every day you see players having very low scores,” said Yuan.

Growing up in Dalian, Liaoning province, Yuan learned to play golf at the age of 9 thanks to his father’s influence, before moving to the US when he was 14 to attend high school. It was then that his passion for the sport ignited and he decided it could be a career path for him.

“At the very beginning, I just felt it was fun to play. I got a golf coach to formally learn golf when I was 11 and then played in tournaments. But at that time, I wasn’t thinking of taking up golf as a career. During my years in high school, I spent more time on the game with the hope that golf could help get me to a good college. From there, golf became more than a hobby. I initially didn’t realize how hard it is to earn a living as a golf professional and now that I have been a professional for over two years, I feel I am still learning.”

His journey is helped by the fact that his wife, Luo Ying, is also a pro golfer. They met in college and Yuan says she has been a pillar in support of his dreams. “She understands golf, understands how hard it is, and understands me,” he said.

“During the pandemic, she was willing to come to the US with me, and she’s been an encouragement. I really appreciate her support and she is able to point out some of my problems very objectively. We have a lot to share and talk about on the game.”