Vanderbilt alumnus Will Gordon earns PGA Tour member status

After a strong outing in last week’s Wyndham Championship, 2019 Vanderbilt graduate Will Gordon has earned his spot on tour.

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Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Will Gordon tees off on the 6th during the third round of the Travelers Championship golf tournament at TPC River Highlands. (USA Today Sports/Bill Streicher)

Henry Hunter, Staff Writer

During a year full of uncertainty, Vanderbilt alumnus Will Gordon has parlayed a few opportunities into a career on the PGA Tour. Gordon, who was named an All-American and two time All-SEC golfer during his Vanderbilt career, officially earned full membership on the PGA Tour for the 2020-21 season after a strong performance during last week’s Wyndham Championship.

Professionals without full membership (regular invitation to PGA Tour events) must rely on sponsors exemptions in order to compete. Whether a non-member will receive an exemption is not known until close to the start of the tournament, so Gordon lacked the knowledge of when his next tournament would be at the beginning of the season. However, with a strong performance in June’s Travelers Championship (tied for third), Gordon earned temporary membership for the rest of the season, allowing him to compete more regularly and accumulate points toward earning his Tour Card. Ultimately, he had the highest point total of any non-tour player by season’s end, granting him full membership for next season. 

To Vanderbilt Men’s Golf coach Scott Limbaugh, Gordon’s success at the highest level is not surprising. 

“He’s proven he can compete at the highest level,” Limbaugh said. “He’s got all the things that the great players in the world have now. That’s speed, athleticism, fearlessness, and just an ability to go low. He’s shot more low rounds than anyone I’ve coached.” 

Gordon’s ability to go low was on display this past Saturday, when he opened his third round with a six-under 29 on the front nine to jump up the Wyndham Championship leaderboard in Greensboro, where he finished tied for 27th. Reflecting on his season as he started a well-deserved vacation on Monday, Gordon explained how he expects the certainty of his new PGA Tour status will have a positive impact on his performance in the 2020-21 season. 

“I think the certainty definitely is encouraging and exciting because I can kind of plan for a whole year,” Gordon said. “Having a more consistent starting point from a week-to-week basis and being able to progress is going to be a big step for me.”

While playing on temporary status this season, Gordon’s success solidified his belief that he belongs on the tour. 

“I think you believe you are going to do it and expect yourself to do it, but actually doing it is a different thing,” he said. “I think the more confirmation that you have that you can compete at that level, the more relaxed you are.” 

Heading into next season, Gordon will try to join Viktor Hovland, Matthew Wolff, and Collin Morikawa as 2019 college graduates who won PGA Tour tournaments. Coach Limbaugh highlighted the impact that these young players’ quick success on the PGA Tour will have on the college level. 

“It’s just great for college golf what all those young guys have done,” Limbaugh said. “During this pandemic, just seeing all of these young guys come and have success has been really great for the college game.”

Gordon credits the competitiveness of his college schedule at Vanderbilt with preparing him for his transition from amateur to professional golf. 

“It’s crazy to just look around the PGA Tour and the Korn Ferry Tour and see how many guys you grew up with and how many guys you’re competing against,” Gordon said. “As the stage gets bigger, I think we’re all used to seeing each other and competing at a very high level. I think the SEC and Vanderbilt’s schedule is the best in the country. Being able to play those courses and against that competition really helped me.” 

The remarkable, immediate success from Hovland, Morikawa, and Wolff has allowed Gordon’s success to go largely unnoticed. However, now that Gordon has gained his member status on tour, he will look to join that trio of prominent young stars as a consistent presence on the top of leaderboards. Gordon is looking forward to a different season ahead of him, one full of certainty after a year of pressure and instability because of both his non-member status and the pandemic. 

“I think I performed well under the pressure of limited opportunities this year,” Gordon said. “But being able to have a better idea of where I’m playing over the long term will give me more freedom to go out and not have so much pressure on myself on a week to week basis.”