Syracuse, N.Y. — Despite his profession’s importance of staying on an even keel, Dan McCarthy had every reason to allow himself a deep sigh of contentment Sunday evening.
McCarthy had just finished tied for third in the Korn Ferry Tour Championship in Newburgh, Ind., a showing that earned him a tidy paycheck of $47,667. More importantly, the effort clinched him a spot in the U.S. Open later this month. That comes a decade after McCarthy’s one and only other entrance to that event, in 2010.
There’s always restraints pulling back against too much celebration when you’re earning a living at pro golf’s Triple-A level, though. First off, McCarthy thought a tournament win was well within his grasp and was a little down about coming up short.
Further, the Korn Ferry Championship was the latest in a strong run of play for McCarthy, and in normal circumstances his third-place slot would have clinched his first-ever PGA Tour Card. That’s the magic pass of pro golf, allowing those who earn it entrance to virtually any event on the PGA Tour.
Unfortunately for McCarthy, 35, this year is different. The coronavirus forced cancellation of several events on the Korn Ferry Tour, which is the developmental feeder for the PGA. So instead of the top 25 points earners on the Korn Ferry for a single season automatically getting their tour card, a revised standard will require golfers to maintain that ranking for the combined 2020-21 seasons.
McCarthy, a DeWitt native, is currently slotted No. 22 and he said Sunday’s finish would have guaranteed him his card. Now, he will have to push through 2021 near the top of his game to grab that rung.
“That would have been reason to celebrate,” McCarthy said of his missed opportunity. “It’s a bummer that I wouldn’t be awarded one at the end of the season, but I’m in a good spot going into the 2021 campaign. That (being upset) is not going to do me any good. I’ve just got to keep pressing forward.”
That momentum has lifted McCarthy to what he describes as the best golf of his career the past few months. He won his spot in the U.S. Open Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot Golf Club in Mamaroneck by finishing in the top five overall of the Korn Ferry Tour Championship Series, which is comprised of the last three events. He has three top-10 finishes this year, all of which have come in his last five events.
Overall, the former CBA and Le Moyne College standout has earned $179,542 this season. He attributes much of his ascent to a recent change in putters he made to try and snap out of a putting slump.
“I definitely think I’m playing the best golf of my career. But I definitely think there’s room for growth,” he said. “There’s a lot of guys out there that don’t have the most textbook-looking golf swings, but they so believe in what they are doing they can’t be stopped.”
McCarthy has been on the Korn Tour regularly since 2017 and realizes the folly of a sense of invincibility in his sport. But he feels somewhat bolstered heading into Winged Foot, a course he said he’s never played.
He described himself “shell-shocked” staring down the pressure of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He missed the cut after shooting an 80 and a 78 in the first two rounds.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous (at Winged Foot), at least on the first tee,” he said. “I still get nervous out there. We’re playing for our livelihoods. I’ve just learned what those nerves do to me and my golf swing and manage it better. This tour is designed to prepare you for the PGA Tour. I think my game is much more prepared for it now.”
And perhaps the biggest sign of that is the way McCarthy tamps down his approach heading into what will stand as one of the jewel moments of his golf career.
“I don’t have any expectations going into it,” he said. “That’s kind of an attitude I’ve been working on out here, approaching every shot with the same level of focus and intensity.”