Kevin Yu is no stranger to the WM Phoenix Open. The 25-year-old from Taiwan attended the tournament as a spectator five times while on Arizona State men’s golf team. Yu will make his sixth visit to TPC Scottsdale for “The People’s Open” this week, but this time, he will join the field of 132 as a second-year member of the PGA Tour.
“It means a lot. This is a thing I've been dreaming of since I was five years old,” Yu said on Tuesday afternoon in Scottsdale. “I've been playing golf for (about) 20 years, and ever since I've played golf, I've wanted to be on the PGA TOUR. It's nice to actually achieve my goal since I was young. Right now, I'm just trying to keep going and hopefully have a good career.”
After collecting three victories in college as a Sun Devil, Yu finished fourth in the first PGA Tour University ranking as a senior in 2021, earning him Korn Ferry Tour status for the 2022 season. He would make 21 starts on the KFT, finishing in the top 10 on three occasions, including two runner-up finishes to end the season at No. 20 in the KFT points rankings and earn PGA Tour status for the 2022-23 season.
Yu made 10 starts on Tour before the 2023 WM Phoenix Open, only missing two cuts, and had his eyes set on making his first start in Scottsdale before tearing his meniscus while working out during tournament week, sidelining him from action until June.
“I was just working out at my trainer's gym five minutes away from here,” Yu said. “I was doing some regular stuff, and then when I landed, I heard my knee pop, and I just couldn't walk, so I got an MRI, and I tore my meniscus, so I had to get surgery the week after.”
The five-year Sun Devil, who holds the program record for best par 4 scoring in program history (3.9160) and finished his ASU career only behind Jon Rahm in the record book for lowest career scoring average (70.46) and birdies made (586), had to put his WM Phoenix Open debut on hold for another year and focus on keeping his tour card after battling back from injury.
When Yu returned to the Travelers Championship at the end of last June, he had dropped from No. 40 to No. 106 in the FedEx Cup standings and had his work cut out for him to finish the season in the top 120 to maintain his status on tour. A top 10 finish at the John Deere Classic, where he shot 65 and 66 on the weekend, helped move him inside the top 100 of the standings and finish the season ranked No. 99.
“Last year, my putting was almost dead last on TOUR, so I was working hard on my putting,” Yu said. Obviously, last year wasn't very good, but the week before last week has been really good. I can see some results coming into this year, and hopefully keep it going that way.”
Before the start of his 2024 campaign, Yu enlisted the help of putting coach John Grahm after he finished third-to-last in strokes gained putting on Tour last season. The work Yu has put in on the greens has shown after two top-10 finishes to start his season at the American Express Championship (T3) and Farmers Insurance Open (T6). The early success in 2024 has vaulted Yu to No. 27 in the FedEx Cup standings.
After following his countryman CT Pan around the grounds of TPC Scottsdale, it’s finally Yu’s turn to take a crack at one of the most popular events every season on Tour and enter the famed coliseum on the 16th hole after previously taking it in from the stands.
“I thought it was crazy just seeing all the people yelling at it, and people -- when you play golf, people feel like you have to be quiet and everything, but 16 is definitely the opposite,” Yu said of coming to the 16th hole as a fan. “It's a little different experience, but in a sense, you have to maintain your focus and try to not think about all the noises and people talking and all that stuff. Just have to stick to your plan and hopefully hit a good shot. Otherwise, you get booed.”
This week, fans can expect a strong “Sun Devil finish,” a mantra he learned while at ASU. Head Coach Matt Thurmond helped teach Yu the importance of a strong finish during his collegiate career, and it’s something that has stuck with him while on Tour.
“Coming out to every tournament, coming into the last couple holes, we always talk about Sun Devils finish, which is the last couple holes is very important,” Yu said. “Just knowing that you've got to play good the last couple of holes gives you a very good chance to have a good result. That kind of gives me an advantage.”
Yu, who has his eyes set on representing Taiwan in the Paris Olympics this summer and has a goal of qualifying for the Tour Championship, tees off at 7:20 a.m. MST on hole 10 at TPC Scottsdale.