SAVANNAH, Ga. – Thomas Rosenmuller could barely get through a minute during his post-round interview Monday at The Landings Club before he began to choke up.
The 24-year-old German had just broken the course record on the Marshwood layout, a sweet 8-under 63, but more importantly, he had locked up guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour for next season when the tears started to flow. His year on the European Challenge tour had been, well, a challenge, and he began this week’s final stage of Q-School not knowing what his future held.
“I was kind of hanging in the air,” Rosenmuller said. “And hanging in the air is not a good feeling, so to really have somewhat of a safety to know that I can play this many events (eight to be exact) and kind of pick a schedule means a lot.”
Standing just off camera were Rosenmuller’s girlfriend, Maria Kononova, a professional tennis player who met Rosenmuller while they both were at North Texas, and Rosenmuller’s longtime instructor – and caddie this week – Ken Williams. Fittingly, it had been a mentally trying few days, with a 66-76 start before harsh weather pushed the third round back a day, and as Rosenmuller’s support group, they were relied on heavily.
“We’re quite an emotional pair,” Rosenmuller said of Williams, who has coached him since junior golf. “We’ve been through thick and thin.”
After turning pro in 2018, Rosenmuller headed back to Europe and instantly found success on the Pro Golf Tour. He won three times on the developmental circuit in 2020 to earn Challenge Tour status. He began this year ranked just inside the top 400 in the world rankings, but he’d go on to miss nine of 14 cuts.
During that stretch, Rosenmuller received a sponsor invite to play in the European Tour’s BMW International Open last June at his home club, Golfclub Munchen Eichenried in Munich. Inside the cut line with a hole to play, Rosenmuller got an unfortunate break when a wayward drive hit a tree and kicked into the water. He made double bogey to miss by one.
“That really took a toll on me,” Rosenmuller said. “The whole year has taken a toll on me. … Felt like I played better this year than last year, but when it mattered most, last year I made it count and this year I didn’t.”
Perhaps a sign that Rosenmuller’s run of bad luck is finally over: Rosenmuller was 1 under through five holes – and a few shots outside the top 40 – on Monday when he caught his drive on the heel at the par-5 15th hole, his sixth of the round. The ball clocked a tree, dangerously close to out of bounds. But this time, the ricochet worked in Rosenmuller’s favor, the ball dropping straight down and giving the young German a chance to make birdie, which he did.
He didn’t miss a green after that while carding six more birdies.
“That’s how rounds change, and pretty much over the entire year, whenever I hit that tree, it went out of bounds and I was on the back foot and missing cuts by one or two,” Rosenmuller said. “When you have a lucky break, you have to use it and I used mine today.”
As he prepares for his first year on the KFT, Rosenmuller will take a few more of those.
Using the force
Few players embarking on their pro golf careers have been as mentally prepared as Kyle Westmoreland.
Westmoreland was a standout golfer at the Air Force Academy before graduating in 2014 and serving his country for five years. He completed his half-decade-long term in mid-2019, and since then has been chasing a dream that began well before he put on a uniform.
“The experiences I’ve had in the military, the perspective it gave me, the people I’ve met, I know who I am, and I know what’s important to me, and I know what my goal is,” said Westmoreland, who, at age 30, certainly wasn’t the oldest player competing at final stage this week, but he arguably is the most competitively green.
“There are a lot of people out there who are very young and are still finding out who they are. I know what my goals are, I know how I want to get there, and I have a team to help me do it.”
Westmoreland, who is married and lives in Charleston, S.C., where he was stationed for part of his service, competed in Monday’s featured group at The Landings Club, where his prodigious length and power was on display. He started the day on the top-40 cut line but made some early birdies, and despite a closing bogey, he shot 3-under 67 to tie for 19th, two shots clear of the cutoff between eight guaranteed starts and no guaranteed starts.
The former captain has competed in six KFT events during his young career. He squeezed in two starts in 2017 during a monthlong break from the Air Force and then made three starts in 2019, right around the time he was preparing for his exit interview – his T-25 in Utah kicked off that three-tournament stretch. He also played a full season on the Forme Tour this past summer, making seven of eight cuts.
But opportunities at the top have still been few and far between. Westmoreland logged just five combined starts on each of the PGA and Korn Ferry tours in the last two years, though one of them came at Torrey Pines last June, where Westmoreland became the first Air Force veteran to make a U.S. Open cut, a feat that his buddies Billy Hurley III and Tom Whitney have yet to accomplish.
“Being able to build a schedule now out for those first few months.
I couldn’t be more excited,” Westmoreland said. “I’m excited every day to get to play, but now being able to have a schedule and be in that pipeline playing on the Korn Ferry Tour is an awesome opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity years in the making.
“It feels like we’ve been waiting a long time,” Westmoreland said, “but I think we’re better now.”
Tain Lee’s first foray on the Korn Ferry Tour didn’t go nearly as planned. A former NCAA Division III national champion and four-time All-American at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Lee earned his card via Q-School, and just five events into that 2015 season he opened the Chile Classic in 63 to lead after 18 holes. But he slid to T-30 that week, and when his 20-event campaign had wrapped, Lee had made just five cuts.
Six years later – and nearly a decade since graduating college – Lee will get his first chance at redemption.
The 31-year-old Lee drained a 20-foot birdie putt on his final hole Monday to place solo 10th at final stage and finish just inside the cutoff for 12 guaranteed starts next year on the KFT.
“It’s hard to put into words how much that means,” Lee said. “I just put my head down and grinded my butt off.”
Lee has been doing that for years. He played a few seasons in Canada after losing his initial KFT card, but for the most part he remained stuck in neutral. As his personal life progressed – he got married two years ago, and he and wife, Christina, celebrated the birth of their first child just over a year and a half ago – Lee contemplated giving up the game, even taking a pair of real-estate classes.
But just as he was preparing for life after professional golf, Lee got his breakthrough. He got through both qualifiers for the Farmers Insurance Open last January at Torrey Pines – and then made the cut. Afterward, he looked at the stats and noticed that he was near the top in strokes gained: tee-to-green that week.
“I was like, I didn’t know I had that,” Lee said.
That explains why, almost five months later and playing in his third Tour event of the year, he was surprised when he was leading late on Saturday at Congaree. He eventually ended up T-14.
“That was surreal,” Lee said. “You don’t know you can do that until you do it. Hopefully, I believe in myself a little more next time.”
Now a father of two, Lee is excited to build off this momentous year.
“My wife was pregnant most of the year, and with that all going on at home, and then everything happening in the world, just a lot going on, and for whatever reason, I just had some time to think about my game,” Lee said. “My ball-striking got significantly better and things just started to click a little bit; maybe it was God’s timing, I don’t know, I just felt like I had a lot of good opportunities … things that I’ve never experienced before really.
“As a dad, it’s hard to even leave for the day to go practice with the kids at home, but it just feels like this is what I’m supposed to be doing right now. This week was a good week, one step forward. Looking back at when I got married and had that first kid, I didn’t have status at the time, so you’re like really thinking about what to do. Things have changed a lot since then.”