Julian Suri’s path to the PGA Tour — which last year took him to 18 countries and four continents while playing on the European PGA Tour and the European Challenge Tour — is paying off with opportunities closer to home.
It’s up to him to seize it.
But after earning slightly more than $1 million and winning twice in Europe last year, Suri’s got a track record of making the most of his chances.
The Bartram Trail High and Duke graduate, who cut his golfing teeth at South Hampton, will play in his first PGA Tour event this week on a sponsor exemption at the Farmers Insurance Classic, at the Torrey Pines Golf Club in La Jolla, Calif. Suri, who has vaulted from below No. 1,000 on the World Golf Rankings a year ago to 62nd this week, is in the field with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Hideki Matsuyama.
Suri also has secured exemptions for the Waste Management Open in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
But don’t expect him to be intimidated. Suri had seven top-10 finishes, 12 top-25s and made 20 of 23 cuts last year on two European tours in 2017. He also finished 52nd in the European PGA Tour’s Race to Dubai.
Suri posted four of the top-10 finishes in his last five starts and tied for eighth in the season-ending DP World Championship, finishing ahead of golfers such as Patrick Reed, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood, Charl Schwartzel and Ian Poulter.
Suri then went to the Hong Kong Open to start the 2017-2018 European Tour season a week later and tied for second, with the likes of Sergio Garcia and Rose in his rearview mirror.
Suri’s grand plan is a departure from using the Web.com Tour to qualify for the PGA Tour. He’s the latest of a handful of golfers such as Brooks Koepka, Peter Uihlein and former Duke teammate Brinson Paolini to utilize the European Challenge Tour and European Tour as both an alternative form of seasoning and a way to climb the World Golf Rankings.
“I never had a problem with the PGA Tour qualifying system,” Suri said. “It’s been proven that guys coming through the Web.com Tour do better than when you could get to the Tour through Q-school. But as far as I was concerned, I wanted to go a different route. When I got my game to where I wanted, it didn’t matter where I played because I knew I’d get to the top.”
Suri’s coach, Daniel Carraher, said Suri has surpassed the goals they set when they began working together in April of 2017.
“We set a goal last year to get into the top-100 in the world,” Carraher said. “He beat that and now the expectations are even higher. Julian has always been confident but now I see a difference. He thinks he’s going to hit a good shot every time. There’s a difference between thinking you can win and knowing you can win and he knows he can win.”
Suri follows Koepka’s example
If a college or amateur golfer wants to reach the PGA Tour, he must first go through the Web.com Tour. To get onto that tour, the golfer must go through the national qualifying process.
The only other way is to Monday qualify for a tournament, get a sponsor invitation or two and catch lightning in a bottle.
Koepka, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, went a different direction. After finishing his college career at Florida State, he qualified for the European PGA Tour and played well enough to rise up the World Golf Rankings, secured some sponsor invitations, then made the most of it with a two top-10 finishes in 2014 to earn PGA Tour membership.
Suri, encouraged by two victories in the Swing Thought Tour (formerly the Hooters Tour), went to the European PGA Tour qualifier in December of 2016. Needing to finish among the top-30, he missed by one shot at the six-round event but earned full status on the Challenge Tour.
It was shortly after that Suri began working with Carraher, who smoothed out some rough edges in Suri’s long game and got an unpredictable hook out of his drive. Suri quickly scored a Challenge Tour victory in the Czech Republic, rose to the top of the money list and began getting more starts on the European Tour.
Suri qualified for the Open Championship (he missed the cut by one shot) and two weeks later, won a European Tour event in Denmark. He then staged his late-season sprint to Dubai.
“After I got the European Tour card locked up, I told my manager [Jamie Farrell], ‘let’s make a run at Dubai,’” Suri said. “I knew where my game was and how consistent I was playing. I knew ball-striking was a big-time strength of mine and I didn’t see it as a gamble.”
His father, Jagan Suri, said the experience was priceless for his son.
“I think it was huge for him,” Jagan said. “He’s always been adventurous and he found a way to get better as a golfer and see the world at a young age. It’s a different way of getting to the PGA Tour. It’s not right for everybody but I think it will turn out to be right for him.”
The World Golf Rankings are complicated but Carraher estimates that one top-10 finish on the PGA Tour will put Suri on the fringes of the top-50, which then opens up the most exclusive doors in golf.
If Suri remains among the top-64 by March 12, he will qualify for the World Golf Championship Dell Match Play in Austin, Texas. If he’s top-50 by March 26, he’s in the Masters. Being among the top-50 by the end of April also will earn a spot in The Players Championship, just miles from where he grew up and played at South Hampton.
Does that kind of rarefied air cross his mind?
“I know it sounds cliche, but as long as I take it day-by-day, do the things I’ve been doing, improve myself as much as I can, I can get the most out of myself,” he said.
On a more long-term basis, Suri can begin earning non-member FedEx Cup points this week. If he earns 269 non-member FedEx Cup points to match last year’s No. 150 player (Rick Lamb), he can start receiving unlimited sponsor invitations (right now, he’s restricted to seven). If he matches the 365 points that the No. 125 player (J.J, Henry) got, he will earn temporary PGA Tour membership. That would make Suri the first area resident who played high school or junior golf on the First Coast to reach the PGA Tour since Bud Cauley in 2012.
Despite his world ranking, Suri is still looking for a club contract and a bag sponsorship. He’s confident both will come in time.
“Hey, I’m a pretty face and not a bad player,” he joked. “If I keep playing well, it will happen.”
Suri grew as he saw the world
Suri said he will always look back on 2017 as a time of growth, as a golfer and a person.
While Web.com Tour players were traveling within the United States, Suri was jetting between continents. And while he met the demands of playing and practicing, he also made it a point to experience the world outside the airports, hotels and golf courses.
He admitted to closing his eyes in terror a few times in cabs as drivers in Nairobi raced each other on roads with no stop lights, no stop signs and no lines dividing lanes. He got lost in a mountainous area of Sicily, driving a stick-shift rental car the size of bathtub trying to find a golf course. But Suri also recalls meeting people who were so outgoing and friendly that he’ll remember them for a lifetime.
And Suri, who has a degree in history from Duke, drank in the sights: Lake Bled in Slovenia, with a breathtaking castle on an island … snow-capped mountains in Switzerland in June … scenic beaches in Portugal and Sardinia … the Old Town Square in Prague. It made the tiny rental cars, cramped hotel rooms and small airlines that lost his golf clubs four times, worth it.
“It teaches you some patience,” he said. “It’s really cool that you have countries like France, Germany and Switzerland, that are about the same proximity to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, yet their cultures are so different, the languages, the religious histories … they’re so different from each other. But at the end of the day I was there to play golf, and that’s a universal language.”