It was the heart of the summer in Middle America. The air was dry, heat indexes had risen to 46 degrees Celsius, and what little shade the golf course did offer was of minimal actual reprieve.
Those determined enough would separate themselves from the pack amongst the unforgiving elements. The Korn Ferry Tour had just three weeks remaining in its regular-season schedule, and those eyeing a life-changing opportunity on the PGA TOUR had precious little time left to leave their marks.
Kristoffer Ventura believed he was ready to do just that.
He was always ready, really. From his globe-trotting upbringing and a college career spent in the shadows of others, to the ill-timed, heartbreaking surgery he was forced to undergo with his professional future hanging in the balance.
It was all building to this.
At the Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Chevrolet here in Omaha, Ventura opened with a 4-under 67 to settle into a tie for fourth. He trailed Byron Meth by three strokes entering Friday.
It was early, of course, but Ventura once again found himself in contention. It was the latest chapter in a wild three-week story for the 24-year-old, who made just one start among the season’s first 14 events—a missed cut in mid-April—before capturing his first career victory at the Utah Championship presented by Zions Bank.
So where in the world did this wunderkind come from? (From all over, actually, but more on that later.)
The unlikely story traced its origins to the Final Stage of the Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament, where Ventura was primed to lock up his card for the season and begin his inevitable ascension to the PGA TOUR.
The only problem was the nagging discomfort he found himself enduring in the days beforehand. What started as an innocuous stomachache slowly morphed into intense pain that kept him awake throughout the night.
“He called me and told me he had a really bad pain in his stomach,” said his father, Carlos.
“He asked me what he should do. I told him he needed to go to the doctor right away. He called me after and told me they needed to operate. He was very worried because he knew he was going to miss what he thought was his big chance.”
Doctors called for an emergency appendectomy. Knowing his professional future was in real jeopardy, Kristoffer Ventura begged for medication to tide him over until the following week. “You don’t understand, this is the most important week of the year,” he pleaded.
His attempts at persuasion failed.
“I didn’t practice until the first day of the tournament, and I kept hitting it short and crooked into the Arizona desert,” he said. “I was in pain, I was sore, I was stiff. I couldn’t bend down to read putts because my belt would hit where the incisions were. Driving felt weird in the follow-through, and I was so scared of tearing something.”
Ventura willed himself to a 2-under performance, but it wasn’t enough to secure status for the 2018-19 season. If he were to continue his lifelong dream of making the PGA TOUR, it would have to come the hard way, via Monday qualifiers.
But that avenue proved just as gruelling—and unforgiving—as his unfortunate appendectomy. He successfully gained entry just once in the season’s first five months, in the aforementioned missed cut at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Championship.
“You look back on the last two months and realize that all you’ve done is play one round every Monday,” he said. “It’s really tough. How am I going to get to the TOUR? Especially with what happened in Q School. It felt like, wow, the world really doesn’t want me to play on TOUR.”
A bogey-free 64 in the second round lifted Kristoffer Ventura to a one-shot lead over Tyson Alexander. He successfully advanced to the weekend once again and officially turned his attention toward a life-changing second win on the Korn Ferry Tour.
Ventura’s confidence was low. Attempts at open qualifying weren’t paying off. Was it time to try his hand at the Challenge Tour instead?
But his parents kept him on track. Carlos and his mother, Charlotte, were preaching patience, understanding a potential break could be just around the bend.
“You don’t start with the CEO position,” Ventura said. “You’ve got to build your way up.”
And just as his parents wisely predicted, things did, in fact, eventually begin to break Ventura’s way. In early June, he earned a precious sponsor exemption into the BMW Charity Pro-Am presented by SYNNEX Corporation, and he made the most out of the opportunity with a T3 performance, where he shot 67 and 62 over the first two days of a rain-shortened event.
That solidified his status for the remainder of the season, setting the stage for his breakthrough win just three weeks later.
“Kris was on the cusp, and his game was there,” said Mike McGovern, Tournament Director of the BMW Charity Pro-Am. “You hear the sob stories all the time. But when the guy has the game and just can’t get starts, that’s the whole purpose of the sponsor exemption. He represented not only our tournament perfectly but also presented himself perfectly.”
Credit Carlos and Charlotte for that.
The couple raised Kristoffer and his two younger brothers, Frederico and Pablo, in the vibrant city of Puebla, two hours east of Mexico City. It was there that their son took his first steps toward becoming a bona fide prodigy, beginning with the plastic clubs he got for Christmas as a 2-year-old and continuing four years later when he won for his age group at the 2001 U.S. Kids Golf in Virginia.
Kristoffer Ventura, playing predominantly at the nearby Club de Golf El Cristo, estimates that at one point he won around 25 consecutive junior tournaments in Mexico, and it was around that time that his parents recognized the vast potential their son had in the sport. So, they packed up their things and moved to Rygge, Norway, when Ventura was 12 years old to focus more on his game. For Carlos, that meant leaving his job as a veterinarian and for Charlotte, her career as an architect, Ventura said.
“Everything we did in Mexico came out of my parents’ own pockets,” Ventura said. “They really sacrificed a lot. In Norway, those supporting me took me under their wing and I was able to travel the world and develop. Without that, I wouldn’t have played college golf. I wouldn’t be here.”
But Ventura never lost his sense of country. Though he plays under the Norwegian banner, both country’s flags are represented on his golf bag. He speaks Spanish when around both family and fellow Latin American players and is attempting to learn additional languages in his spare time such as Swedish and Italian.
“When you communicate with someone in their language, it’s different,” said Ventura, whose mother is from Norway, a big reason why they relocated there. “There’s a connection there, obviously. Whenever I’m around Spanish speakers or Mexicans, I’m Mexican. But I’m also Norwegian when I’m around Scandinavian or Norwegian players. Hopefully, Norway doesn’t get jealous if I speak in Spanish or Mexico when I represent Norway.”
The sweltering temperatures that overtook Omaha earlier in the week were finally beginning to subside. And Kristoffer Ventura made the most of it, carding a 4-under 67 to once again top the leaderboard after 54 holes. Lanto Griffin trailed by one stroke.
Ventura was on the verge of a breakthrough. This much he knew. If he could just put together 18 more holes like this, he would lock up his TOUR card for the 2019-20 season.
The journey took longer than anticipated, but there is no timetable for when things will finally click for a player. Case in point are two of Ventura’s younger college teammates, Matthew Wolff and Viktor Hovland.
Ventura was the elder statesmen of an Oklahoma State University team that captured the program’s 11th national championship during the 2017-18 season. But it was the team’s younger stars, Wolff and Hovland, who headlined the program that season. Both earned All-America honours, with Wolff claiming national freshman of the year honours after punctuating his team’s title with the winning birdie putt on the 15th hole.
“Kris was the ultimate teammate at Oklahoma State,” said OSU coach Alan Bratton. “He was a leader on and off the course and was always more concerned with how the team was doing over individual accomplishment. … Kris’ talent doesn’t have to take a back seat to anyone. I’m confident he will have a long career as a world-class player.”
Ventura never complained. He never felt slighted and he never wavered in his own belief.
That continued even after this most recent season when his former teammates soared to unimaginable PGA TOUR heights. The 20-year-old Wolff sunk a 26-foot putt on the 72nd hole to beat Bryson DeChambeau at the 3M Open, and the 22-year-old Hovland followed with four consecutive top-16 finishes to end the season. Hovland, who attended the same high school in Norway as Ventura, has carded 17 consecutive rounds in the 60s through A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier, tying Bob Estes for the most in a row since 1983.
“That’s how it’s going to be,” Ventura said. “You can look at it like when Justin Thomas was just Jordan Spieth’s best friend. It sucked. But I haven’t been jealous at all. Two years ago, I probably would have been jealous. Oh my gosh, I want that.
“Now I’ve realized that everyone has their own timeline, and everything will happen whenever it happens,” he continued. “So I’m not rushing anything anymore. If I get to the PGA TOUR, great. If it’s two years or three years, I know I’ll get there. Like my coach says, you don’t want to just get there. You don’t want to stay there.”
That timeline, as luck would have it, officially began with Sunday’s final round in Omaha. He needed only a 1-under 70 to win by two strokes over Andres Gonzales and Chad Ramey, officially securing his first-ever PGA TOUR card for the following season.
It was fitting that one of the first people to congratulate Kristoffer Ventura on his latest Korn Ferry Tour win was Wolff, the former teammate who emerged as the first big star of the group. He had an up-close view to everything his friend endured along the way and understood the gravity of the achievement as well as anyone.
“I texted him and tweeted at him, too, just to say congrats on his card,” Wolff explained. “Oklahoma State has prepared us very well. For him to have the burst appendix, it was pretty devasting, especially right before Korn Ferry Tour Finals. To capitalize on his opportunities like he has is something really special. I’m really proud of him and it’s going to be awesome playing out here with him.”
Perhaps this story was just a bit sweeter with a bout of adversity. No, Ventura didn’t receive his card as quickly as he would have liked. Yes, he became to some the forgotten man on a dominant college team.
Neither much mattered in the end. The quiet, globe-trotting, linguist is, as he always knew he would be, a PGA TOUR player.
“When things turned around for me was when I said, ‘You know what? I don’t care anymore,’” Ventura said.
“‘I’m going to practice and play the best that I can and whatever happens, happens.’ Thinking back on the last six months, it’s been quite humbling.”