Who is the new ‘kid’ on the Korn Ferry Tour? We found out

Miles Russell tips his cap on the 18th green during the final round of the LECOM Suncoast Classic on Sunday in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

Miles Russell tips his cap on the 18th green during the final round of the LECOM Suncoast Classic on Sunday in Lakewood Ranch, Fla.

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Miles Russell, the 15-year-old golf whiz kid, made headlines on the Korn Ferry Tour last week — the youngest player ever to make a 36-hole cut and record a top-20 finish — but when he arrived at the Veritex Bank Championship Korn Ferry event this week, he was undone by the twin challenges of securing a rental car and locking up a housing arrangement.

“It’s good he needs me for that; they certainly don’t need me for golf,” joked his dad, Joe Russell, a Florida senior living developer, who is here this week along with caddie and longtime instructor Ramon Bescansa.

Of course, dad picked up the check for a Tuesday night dinner at a local Pappadeaux, but other than that, he was resigned to applying sunshine on the range while his son and Bescansa honed their craft next to other players, some more than twice the teen’s age.

Miles Russell, a high school freshman, finished T20 at the LECOM Suncoast Classic last week, and the top-25 finish qualified him for this week, his second Korn Ferry Tour event. He tees off at 2:43 p.m. local. A surprise? Maybe. But Russell’s list of accomplishments are longer than his slightly built 5-foot-7 frame.

The AJGA’s top-ranked junior, he broke Tiger Woods’ record as the youngest player ever to win AJGA Player of the Year and was the youngest ever to win the Junior Players Championship. He captured the Junior PGA Championship by seven shots, played in the Junior Ryder Cup and was named to the first USGA Junior National team. And don’t forget his 17 Florida Junior Golf Tournament wins and upcoming PGA Tour exemption for the fall Bermuda tournament.

Although there’s still room for improvement — at least in some areas.

“I got to get better (with autographs),” he said. “I’ve got to get a lot faster.”

With his bulky TaylorMade staff bag (with his name on it) an NIL deal and promising future, he seems like the typical modern junior golfer, although he’s old school in the fact that he refuses to wear ear buds when he warms up.

“I prefer to hear the sound of the ball coming off the club,” he said.

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Both his PGA Tournament mentor, Steve Wheatcroft, who was a member at Russell’s home course, Atlantic Beach Country Club, and Bescansa, have emphasized that no matter how bright his future is, there will be struggles along the way. Wheatcroft also taught him something that could come in handy down the road — the art of trash talk and money games.

“Weathie!” Russell said, when thinking about their sessions together. “He took some money from me and then it turned around and I took some from him.”

Added Atlantic Beach head golf pro Richard Podwalski: “Steve would dog him and trash him and make him tougher. That was his job and he did it well.”

Around Atlantic Beach, Russell’s already made a name for himself.

There was the albatross on the par-5 6th hole last summer, where he holed a 5-wood from 239 yards, only the second in recent club history. (“He was too young to buy drinks after that, so we gave him a piece of framed artwork,” Podwalski said.) He’s already shot 29 multiple times on the front nine of the par-72 course; his low is 62, and Podwalski says 59 isn’t unrealistic. And of course, they’re still talking about his shot during the annual Black Friday shootout last November.

Russell put his tee ball on the 9th directly behind a tree in the right rough, just six inches from the tree roots. No matter. He opened a 3-iron, sent the ball skyward around the tree, curved it and landed it right next to the green. The gallery was stunned; Tour players Doc Redman and Vince Covello shook their heads in amazement.

“I’ve been playing tournament golf for 30 years,” Covello said, “and that’s the greatest shot I’ve ever seen.”

It’s not uncommon to see Russell practicing alone in a bunker for hours or chipping off the cart path. Joe Russell quit playing against his son long ago, but his final match was a memorable one.

“It was the year Tiger and Phil played in The Match on TV, and we decided to have our own match as well,” he said. “He went back to the back tees (at age 11) and he beat me by 10 shots. I said that’s it, I’m done.”

Russell has even learned how to turn a rare disappointment into a positive. In 2016, he shot a six-under 30 in a U.S. Kids regional event, only to lose by a single shot to good friend Graden Lomax, who shot 29. But instead of getting bitter and losing a friendship, he got better, forming the Florida Sunshine Cup with Lomax, where elite junior players come together for a day of fundraising for local charities, including the Nicklaus Family Children’s Hospital, which has raised $300,00 in the last five years.

“It started as a dream, but it has turned out great,” Joe Russell said.

A lot like his first Korn Ferry Tour start.

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Art Stricklin


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