Andrew Novak will attempt to repeat his performance this week.
It isn't often the winner of a Korn Ferry Tour event gets a chance to repeat. Usually, event winners are propelled so high in the money winnings they qualify for the next season's PGA Tour.
There's nothing usual, though, about how the last 12 months have gone.
The Korn Ferry Tour paused its 2020 season last March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The season was resumed in June on a modified schedule, but everything was different. There were no fans at the events, and the Tour decided to have the 2020 season combine with the 2021 season in terms of awarding PGA Tour cards.
So instead of playing for multimillion dollar purses each week, 2020 LECOM Suncoast Classic winner Andrew Novak has to negotiate another season of the Korn Ferry Tour. He comes into the tour's first event of 2020, the 2021 LECOM Suncoast Classic Feb. 18-21 at Lakewood National Golf Club, in 28th place on the money list ($160,302).
If the pandemic hadn't hit, Novak might have been higher, but he will take it after what happened at last year's LECOM Suncoast Classic. Defending champ sounds pretty good, even if it's not on the PGA Tour.
"I wouldn't miss this one for the world," Novak said.
Novak, 25, beat John Chin by one stroke (23 under par) last year at Lakewood National. He sank a long birdie on the 18th hole to seal the victory.
He said he had his best week ever driving the ball and his play off the tee opened up the rest of his game. Unfortunately, Novak said, he couldn't continue that roll when the Korn Ferry Tour cancelled events. By the time the Tour restarted, the magic was gone.
"I cracked my driver coming out of quarantine," Novak said. "Usually I'm good about adjusting to those things. A few swings and I can get the feel of a new club. But for whatever reason, I was never able to replicate the feel I had before."
Novak said he stopped hitting as many fairways. The result? Four made cuts out of 16 events after the pause. His best finish was tied for 23rd at the Albertsons Boise Open in October (14 under par). It was a low feeling, Novak said, being unable to take advantage of his Suncoast Classic win, especially after feeling like he could birdie every hole just a few months prior.
A new, albeit combined, season has arrived and Novak said his struggles down the stretch in 2020 might have a silver lining.
"I was hitting the ball so bad, I had to get up and down every hole, otherwise I would have been shooting 80," Novak said. "My short game improved because of it. I gained confidence in my putting. Pair that with good ball striking and that's something."
Novak said he feels good about the state of his game entering the 2021 Suncoast Classic. He will be taking the same approach to the course as he did last year, even though his driving hasn't been quite the same. He knows the fairways are wide, but he needs to place his drives correctly to score low.
Another win likely would send him to compete against the world's best.
"This is my fourth year on this tour," Novak said. "I'm approaching it the same. I'm in a better [points] position than some guys. I just need to go out and earn a [PGA Tour] card. "