Each year, a new slate of players join the PGA Tour ranks hoping to kick off a long and successful career in the big leagues. With five PGA Tour rookies earning victories in their inaugural seasons on tour, as well as Sungjae Im becoming just the 13th rookie in the FedEx Cup era to qualify for the Tour Championship, the impact of first-year PGA Tour professionals was on clear display during the 2018-2019 campaign.
With the 2019-2020 season already underway, another group of players hope to have similar success in their debut seasons.
Here’s a quick look at some 2019-2020 PGA Tour rookies to remember as the season continues.
Scheffler’s T7 finish at the Greenbrier is just a continuation of his stellar play in 2019. He finished at the top of The 25 standings on the Korn Ferry Tour. He won twice this past year, at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship and the Evans Scholar Invitational. In addition to his victories, he finished runner-up on two more occasions.
His scoring average of 69.29 led the Korn Ferry Tour, and he made the cut in 16 of his 21 events. He finished in the top-10 10 times, leading the Korn Ferry Tour in most top-10 finishes this past year.
A name already familiar to many golf fans, Hovland has started his rookie campaign strong with a top-10 finish at the Greenbrier. With his final round 64, he tied the PGA Tour record for most consecutive rounds in the 60s, at 17. During this fantastic streak of golf, his scoring average sits at a tidy 66.59.
His success at the professional level may not come as a surprise, with his success at the amateur level serving as an indication of his talent. He was the low amateur at this year’s Masters, just one of the many accolades he achieved prior to turning pro. The Norweigan standout was sensational at Oklahoma State, garnering All-American honors and was the top-ranked amateur in the world. Winner of multiple prominent tournaments, including his 2018 victory at the U.S. Amateur, Hovland looks to have a bright future as a professional.
A former top-ranked amateur in the world, he was college teammates with Scottie Scheffler at the University of Texas. While playing college golf at Texas, he won multiple tournaments and earned numerous accolades. He earned low amateur awards at the 2018 Masters and turned professional later that year.
In 2019, his first full year on the Korn Ferry Tour, the former Longhorn made the cut in over half of his events. Ghim finished in the top 10 three times throughout the season, with his best appearance being a top-3 finish at the Country Club de Bogota. He’s off to a solid start to this 2019-2020 season, with his T31 finish at the Greenbrier.
Another former top-ranked amateur in the world, McNealy turned many heads with his eye-popping results at Stanford. He won numerous awards and accolades, including the Haskins Award. He holds the record for both the best season scoring average and career scoring average at Stanford, beating out prominent Cardinal alum like Tiger Woods and Patrick Rodgers.
Since turning professional in 2017, it’s taken just two years to reach the big leagues. He’s on an upward trend; he improved over 40 spots in the Korn Ferry Tour’s The 25 standings to earn his PGA Tour card.
In 2011, a young English amateur surprised the world at The Open Championship, sharing the lead at the conclusion of the first round, with the help of the lowest single-round score by an amateur in tournament history. Lewis shot a -5 round of 65 to share the lead with Thomas Bjorn, and would end up tied for 30th place and low amateur.
Fast forward to today, and he comes off the two most successful years of his career on the European Tour. Lewis achieved his career-best result at a major championship this year when he finished 11th at the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. His stroke average of 68.02 on the European Tour in 2019 is the best of his career so far. The young Englishman earned his PGA Tour card with a victory at the Korn Ferry Tour Championship.
The Wedge Guy: What you CAN learn from tour pros
I have frequently noted how the game the PGA Tour players play is, in most ways, a whole different game than we “mere mortal” recreational golfers play. They hit their drivers miles it seems. Their short games are borderline miraculous. And they get to play from perfect bunkers and putt on perfect greens every single week. And it lets them beat most courses into submission with scores of 20-plus under par.
The rest of us do not have their strength, of course, nor do we have the time to develop short game skills even close to theirs. And our greens are not the perfect surfaces they enjoy, nor do we have caddies, green-reading books, etc. So, we battle mightily to shoot our best scores, whether that be in the 70s, 90s, or higher.
There is no question that most PGA Tour players are high-level athletes, who train daily for both body strength and flexibility, as well as the specific skills to make a golf ball do what they intend it to. But even with all that, it is amazing how bad they can hit it sometimes and how mediocre (for them) the majority of their shots really are — or at least they were this week.
Watching the Wells Fargo event this weekend, you could really see how their games are – relatively speaking – very much like ours on a week-to-week basis.
What really stood out for me as I watched some of this event was so few shots that were awe-inspiring and so many that were really terrible. Rory even put his win in jeopardy with a horrible drive on the 18th, but a very smart decision and a functional recovery saved him. (The advantage of being able to muscle an 8-iron 195 yards out of deep rough and a tough lie is not to be slighted).
Of course, every one of these guys knocks the flag down with approach shots occasionally, if not frequently, but on a longer and tougher golf course, relative mediocrity was good enough to win.
If we can set these guys’ power differences aside, I think we all can learn from watching and seeing that even these players hit “big uglies” with amazing frequency. And that the “meat” of their tee-to-green games is keeping it in play when they face the occasional really tough golf course like Quail Hollow. Do you realize less than 20 of the best players in the world beat par for those 72 holes?
It has long been said that golf is a game of misses, and the player who “misses best” is likely to be “in the hunt” more often than not, and will win his or her share. That old idiom is as true for those of us trying to break 100 or 90 or 80 as it is for the guys trying to win on the PGA Tour each week.
Our “big numbers” happen for the same reasons as theirs do – a simply terrible shot or two at the wrong time. But because we do not have anywhere near their short game and recovery skills, we just do not “get away with” our big misses as frequently as they do.
So, what can you take away from that observation? I suggest this.
Play within your own reliable strength profile and skill set. Play for your average or typical shot, not your very best, whether that is a drive, approach shot, or short game recovery. And don’t expect a great shot to follow a bad one.
If, no, when you hit the “big miss,” accept that this hole can get away from you and turn into a double or worse, regroup, and stop the bleeding, so you can go on to the next hole.
We can be pretty darn sure Rory McIlroy was not thinking bogey on the 18th tee but changed his objective on the hole once he saw the lie his poor drive had found. It only took a bogey to secure his win, so that became a very acceptable outcome.
There’s a lesson for all of us in that.
Ways to Win: Horses for Courses – Rory McIlroy rides the Rors to another Quail Hollow win
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: Rory McIlroy wins at Quail Hollow. The new father broke his winless streak at a familiar course on Mother’s Day. McIlroy has been pretty vocal about how he is able to feed off the crowd and plays his best golf with an audience. Last week provided a familiar setting in a venue he has won twice before and a strong crowd, giving McIlroy just what he needed to break through and win again. A phenomenal feat given that, not long ago, he seemed completely lost, chasing distance based on Bryson DeChambeau’s unorthodox-but-effective progress. McIlroy is typically a player who separates himself from the field as a premier driver of the golf ball, however this week it was his consistency across all areas that won the tournament.
Using the Strokes Gained Stacked view from V1 Game shows that Rory actually gained the most strokes for the week in putting. Not typically known as a phenomenal putter, something about those Quail Hollow greens speaks to McIlroy where he finished the week third in strokes gained: putting (red above). He also hit his irons fairly well, gaining more than 3.6 strokes for the week on a typical PGA Tour field. Probably the most surprising category for McIlroy was actually driving, where he gained just 1.3 strokes for the week and finished 18th in the field. While McIlroy is typically more accurate with the driver, in this case, he sprayed the ball. Strokes gained: driving takes into account distance, accuracy, and the lie into which you hit the ball. McIlroy’s driving distance was still elite, finishing second in the field and averaging more than 325 yards as measured . However, when he missed, he missed in bad spots. McIlroy drove into recovery situations multiple times, causing lay-ups and punch-outs. He also drove into several bunkers causing difficult mid-range bunker shots. So, while driving distance is a quick way to add strokes gained, you have to avoid poor lies to take advantage and, unfortunately, McIlroy hurt himself there. This was particularly apparent on the 72nd hole where he pull-hooked a 3-wood into the hazard and almost cost himself the tournament.
It’s rare that a player wins a tour event without a truly standout category, but McIlroy won this week by being proficient in each category with a consistent performance. From a strokes gained perspective, he leaned on his putting, but even then, he had four three-putts on the week and left some room for improvement. He gained strokes from most distances but struggled on the long ones and from 16-20 feet. Overall, we saw good progress for McIlroy to putt as well as he did on the week.
McIlroy also had a good week with his irons, routinely giving himself opportunities to convert birdies where he tied for seventh-most in the field. When he did miss with his irons, he tended to miss short from most distances. His proximity to the hole was quite good, averaging below 30 feet from most distance buckets. That is surely a recipe to win.
When you add it all up, McIlroy showed little weakness last week. He was proficient in each category and relied on solid decision-making and routine pars while others made mistakes on the weekend. Sometimes, there is no need to be flashy, even for the best in the world. It was good to see McIlroy rejoin the winner’s circle and hopefully pull himself out from what has been a bit of a slump. Golf is better when McIlroy is winning.
If you want to build a consistent game like Rors, V1 Game can help you understand your weaknesses and get started on a journey to better golf. Download in the app store for free today.
Club Junkie: Fujikura MC Putter shaft review and cheap Amazon grips!
Fujikura’s new MC Putter shafts are PACKED with technology that you wouldn’t expect in a putter shaft. Graphite, metal, and rubber are fused together for an extremely consistent and great feeling putter shaft. Three models to fit any putter stroke out there!
Grips are in short supply right now, and there are some very cheap options on Amazon. I bought some with Prime delivery, and they aren’t as good as you would think.
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