7 PGA Tour sleepers for 2021 not named Will Zalatoris
Doc Redman was 11th in strokes gained/approach during the 2019-20 season, hinting that a his first PGA Tour victory isn't far away.
The PGA Tour resumes this week with the Sentry Tournament of Champions, but for the purpose of this exercise, we want to highlight some names that won’t be in the (expanded) field at Kapalua. As in season’s past, we want to highlight tour pros we’ve deemed as “sleepers,” using that same criteria as previously applied. Each player has to be under 30 and can’t have qualified for the Tour Championship at any point in his career, which rules out anyone in Hawaii this week.
We’ve also ruled out Will Zalatoris. Nothing personal to the 24-year-old Wake Forest product, but it just doesn’t feel right calling him a “sleeper” after the year he had in which he set a Korn Ferry Tour record with 11 consecutive top-20 finishes before racking up three top-10s on the PGA Tour, including a T-6 at the U.S. Open, to earn a special temporary membership for the rest of the season. He even cracked our 2020 Newsmakers of the Year list, so we consider him pretty big time already.
That brings us to a key difference between this and our sleeper lists from previous years. Due to the PGA Tour’s decision to let everyone keep their cards, we don’t have the usual pool of developmental tour graduates to comb through. So instead, we are primarily looking within the roster of current PGA Tour players and uncovering guys who we think are close to breaking through. OK, let’s get to the unheralded golfers we think have the most potential to become household names by season’s end.
Doc Redman: The 2017 U.S. Amateur champ just celebrated a 23rd birthday. We’d be surprised if he isn’t celebrating a maiden PGA Tour victory at some point this year. After playing solid golf for most of 2020, Redman finished T-3 at the 2019-20 regular-season finale, the Wyndham Championship. And he’s added top-five finishes at the Safeway Open and Bermuda Championship to begin the 2020-21 season. For someone who finished 11th in the all-important strokes gained/approach category last season, it is seemingly just a matter of time for him to convert on enough of those birdie chances to take home a trophy.
Cameron Davis: The 25-year-old Australian had his share of struggles in his first full year on the PGA Tour, including two separate stretches where he missed four consecutive cuts. But a missed cut at the RSM Classic, where he shot a pair of 70s, was his only time failing to make the weekend in his final nine starts of the year. That stretch was highlighted by three top-15 finishes. A winner of the Australian Amateur and Australian Open, Davis is also golf’s best switch-hitter.
Matthew NeSmith: As with Redman, NeSmith is another overlap with the “10 players who will make you money betting on golf in 2021” list. Also like Redman, NeSmith is a great iron player (23rd in strokes gained/approach) who will carry over plenty of momentum into 2021 after finishing T-17 or better in three of his final four starts of 2020. Getting to the winner’s circle for this University of South Carolina graduate might be a bit of a leap, but the 27-year-old has already become a bit of a DFS darling.
In his rookie year on tour in 2019-20, Robby Shelton qualified for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
Robbie Shelton: In an abbreviated rookie season on the PGA Tour, the former Alabama All-American still managed to make more than $1.2 million. This, after finishing second on the Korn Ferry Tour money list in 2019. So the dude is an earner. And he’s only 25. So we’ll probably just keep putting him on this list until he breaks through.
In his third season on the PGA Tour, Talor Gooch is off to the best start of his young career with a pair of top-five finishes.
Talor Gooch: At 29, the former Oklahoma State standout just sneaks in here. Another favorite in DFS circuits, Gooch is a consistent bet to play the weekend, and he’s had at least two top-10s in each of the past three seasons. That already includes the current campaign in which he’s off to the best start of his career with top-five finishes already at the CJ Cup and Houston Open.
Sepp Straka: The 27-year-old Austrian has quietly been a solid performer in his first two seasons on the PGA Tour, finishing 48th and 67th in strokes gained/total, respectively. His third season promises to be his best with seven made cuts in eight starts already, including a T-5 at the Houston Open.
Akshay Bhatia doesn't have PGA Tour status, but has as much raw talent as any player on our list of "sleepers."
Akshay Bhatia: The lanky lefty ranks fifth in strokes gained/total right now. Yeah, yeah, it’s only four measured rounds, but this kid can really play. And yes, we can call him a kid because he won’t even turn 19 until Jan. 31. Bhatia’s disadvantage versus the rest of this list is he has not PGA Tour status and thus can only grab starts via sponsor’s exemptions and Monday qualifying. Still, as he showed with a T-9 at the Safeway Open, when he gets an opportunity, he’s dangerous. And when it comes to ranking these guys on pure potential, Bhatia is a clear No. 1.