Ranking golf’s top 20-somethings with the most breakout potential
Darren Carroll/PGA of America
The 2019-’20 season was one big graduation party for some of the youngest talent on the PGA Tour. Collin Morikawa captured the PGA Championship at the age of 22. Matthew Wolff led the U.S. Open going into the final round, bidding to be the youngest champion since Francis Ouimet. And Scottie Scheffler was so impressive he captured rookie of the year honors without a victory.
With this week's NBA Draft in mind, we offer a look at the players in their 20s who aren’t yet in the class of Bryson DeChambeau or Jon Rahm or Xander Schauffele, but that we'd seriously look at choosing if we were building a golf franchise by starting with a youth movement. (Ages in parenthesis)
10. Will Zalatoris (24)
Two years after failing to make it out of the first stage of Qualifying School, Zalatoris busted out in 2020 with a July victory on the Korn Ferry Tour and a T-6 in the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. The Walker Cupper from Wake Forest tacked on a T-8 in the Dominican Republic and earned Special Exemption status on the PGA Tour.
9. Robert MacIntyre (24)
Considering he’s from Scotland and played his American college golf at McNeese State, MacIntyre is a bit of an unknown to most U.S. fans, but he likely won’t be for long. He was the European Tour’s rookie of the year in 2019 and earlier this month captured his first title on the Old World circuit. He’s currently the top Scot in the world rankings at No. 63.
8. Joaquin Niemann (22)
Maybe no other young golfer can match this resume: Niemann already has eight professional wins, and six of them came in South America when the Chilean was still a teenaged amateur. He proved himself to be a rising star with a six-shot triumph at the PGA Tour’s Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in September 2019. Niemann had three other top 10s for the 2019’-20 season, including a T-3 in the BMW Championship during the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
7. Cam Champ (25)
All the talk on the PGA Tour is about Bryson DeChambeau’s power, but many don’t realize that Champ is right there with him. Champ’s 322.0-yard driving distance average for 2019-’20 was .1 yard behind Bryson. In just over two full seasons on tour, Champ already has won twice, the most recent coming in the 2019 Safeway Open.
6. Rasmus Holgaard (19)
How’s this for being a prodigy: When Holgaard became the third-youngest winner on the European Tour with his victory in Mauritius in December 2019, the Dane was the first champion on the circuit to have been born in the 2000s. Holgaard backed that up with an August 2020 victory in the UK Championship, making him the second-youngest with two career Euro Tour wins.
5. Scottie Scheffler (24)
It’s been a roller-coaster rookie season on the PGA Tour for the lanky former University of Texas star. A huge disappointment came when Scheffler had to miss the U.S. Open after testing positive for COVID-19, but there were so many signs of a bright future, including a T-4 in the PGA Championship and shooting 59 in the Northern Trust. The 2019’20 rookie of the year has yet to win, but no one in golf thinks that’s going to be the case much longer.
4. Sungjae Im (22)
The affable South Korean is golf’s young ironman, living out of hotels and playing nearly every week. And none of that fazes him. Im notched his first PGA Tour win at the Honda Classic just before the coronavirus shutdown and he bookended that with a T-2 while playing in his first Masters. He had seven top 10s in the 2019-’20 season.
3. Viktor Hovland (23)
The 2018 U.S. Amateur champion made an impressive early splash on the PGA Tour by winning the 2020 Puerto Rico Open in February by draining a 30-foot birdie on the 72nd hole. The Norwegian cooled off a bit for the rest of the year, but he’s started the new campaign with three top-15 finishes and he always makes money; his live cuts-made streak stands at 16.
2. Matthew Wolff (21)
When the young man with the hitchy swing played as a teammate Rickie Fowler in May’s TaylorMade Driving for Relief, the casual observer might have wondered, “Who’s that guy?” The astute observer knew that Wolff already had a PGA Tour trophy on his mantle (the 2019 3M Championship). Wolff, as entertaining to anybody, should be known to just about any fan now after he contended in his first major, the PGA Championship (T-4), and led the U.S. Open going into the final round before finishing second.
1. Collin Morikawa (22)
If there’s one round most remembered from this year, it’s probably Morikawa’s dazzling closing effort at the PGA Championship, when he drove Harding Park’s 16th green to take command and win his first major title with a 64. His ball-striking may be second to none on tour, and his 22-event cuts-made streak he put together is second-best only to Tiger Woods.