The Nondescript PGA Tour Excellence Award: Meet Your 2018-19 Nominees
Last year, I put a name to a familiar concept when I introduced the Bo Van Kisney III Award for nondescript excellence on the PGA Tour. The idea behind the prize is to recognize those golfers who have remarkably strong seasons—complete with high finishes, big money, and very few missed cuts—but who never seem to distinguish themselves by force of personality, playing style, or actual wins. This is a flourish-free zone, and it's the natural habitat of guys like Kevin Kisner, who in 2014-15 had a slew of top tens, made three million dollars, and played in the Tour Championship, but was somehow still very forgettable unless you spent too much time in a golf fantasy league. (Which I did, but that's beside the point.)
This is an award for golfers who wouldn't know hype if it woke up next to them in bed one morning, and are almost studiously ordinary in temperament and appearance. That's the sweet spot for nondescript excellence, and past winners (awarded retroactively, starting with the 2009-2010 season) include Nick Watney, Charles Howell III, Bo Van Pelt, Graham DeLaet (nearly DQ'ed because of his beard), Ryan Palmer, Kisner, Kevin Chappell, and Charley Hoffman. After nominating five contenders last year, I don't believe I ever declared a winner, so I'll do that now:
Kevin C. Cox
It's Kyle Stanley. He tallied zero victories, but was in the top ten five times, played in the Tour Championship, and of his six cuts last season, a remarkable three of them came in huge events (Players, U.S. Open, PGA Championship). That's classic "nondescript excellence" right there, and though Stanley was a little too good in the WGC events (T-5, T-25, T-5, and 2), he managed to avoid winning one of them, and thus nudged ahead of Tony Finau, whose unbelievable 11 top-tens without a win looked great on paper, but ultimately stemmed from a style of play that was just too exciting and too visible, to the point that even his lack of wins became a medium-sized story. He simply couldn't live up to Stanley's anonymity.
Congrats, Kyle. And now we look to the future, and the early contenders for this season's prize. What follows is the short list of nominees, five players deep, each of them nondescript heroes in their own right.
Gary Woodland: The knock on Woodland might be that he's a little too well-known, and in fact he's won three times on Tour in his career, including last year's Phoenix Open. However, he's on the nondescript warpath this season, with seven top tens in 17 starts and zero wins. There's also the fact that he looks like Brooks Koepka, the second-best player in the game, but is, in fact, not Brooks Koepka...although I'm not quite sure if that makes him more or less nondescript. And be honest: Did you know he was ninth on the FedExCup list, before I just told you? I certainly didn't. There's no greater compliment I can pay to someone vying for this award—being good without anyone noticing is the hallmark of a champ.
Scott Piercy: An incredibly strong contender, and arguably the clubhouse leader as we head into June. Piercy is 21st on the FedExCup list, with six top tens and no victories, but unlike Woodland he fits squarely into the "if you're a casual fan, you definitely know his name but probably don't know what he looks like" category. Piercy is 40 years old (a point in his favor), and though he's won four times on Tour, he hasn't won a solo event since 2015, meaning it's been long enough that any residual strong memories have faded. As far as results, he's been spectacular in missed cuts, failing to make the weekend just twice in 17 events. I'd love to see him put up a few more high finishes, but in general he's been a fantasy god without ever cracking the broader awareness threshold.
Andrew Putnam: Great bland-ish name, great profile, and at age 30 he could be competing for this award for years. He's got a superlative nondescript resume—his only Tour win came at last year's Barracuda Classic, an alternate event that uses Stableford scoring and is held the same week as the WGC-Bridgestone. If you were a nondescript excellence talent scout, Putnam would be very high on your radar, and you'd watch him from the bleachers with a fedora on your head, clock his swing with a stopwatch, and turn to your scout friends with an amazed look. Like many top prospects, though, Putnam has a ways to go...he's in the top 30, but just barely, and his top tens are a little low (3) while his missed cuts are just a little high (5). But he can absolutely make a run in the second half of the year, and if it doesn't work out, I have no doubt we'll see him hoist this trophy in the future.
Sungjae Im: Im stands outside the Tour Championship cut-off, but just barely, and with a massive 25 events played already (high-volume is definitely a good thing for award hopefuls), he's managed an impressive six top tens. His cuts are too high, at eight, and that could limit him against guys like Piercy and Woodland, and there's also the fact that he's 21 years old and in his rookie season. Is it truly nondescript excellence if you haven't put up nondescript numbers for a few years? For all we know, Im could spoil the whole thing by becoming a superstar before long. Still, he's worth watching.
Jason Kokrak: The dark horse of the bunch. He fits the career profile to a T—no PGA Tour wins, 34 years old, always vaguely on the periphery, etc. Hell, he's even Canadian! That's the most nondescript country in the world! But of the five nominees this year, his performance is, thus far, the worst. Don't get me wrong—he's done extremely well for himself, with $1.75 million in earnings already and four top-tens to ZERO cuts. The latter number is enormous, and it's why he's nominated. But to compete against the big names on this list, he'll have to consistently fight his way to higher finishes and crack the top 30 (he's 37th now). It's a long road, but I wouldn't count him out.
So there you have it—this year's nondescript all-stars. Come August, you won't remember them, and you won't remember this article, and you won't remember the Bo Van Kisney III Award. Nevertheless, one of these men will stand tall as the greatest unseen star of the bunch: The king of the invisible giants.