Could a Rookie Win The Masters This Year
Winning a professional golf tournament is hard and triumphing in a major championship is even more difficult. So, winning a major championship at your first appearance? Highly unlikely.
Of course, if your name is Gene Sarazen (1935) or Fuzzy Zoeller (1979) then the opening sentence won’t apply to you.
We’re also not counting Horton Smith, as everyone was a rookie during the very first edition of this prestigious tournament(!).
The question of the title seems unattainable; we have not seen a rookie win the Masters since 1979.
But if we were to mention a name like Will Zalatoris - who narrowly missed out in 2021 after finishing runner-up to Hideki Matsuyama, one-stroke back - you start to understand that it could be possible in the modern game.
The influence of Tiger Woods is impossible to refute and as a consequence of his brand, the ranks of professional golf are littered with talent - from the mini tours to the PGA Tour.
The young golfers coming through don’t lack confidence; curling up into the safety of their shell is not a default reaction.
They progress to the premium tours with a plethora of wins under their belts, having played the best courses in the world and championed them - they’re winning machines with the sole focus of capturing their next title.
It’s safe to say Woods has created a breeding ground for relentless competitors who don’t understand that they should not be this good at 22, 23 or even 24 years old.
Some of the players making their first appearance have multiple victories under their belt and whilst it’s likely the Colosseum of Augusta will overwhelm, a few will negate its harrowing intimidation.
So, can a rookie win the Masters this year? You bet they can.
Of all the rookies this year, Sam Burns probably has the greatest chance of victory - and multiple debutants have PGA Tour titles under their names. Last season was a breakthrough year for the 25-year-old, after capturing the Valspar and Sanderson Farms Championships. We need to look beyond your standard tour event; Augusta is a far sterner test than the challenge found at the Country Club of Jackson (Sanderson Farms host course). If he wants to secure his third professional win in Georgia, the boy will have to produce the week of his lifetime - which he can do.
His best major finish is T29th and that took place at the 2019 PGA Championship. Last season, he missed the cut at the U.S. Open and withdrew from the PGA Championship. He made the cut at The Open but finished T76th - his past major form is not supporting my argument(!). If we move over to the World Golf Championships - arguably the sixth most reputable tournament(s) on the tours - it allows for encouraging reading. He lost the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in a playoff to Abraham Ancer, so he has previous at a high standard. Of course, we’re still yet to see if his game can match the monumental challenge of Augusta National - but he’s ranked highly in the world for good reason.
If you’re an ardent fan of the PGA Tour and a beloved follower, you’ll recognise the two names to start this rookie list. Burns, with two PGA Tour titles, is swiftly followed by Talor Gooch - another PGA Tour champion. I’d like to bring your attention back to something previously stated: these rookies are born winners. Gooch could have doubled his tour tally at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but he - like so many others - fell to the stupendous challenge that is Bay Hill’s tournament finale set-up, which is beyond brutal.
Since the start of the season - in September - the American has only missed two cuts, although failing to progress to the weekend at the Genesis Invitational would have stung. Of the 13 tour starts he has made so far, he has finished in the top 10 on four occasions, which is just shy of 25%. Almost one in every four tournaments is resulting in a top 10 finish, just let the impressiveness of that sink in. The reason it’s so difficult to triumph at the Masters for a rookie is due to the limited access and the lack of tournament set-up found away from competition week - the players are going in blind. If the blindless provides no obstacle, then Gooch can be very excited with the form he’s exhibited this season.
Another rookie, another PGA Tour title - do you now understand just how good these Masters ‘rookies’ are? If we’re being honest, Hoge probably doesn’t have as strong as a chance as Gooch or Burns, but to simply look past his Pebble Beach Pro-Am win would be naive, against a relatively strong field too. Ultimately, if you’re beating players like Jordan Spieth - who has revitalised himself over the past 18 months or so - then you’re a bloody good golfer. The American has also not featured in an Open Championship, so hopefully he’ll have two to tick off this campaign.
There’s little point in reviewing the seasonal statistics for the rookies - especially with several weeks to go before the event starts. It’s important we scrutinise their big-stage performances, considering this will be the most substantial event they would have played in during their career to date. Hoge’s best major finish was T43rd at the 2019 U.S. Open, so not overly impressive considering he has featured in six major championships. He’s finished within the top 30 at The Players twice however, which is another event with a stacked field. Will he win the Masters? Unlikely. You’d be a fool to write him off however, especially coming into the event after his first tour title.
When Garrick Higgo broke onto the scene, there was an understandable level of hype around his character. After two victories on the Sunshine Tour, he transitioned to the DP World Tour - where he would secure three victories in the space of 18 months. He then travelled to America to win his maiden PGA Tour title at the Palmetto Championship, magnificently coming from behind to triumph late into the Sunday afternoon. Of all the players on this list, none of them can match the seven professional wins that Higgo has masterfully earned.
Still at the age of 22, there is plenty of potential in the sublime South African and we can envision him taking to Augusta quite nicely. Realistically, he’s only been at the elite level of professional golf for two years, and three major starts took place last year alone, which reads: T64th-cut-cut. Naturally, you’d give him no chance at the Masters, but it’s a breeding ground for the unthinkable; drama permanently resides on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club. Higgo will obviously need his best, but he’s continuously proven that his best is good enough.
Min Woo Lee
We’re including Min Woo Lee because he has an excellent all-round game, although there’s no point in denying that there’s significant scope for improvement. We’re also wary of this inclusion, as we expected him to have an inspiring Open Championship after securing the Scottish Open the week before - only to miss the cut! That was his only major appearance to date however and making the cut would be a substantial improvement on his display at Royal St George’s.
Of all the players who have made it onto the list, you’d argue Lee’s victory is the most impressive of them all. Having valiantly forced his way into a playoff, he conquered both Thomas Detry and Matt Fitzpatrick to the Scottish Open title - in a field that included Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Xander Schauffele and Collin Morikawa. You cannot underestimate the strength of that line-up and Lee was brilliant across all four days to secure victory. That win guaranteed his place at the Masters - can he emulate his Renaissance heroics on golf’s most sacred grounds?
The reputation and achievements of these Masters ‘rookies’ highlights just how strong professional golf currently is.
Away from Sam Burns, none of the other entries are seriously threatening the world’s top 10 in the official standings, yet they all have important and comprehensive victories.
You might be impressed with Rory McIlroy’s recent form, you may even fancy Hideki Matsuyama to successfully defend his title considering the record he has at Augusta.
However, the last rookie win took place in 1979 - and we think it’s just about time for history to be rewritten.
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