Rookies Who Were Instantly Successful in Pro Golf
IT IS one thing to be a world-class amateur golfer but there are no guarantees that when you turn professional that everything will fall into place.
Many great amateurs have joined the paid ranks and disappeared into the distance - do you remember a Scottish golfer called Gordon Sherry? He was a sensational amateur, turned pro and did absolutely nothing.
Do you recall the struggles that Justin Rose had when he joined the paid ranks? He turned professional the day after finishing fourth at The Open and then went on to miss 21 consecutive cuts.
But occasionally, a rookie comes along and leaves everybody speechless at their ability to compete alongside the very best in the world right from the start.
Here, we take a look at some remarkable rookie seasons in the men's game.
Ludvig Aberg, 2023
It is beginning to look like we could be witnessing the emergence of the next global superstar. Aberg. He turned professional in June 2023 and gained full status on the PGA Tour by finishing on top of the national University Rankings, becoming the first player to earn this advantage. He was the world’s leading amateur at the time.
Aberg made his debut as a professional in June at the Canadian Open, where he made the cut and finished in a tie for 25th place. In July he finished in a tie for fourth at the John Deere Classic. His first start on the DP World Tour came at the Czech Masters, where he also finished in a tie for fourth place after a final round 66. He then won the European Masters and became the first man to be selected for the Ryder Cup without ever having played in a major. And seven days after his heroics at Marco Simone, he lost in a playoff at the Sanderson Farms Championship. The Swede is walking on air.
Will Zalatoris, PGA Tour, 2021
The American made a huge impact in his first full season. He had finished tied sixth at the 2020 US Open, staged in September because of Covid. He followed that with a tied eighth at the Corales Puntacana, tied fifth at the Shriners, tied seventh at the Farmers Insurance Open and tied 10th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And then he nearly won The Masters, finishing second. He made 21 out of 25 cuts and enjoyed eight top-10 finishes and was named rookie of the year.
Cameron Young, PGA Tour, 2022
We were still getting our breath back after everything Zalatoris achieved in 2021 when along came Cameron Young. He played in 25 tournaments and made 18 cuts. In only his second start he finished tied second at the Sanderson Farms - this came after missing the cut in his debut. A couple more missed cuts followed and then he finished tied second again, this time at the Genesis Invitational. He missed the cut at The Players Championship and Masters but then finished tied third at the RBC Heritage, tied second at the Wells Fargo Championship and tied third at the US PGA. Young then missed the cut at the US Open and Scottish Open before finishing second to Cam Smith at The Open. He pocketed $6.5m in prize money and ended the year 10th in the FedEx Cup standings. He succeeded Zalatoris as rookie of the year.
Thriston Lawrence, DP World Tour, 2022
Lawrence was the first South African to be named rookie of the year after a breakthrough season on the DP World Tour that included two wins, six further top tens and a major debut. the 25 year old made the perfect start to the 2022 season with victory in the opening tournament at the rain-shortened Joburg Open. His breakthrough victory not only secured a DP World Tour exemption, it also led to his first appearance in a major as part of The Open Qualifying Series, and he went on to finish inside the top 50 at the 150th Open at St Andrews. A first professional victory on European soil followed in August when he secured the Omega European Masters title in a play-off triumph over England’s Matt Wallace at Crans Montana in Switzerland. Lawrence racked up six further top tens, including a tied second finish at the Magical Kenya Open and third place at the Horizon Irish Open, on the way to finishing 14th in the DP World Tour’s season-long rankings.
Scottie Scheffler, PGA Tour, 2020
Scheffler didn’t win during his rookie season. In fact he didn’t win his first tournament until 2022. But he did serve notice of what was to come in 2020, achieving a remarkable 13 top-25 finishes in just 23 starts. He also finished fourth at the US PGA Championship and was 19th at The Masters. And he ended the season in fifth place in the FedEx Cup standings.
Jon Rahm, DP World Tour, 2017
The Spaniard was a controversial choice as European rookie of the year in 2017 - he played 23 tournaments on the PGA Tour the same year, winning the Farmers Insurance Open, finishing runner-up at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play and tied second at the Dean and Deluca before finishing no worse than tied seventh in the four FedEx Cup playoff events, ending the season fifth in the FedEx Cup standings and earning more than $6m in prize money on the PGA Tour. So he was hardly a rookie, but he did win the Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship.
Xander Schauffele, PGA Tour, 2017
In his first 17 starts on the PGA Tour in 2017, Schauffele managed just one top-10 finish. But then he finished in a tie for fifth place at the US Open at Erin Hills. He followed that by winning the Greenbrier Classic after hitting his approach to the last stone dead. But the icing on the cake for Schauffele came at East Lake when he once again birdied the final hole to win the Tour Championship.
Jordan Spieth, PGA Tour, 2013
Spieth began the 2013 season as the 810th ranked player in the world. He played most of the season as a 19-year-old and finished in the top 10 nine times in 23 events and capped it all with a win. Spieth was the first golfer since Tiger Woods in 1996 to go from having no PGA Tour status to start the season to playing in the Tour Championship to cap the year. He was a member of the Presidents Cup team and finished the season seventh in the FedEx Cup standings and won $4m in prize money.
Rickie Fowler, PGA Tour, 2010
Looking back on it now, the remarkable thing about Fowler being named rookie of the year in 2010 was the fact that he beat Rory McIlroy to the plaudit. Although Fowler had an excellent first full season, with two runner-up finishes, seven top-10 finishes and rising to No. 25 in the Official World Golf Rankings after starting the season ranked No. 249, Fowler failed to win a tournament unlike fellow rookie McIlroy. McIlroy, who won at Quail Hallow, also added five top-10 finishes, including finishing third in the year's final two majors. Both players made the Ryder Cup teams.
Matteo Manassero, DP World Tour, 2010
When the Italian became the youngest winner on the DP World Tour after taking the Castello Masters at the age of 17 years and 188 days he seemed to have the world in his hands. He did it with a final round of 67 for a four-shot victory. He had also been the youngest Amateur Championship winner in history as a 16 years old in 2009, finished as the youngest winner of the silver medal for the leading amateur at the Open at Turnberry, and the youngest player to make the cut at the Masters. Sadly, Manassero later lost his game.
Sergio Garcia, DP World Tour, 1999
The 19-year-old Spaniard began the year in 399th place in the world rankings and ended it in 12th place. It was the sort of meteoric rise we had seen three years earlier from Tiger Woods. It all started with his maiden victory at the Irish Open and ended with an awesome display at the Ryder Cup at Brookline. And then there was the US PGA Championship at Medinah, where he chased down Woods, in the process producing a miraculous shot from the base of a tree. He lost by a single shot.
Tiger Woods, PGA Tour, 1996
Woods turned professional in 1996 and made his debut at the Greater Milwakee Open, where he finished in a tie for 60th place. Then came a tie for 11at the Canadian Open before a run that went as follows: Quad City Classic, tied fifth, BC Open, tied third, Las Vegas Invitational, won, Texas Open, third, Walt Disney World Classic, won, Tour Championship, tied 21st. And so a legend was born.
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