Seven Rookies to Watch on the PGA Tour
17 OCT 2017
By Dave Kaplan
I’ll level with you - the first three months of the PGA Tour season are not exactly the most exciting time of the golf year.
There are no majors coming up. The fields are not loaded with top-tier talent. And with the exception of the WGC-HSBC Champions later this month, there are few, if any, must-watch tournaments on the horizon for golf fans.
However, one good thing that the early portion of the season does offer is an opportunity to watch some of the more interesting PGA Tour rookies make their long-awaited debuts on the circuit.
Fortunately, there are a lot of talented players to follow in this year’s freshman class. There are long bombers (e.g. Tennessee’s Keith Mitchell), ball striking wizards (e.g. South African Aaron Wise), and a whole host of players that we know little about popping up from other countries and Tours.
Here are seven rookies that you are going to want to track over the next several months:
A local golfer from Thornhill, ON, Silverman didn’t play in his first competitive tournament until the age of 16. And yet, in just 13 years, the former GolfTown employee has played his way onto the PGA Tour! Silverman qualified for the Web.com Tour in 2016 via Canada’s Mackenzie Tour and even though he struggled mightily in his first year and a half on the circuit, the 29-year-old came on strong in the second half of this past season. After the birth of his first child in July, Silverman began a tremendous run of four consecutive Top-10 finishes, including his first Web.com Tour victory at the Price Cutter Charity Championship in August. During that stretch, Silverman shot 16 straight rounds of under par golf and earned enough tournament winnings to finish inside of the Top 25 on the Web.com Tour money list and earn his PGA Tour card!
Canadian golf fans have been expecting big things from Conners since 2014 when the Listowel, ON, native won the Jones Cup and played an instrumental role in Canada’s runner-up finish at the World Amateur Team Championships. And the 25-year-old has only fanned those flames in the three years since by getting to the PGA Tour so quickly. Despite collecting three Top 10s in his rookie campaign on the Web.com Tour last year and ranking first overall in greens-in-regulation hit, he finished the season outside of the Top 25 on the money list and needed to play well in the Tour Finals to secure his PGA Tour card for this season. Conners was up to the task, however, and finished three of the four remaining events with results of T29 or better to lock down his status.
Uihlein might very well be the PGA Tour’s next Jon Rahm. The 28-year-old, who is the son of Acushnet CEO and Chairman Wally Uihlein, was formerly the top-ranked amateur golfer in the world and it’s not hard to see why. He won the 2010 US amateur and the 2009 Walker Cup, and in 2011 he took home the Ben Hogan Award which is awarded annually to the top collegiate golfer in the US. Additionally, the former Oklahoma State Sooner is one of only five players in the history of the American Junior Golf Association to be named “Player of the Year” twice (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Tracy Phillips, and Brian Harman are the others). Since winning rookie of the year honours on the European Tour in 2013, the Massachusetts native has mostly played his professional golf across the pond. However, Uihlein played so well in a handful of PGA Tour events last season that he earned an automatic berth into the Web.com Tour Finals in September. Incredibly, it only took one Tour Finals event for Uihlein to secure his PGA Tour card, as he won the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in his very first start on the circuit.
Stephan Jaeger (Jäger)
Jaeger was nicknamed “BMW” by his teammates at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga a few years ago because — as they explained at the time — he is the ultimate driving machine. And that became quite apparent on the Web.com Tour in 2016, when the Munich native broke the PGA, PGA Champions and Web.com Tours’ 72-hole aggregate low-scoring record with his four-day total of 250 strokes at the Ellie Mae Classic. Jaeger just missed out on his PGA Tour card by finishing one spot too high on the Web.com Tour money list that year. But, the 28-year-old redeemed himself in 2017 with two victories and 12 made cuts in 18 total starts to lock down his PGA Tour status for the 2017/18 season.
Okay, Hossler is technically not a rookie since he made eight starts on the PGA Tour last year, but let’s ignore that minor detail for the purpose of this column. The Mission Viejo, CA, native is one of the best young players in the world and his entire skillset was on display for the world to see five years ago at the 2012 US Open, when Hossler held the 36-hole lead outright as a 17-year-old! You might also remember reading about how the 22-year-old led his Texas Longhorns to the NCAA finals in 2016, despite tearing the labrum in his shoulder. Hossler turned pro shortly after that heroic performance, earned conditional status on the Web.com early the following season, and then needed only 14 events to finish inside the Top 25 on the regular season money list. During those events, the young gun ranked first on the Web.com Tour in putts per round, fourth in putting average, and fourth in scoring average!
In 2016, Dou won four times on the PGA Tour China and earned the circuit’s Order of Merit as a 19-year-old. So, it was no surprise when the phenom became the first ever Chinese-born player to earn a PGA Tour card this past July, after he won the Web.com’s Digital Ally Open. In that tournament, Dou shot a 10-under 61 in the third round and defeated veteran PGA pro Kyle Thompson by three strokes. Dou did have a rather inconsistent rookie season overall on the Web.com Tour, making a total of 14 cuts in 25 events. However, despite the rough patches, he still managed to finish 16th overall on the money list. This kid might be the most naturally gifted player in the entire rookie class with a virtually unlimited ceiling. I would not be surprised if he wins his first PGA Tour event before the start of the new year.
Prior to turning professional in the fall of 2015 after winning the Walker Cup, McCarthy was one of the US’s top amateur golfers. The 24-year-old played on the 2010 American Junior Ryder Cup team with Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Ollie Schneiderjans and was part of the winning team at the World Amateur Team Championships in 2014. McCarthy also won consecutive Maryland Amateurs in 2013 and 2014 and was victorious at the Maryland Open on three separate occasions (2010, 2013, and 2015). Despite ranking 2nd in putting average, putts per round, and birdie or better conversion percentage, McCarthy did not win a single tournament on the Web.com Tour this past season. As a result, he was forced to play for his PGA Tour card in the Tour Finals. Fortunately, the young gun played his best golf of the season in those final four events (T31, T9, T17, and T12) and secured his status for the 2017/18 season easily.
Dave Kaplan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and golf fanatic who is sneaky long off the tee. He’s on a crusade to inject a youthful perspective into golf media, especially the broadcast booth. Follow him on Twitter @davykap