The PGA Tour season may have kicked off last week with the SBS Championship, but that event is only for the privileged few who won last year. The Sony Open is the first chance for the rest of the Tour to tee it up. As always, there will be plenty of new names at Waialae.
There will be 20 rookies this season, including international stars Rory McIlroy and Jeev Milkha Singh, who’ve accepted Tour membership after finishing in the top 125 on the 2009 money list. Here’s my ranking of the top 10 rookies among the 18 that earned cards through Q-School or the Nationwide Tour.
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that the majority of these players won’t keep their PGA Tour card (since 1990, only 39% of Nationwide Tour grads and 30% of Q-School grads have been able to keep a card). But some will also emerge as new stars on the PGA Tour. Here’s the ones to keep an eye on:
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1.) Rickie Fowler
Official World Golf Ranking: 247
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: N/R (insufficient events)
Residence: Las Vegas
How he got his card: T-15 at Q-School
The skinny: If you’re reading this, you already know about Fowler’s potential.
Fowler, the former top-ranked amateur in the world, made it through Q-School just three months after turning pro after his second Walker Cup appearance.
He earned almost $600,000 in three PGA Tour events, losing a playoff at the Frys.com Open. He also lost a playoff at the Nationwide Children’s Invitational. There’s no reason to think he can’t keep it up.
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2.) Derek Lamely
Official World Golf Ranking: 207
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: 206
Residence: Fort Myers, Fla.
How he got his card: 4th on Nationwide Tour money list
The skinny: Lamely will surprise a lot of people in 2010. The long hitter (306.2 average in ’09) has quietly worked his way through the pro ranks after playing college golf at two tiny schools, McNeese State and Florida Gulf Coast.
Lamely, a Nationwide Tour rookie last year, earned his first PGA Tour card by finishing fourth on the money list, highlighted by a playoff victory over Fowler in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational.
Lamely was runner-up in two other events, and made 11 of his final 12 Nationwide Tour cuts. He earned valuable experience at last year’s Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour; he Monday qualified, then shared the first-round lead before tying for 13th.
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3.) Graham DeLaet
Official World Golf Ranking: 212
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: 190
Age: 27 (turns 28 on Jan. 22)
Residence: Boise, Idaho
How he got his card: T-8 at Q-School
The skinny: DeLaet spanned the globe in 2009 in search of places to play. He won on the Sunshine and Canadian tours, played St. Andrews in the Dunhill Links and went to China to compete in the World Cup, which ended three days before Q-School, where DeLaet finished eighth to earn his card.
DeLaet played in 16 events this year that offered Official World Golf Ranking points in 2009. He finished 12th or better in 10 of those events, including seven top-four finishes. He won the Canadian Tour Order of Merit last year and was that tour’s player of the year.
DeLaet is a big, strong player who hits it “stupid” long, said Tyler Aldridge, who also played at Boise State and was a PGA Tour member in ‘09.
“My wife (Ruby) will be happy about that,” DeLaet said about being able to play one Tour in 2010.
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4.) Cameron Percy
Official World Golf Ranking: 182
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: 65
Residence: Dingley, Victoria, Australia
How he got his card: 8th on Nationwide Tour money list
The skinny: Percy was the last player to play in a tournament alongside Tiger Woods before Woods’ car accident. But Percy is a fine player in his own right. He finished eighth on the Nationwide Tour money list despite not winning; he had 14 top 25s, including eight top 10s, in 22 starts.
Percy also had success this offseason in his native Australia, finishing in the top 10 at the Australian Masters (where he played with Woods) and Australian Open.
Percy was ninth on the Nationwide Tour in greens hit, and sixth in putts per GIR, a combination that helped him finish second on the tour in birdie average.
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5.) Matt Every
Official World Golf Ranking: 277
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: 342
Residence: Gainesville, Fla.
How he got his card: 10th on Nationwide Tour money list
The skinny: Every isn’t lacking in confidence or talent, and won’t be shaken if he struggles out of the gate, which is always a risk for rookies. The question is how Every’s putter will hold up.
Every, a former Walker Cup team member and the ’06 Ben Hogan Award winner (college golf’s Heisman), earned his first PGA Tour card thanks to his victory at the Nationwide Tour Championship. He started the final week of the Nationwide season 49th on the money list, but won the finale by three strokes over Michael Sim, who was wrapping up the best season in tour history.
What changed in Every’s game? His putting.
Every’s college coach, Florida’s Buddy Alexander, advised Every to switch to a cross-handed grip the week prior. “I normally don’t putt like I putted this week,” Every said after his win. If he can keep it up, Every has the game to keep his PGA Tour card.
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6.) Billy Horschel
Official World Golf Ranking: 1,029
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: N/R
Residence: Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
How he got his card: 7th at Q-School
The skinny: Horschel has a lot of the same traits that people like about Fowler. Both are confident, competitive and have a straightforward approach to the game. It explains why they paired so well at the ’07 Walker Cup. They went 2-0 as alternate-shot partners, teaming to take down McIlroy in one match, and each posted 3-1 records for the week to help the U.S. to a one-point victory.
“Billy and I go at it the same way,” Fowler said. “We go out and do our own thing, and not try to worry too much about what’s going on around us.”
Horschel turned pro after last year’s NCAA Championship. He missed five of six cuts on the PGA and Nationwide tours, but did have a T-9 at a Nationwide event and won an eGolf Tarheel Tour event. The mixed results convinced him to make improvements to his putting stroke with instructor Todd Anderson. The work paid off, as he advanced through all three stages of Q-School.
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7.) Chris Baryla
Official World Golf Ranking: 217
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: 121
Residence: El Paso, Texas
How he got his card: 19th on Nationwide Tour money list
The skinny: Baryla has made the cut in three of six career PGA Tour starts, including a tie for eighth at the ’09 Canadian Open. The former Texas-El Paso standout had five top-10s in 14 Nationwide Tour starts this year, including a victory at the Chattanooga Classic. He missed just one cut.
After shooting a second-round 96 at the Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic in June 2008, he didn’t touch a club for four months because of a back injury. He didn’t play another Nationwide Tour event until he Monday qualified for last May’s Rex Hospital Open. He tied for fourth in that event and 12th the following week to get back on that tour, and eventually earn a PGA Tour card.
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8.) Troy Merritt
Official World Golf Ranking: 457
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: 355
Residence: Phoenix, Ariz.
How he got his card: Won Q-School
The skinny: One statistic that works in Merritt’s favor – seven of the past 10 Q-School medalists have retained their card, a much higher rate of success than your standard Q-School grad.
Merritt is known for his ability to win. He claimed seven titles in his senior season at Boise State, won last year in his rookie season on the Nationwide Tour, then was medalist at Q-School, where he held at least a share of the lead after all six rounds.
Merritt will have to work on his consistency, though. His Mexico Open win was one of just two top-25 finishes in 17 Nationwide Tour events last year (the other was a T-23). He finished 39th on the Nationwide Tour money list.
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9.) Blake Adams
Official World Golf Ranking: 171
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: 115
Residence: Swainsboro, Ga.
How he got his card: 3rd on Nationwide Tour money list
The skinny: Adams was one of the Nationwide Tour’s longest hitters, and one of its most consistent performers. He’s long, averaging 311.9 yards per drive last year, and a good iron player, finishing 17th in greens in regulation. That combo helped him post four top-threes, and 12 top-25s total. It helped him set the tour record for most money earned without a victory ($399,749).
Adams, a likable player from rural Georgia (Nunez, population 130), will be used to the tighter fairways on the PGA Tour; he practices in the offseason by hitting the balls down a 15-yard-wide dirt road on his property.
“I feel like if I can hit it down that dirt road, I can pretty much hit it down any fairway in the world,” Adams said.
Before the ’09 Nationwide Tour season, the 34-year-old rebounded from a career-threatening hip injury suffered during the first stage of ’08 Q-School.
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10.) Cameron Tringale
Official World Golf Ranking: N/R
Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index: N/R
Residence: San Juan Capistrano, Calif.
How he got his card: T-19 at Q-School
The skinny: U.S. Walker Cup players that have advanced through Q-School in their first attempt have a good recent track record. Among players to pull off the feat are Dustin Johnson, Anthony Kim, J.B. Holmes and Webb Simpson.
“I think (the Walker Cup) helped a lot,” Tringale said, “to have that inner confidence that you were on that team, and to play well on that team.”
Tringale was one of the final two players selected to the ’09 team after being a first-team All-American at Georgia Tech. He qualified for last year’s U.S. Open and played in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, missing the cut in both.
Tringale played his final seven holes of Q-School in 4 under to earn his Tour card with a shot to spare.