10 PGA Tour rookies to watch in 2013

Luke Guthrie

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It’s almost too good to be true. Earning a PGA Tour card is the realization of a lifelong dream, and that prize comes with a tropical vacation. The PGA Tour’s first full-field event of the season, the Sony Open in Hawaii, also marks the debut for the PGA Tour’s rookies.

This year’s class is particularly young. Fourteen of the 25 rookies who graduated last year’s Q-School or Web.com Tour are 25 or younger. Nine of those 25 players are 23 or younger. There’s just one downside for this year’s rookies: the condensed schedule means they’ll have less time to keep their Tour card. They’ll have to cash checks, early and often. Welcome to the PGA Tour, gentlemen.

Here are 10 names among the rookie graduates of Q-School and the Web.com Tour to keep an eye on in 2013:

• • •

1. Luke Guthrie

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 54

Age: 22

The skinny: The Illinois product immediately became acclimated to pro golf after turning pro in June. He finished in the top 20 in his first three PGA Tour starts – including a T-5 at the John Deere Classic – before moving to the Web.com Tour, where he won twice and had five other top-10s in 10 starts. His older brother, Zach, will be on his bag this year; Zach, who played college golf at Western Illinois, was the assistant coach at Illinois during Luke’s college days. Luke also stayed with Zach while completing his degree at Illinois in fall 2012, balancing his course load on the links and in the classroom. Guthrie finished second on the 2012 Web.com Tour money list ($410,593) in just 10 starts. He was less than $25,000 behind Casey Wittenberg, who made 14 more starts.

Luke Guthrie didn’t win in his first two years at Illinois, but won seven times in his final two seasons. He’s the first back-to-back Big Ten champion since Luke Donald, and the first Illini to win consecutive Big Ten titles since Steve Stricker. That’s some strong company. “I got better every day, every year, a little better in my game,” Guthrie said. “I was able to learn my game, learn my swing.” That improvement made for an easy transition to the Tour.

• • •

2. Morgan Hoffmann

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 51

Age: 23

The skinny: Morgan Hoffmann’s path to a 2013 PGA Tour card began with a broken thumb and a trip to Nepal. Hoffmann was a top prospect when he turned pro out of Oklahoma State in 2011. Struggles at Q-School’s second stage – a final-round 75 left him three shots off the cut line – left him without status for 2012, though. To compound matters, Hoffmann broke his right thumb while mountain biking the same day as Q-School’s final round. The injury kept Hoffmann him from hitting balls for more than 2 months, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. “I’ve never really taken a break my whole life,” he said.

Hoffmann visited Nepal, where he and former Oklahoma State teammate Sean Einhaus have set up a charity, for three weeks during his layoff. He learned breathing and relaxation techniques from Buddhist monks there, and changed his perspective on golf. “I learned a lot about myself,” Hoffmann said. “They helped me get my mind straight. I used to be very hard on myself and put a lot of pressure on myself.”

He used Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions to earn a PGA Tour card via the Web.com Tour. He finished in the top-10 in five of the final six starts in 2012, capped with a third-place finish at the Web.com Tour. He also was 29th at this year’s U.S. Open.

• • •

3. Ross Fisher

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 74

Age: 32

The skinny: Fisher, with 37 career PGA Tour starts, is the most experienced player among the Q-School and Web.com Tour graduates. The Englishman also is a recent Ryder Cup participant (2010) and is a four-time European Tour winner. Many foreign players try to use the majors and World Golf Championships to earn a PGA Tour card. Fisher, 32, took advantage of the final Q-School, finishing second to Dong-Hwan Lee to easily keep his card. Fisher skipped Europe’s season finale, the DP World Tour Championship, in order to be well-rested for Q-School. The DP was held the week before the qualifying tournament, and the players who made the lengthy commute struggled with jet lag at Q-School. Fisher is No. 94 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

• • •

4. Patrick Reed

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 195

Age: 22

The skinny: Reed made a name for himself with his Monday-qualifying success in 2012. He made a dozen starts on the PGA Tour in 2012 – despite not having any status – and made seven cuts, including four top-25s. His caddie remains the same, though her status has changed. Justine Karain was Reed’s fiancee when she caddied for him last year; the couple was married last month. Reed led tiny Augusta State to improbable titles at the 2010 and 2011 NCAA Championships. His teammate from those squads, Henrik Norlander, also earned his PGA Tour card at last month’s Q-School. Reed was in 127th place through two rounds at Q-School, but closed with 68-67-68-67 to earn his card on the number. What was behind Reed’s qualifying success? “He loves that environment, the you-against-me mentality,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s coach at Augusta State. That mindset should keep him from being intimidated by the world’s best players.

• • •

5. Russell Henley

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 199

Age: 23

The skinny: The Georgia product used a late-season rally to finish third on the Web.com Tour money list. He finished in the top six in the final four events, including two victories. Henley isn’t the longest hitter, but the former all-state high-school basketball player is known as a fierce competitor. He forced playoffs at the 2012 Chiquita Classic and Jacksonville Open by holing putts of 20 and 15 feet, respectively, on the final hole of regulation, then winning on the first extra hole. He made the cut in both the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Opens, finishing 16th and 42nd as an amateur. He also won three times on the Web.com Tour in just 31 starts, including the 2011 Stadion Classic while still an amateur.

• • •

6. Luke List

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 185

Age: 27

The skinny: List, the 2004 U.S. Amateur runner-up, credited new Callaway equipment and an improved mindset for his graduation from the Web.com Tour. He won his firstWeb.com Tour event, the South Georgia Classic, in 2012, and had three runners-up while leading the tour in driving distance (324.0 yards per tee shot). He finished fourth on the tour’s money list. “I’ve been nicer to myself on the bad shots and accepting everything, all that sports psychologist babble that you hear about,” List said. “It works sometimes.”

List was roommates with Jamie Lovemark, the Web.com Tour’s top player in 2010, earlier in his pro career. Keegan Bradley is one of List’s close friends in Jupiter, Fla., where they play with the dozens of PGA Tour players who’ve migrated to the area. Getting an up-close view of the world’s best has led List to believe his game compares favorably with his new PGA Tour peers.

“I’ve been saying it for a long time that he’s going to be a big-time player out here,” Bradley said. List will have the opportunity to prove his friend right in 2013.

• • •

7. Ben Kohles

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 124

Age: 22

The skinny: The Virginia All-American turned pro in July, then became the first player to win on the Web.com Tour in his first two professional starts. He cooled considerably after that hot start, though, posting just one top-10 in his final eight starts. He tied for 70th in the Wyndham Championship in his only PGA Tour start. Still, Kohles’ rise to the PGA Tour is quite rapid considering he didn’t start playing golf regularly until he was about 13 years old, and didn’t start competing in tournaments until he was 15. Kohles didn’t even try out for his high school’s golf team in his freshman year because he didn’t think he was good enough. Ben’s father, Kevin, remembers taking his son to Pinehurst for his 14th birthday. Father beat son by a stroke from the white tees on the famed No. 2 course, 98 to 99. “We were both happy we broke 100,” Kevin Kohles said. Three years later, Ben Kohles shot 69 at No. 2 in the final round of the North & South Junior.

Kohles won seven times at Virginia, a school record. He also matched the Cavaliers’ mark for career top-10s (23). He was a three-time All-American and two-time ACC player of the year.

“After his first tournament, I’ll never forget it. I knew he was good, but I didn’t know he was that good,” Virginia head coach Bowen Sargent said. “I went up to his parents and told them both, 'You guys have a really special kid here.' This kid’s going to make it. He has an intangible. The tougher the situation gets and the more that it means, the more he likes it. There’s very few kids who enjoy that environment, and he always has.”

• • •

8. Dong-Hwan Lee

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 255

Age: 25

The skinny: The Q-School medalist, 25, is a two-time winner on the Japan Tour. He bleaches his hair to stand out from his countrymen. The unique style will separate him from a growing Korean contingent on the PGA Tour. Seung-Yul Noh (49th) and Sang-Moon Bae (83rd) both finished in the top 100 of the 2012 money list after earning cards at the previous year’s Q-School.

Lee, who’s known as a short hitter with a strong short game, served in the Korean military from December 2008 until January 2011. He wasn’t in the line of fire, though. He worked in a base recreation area. His duties included mopping floors and giving golf lessons at the indoor driving range that stretched some 5 feet. Lee didn’t have time to work on his own game while on duty, but said giving lessons helped him learn more about the golf swing.

“It definitely helped me because I like golf so much. I took for granted how precious it was,” Lee said. “To be forced to miss something you love, I had the strong urge to come back and play.”

• • •

9. Scott Langley

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 328

Age: 23

The skinny: Langley was one of the world’s top amateurs in 2010. In addition to the NCAA title, Langley finished 16th at the U.S. Open and made the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals. He was on the three-man team that represented the United States at that year’s World Amateur Team Championship. He struggled with his game – specifically, the driver – for much of 2011, though. He didn’t earn a spot on that year’s Walker Cup team, then finished last at Q-School’s second stage, shooting an 18-over 306 that was 23 shots too high to advance. He admit that the days after second stage were tough, but that the poor result was easier to swallow than a near-miss. It showed him that improvements had to be made for him to reach the next level. “I recognized my game wasn’t in the place to get through (in 2011),” Langley said. “It was more like, ‘Let’s figure it out.’” The Illinois alum started working with Florida-based instructor Mike Adams in December, then spent 2012 playing “everywhere, from the U.S. Open (T-29) to the Minor League Golf Tour, one-day events in Florida.

“Going from no status to the PGA Tour is a dream come true.” He made the cut in five of seven starts on the PGA and Web.com tours in 2012.

Langley also holds the distinction of being the first First Tee graduate to earn a PGA Tour card.

• • •

10. Robert Streb

Golfweek/Sagarin ranking: 104

Age: 25

The skinny: The 25-year-old Kansas State product has never played in a PGA Tour event. He could be the sleeper of this year’s rookie class, though. Streb, who turned pro in 2009, finished seventh on the Web.com Tour money list in 2012, his rookie season on tour. He finished in the top 25 in 15 of 24 events last year, including seven top-10s, the third-most on tour. His consistency, and strong putting, will serve him well on the PGA Tour. Streb ranked fifth on tour in putting average (1.743 putts per green in regulation) and fourth in putts per round (28.69). He also was sixth in birdie average (4.13).

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