Hey, Rook: A guide to PGA Tour's newest crop

By Will GrayOctober 14, 2015, 3:38 pm

The FedEx Cup has yet to collect dust on Jordan Spieth's mantle, but a new PGA Tour season is already upon us - and with it a new rookie class is ushered onto the big stage.

Last season's rookie crop included a win from Nick Taylor, a Tour Championship appearance from Daniel Berger and several top finishes from players like Justin Thomas, Tony Finau and Zac Blair. This season 17 players have Tour cards for the first time, and 10 of them will be making their debuts at this week's Frys.com Open.

Here is a look at the Tour's newest members, fresh out of orientation and heading to the first tee:

Patton Kizzire

Age: 29

How he got here: Kizzire was the best player this year on the Web.com Tour. The former Auburn standout took a few years to get his footing as a pro, but he won twice this year and is fully exempt as the top earner from last season. He plans to get married Oct. 17 and will make his season debut next week in Las Vegas.

Dawie van der Walt

Age: 32

How he got here: The burly South African has played all over the world, but he finally broke through this year with two wins on the Web.com Tour. He led the circuit in GIR percentage during the regular season and finished third on the money list.

Emiliano Grillo

Age: 23

How he got here: Grillo is part of the celebrated high school graduating class of 2011, and he grew up playing junior golf against the likes of Spieth, Thomas, Berger and Ollie Schneiderjans. The Argentine lost in a playoff at the Puerto Rico Open but capped a run through the Web.com Tour Finals with a win at the season finale earlier this month. He is among the pre-season favorites for Rookie of the Year.

Smylie Kaufman

Age: 23

How he got here: After a successful stint at LSU alongside fellow Tour members John Peterson and Andrew Loupe, Kaufman breezed through his rookie season on the Web.com Tour. He won an event, finished sixth on the regular-season money list and will start this season at No. 13 in the 50-player priority rankings.

Bronson Burgoon

Age: 28

How he got here: Burgoon was one of several players to play in all 25 events on the Web.com Tour, highlighted by his playoff loss in Nova Scotia. He finished 18th on the regular-season money list to earn his card, then boosted his priority ranking with a runner-up finish at the third Web.com Tour Finals event.

Brett Stegmaier

Age: 32

How he got here: After a pair of wrist surgeries, Stegmaier gave up the professional game in 2009 to become an assistant pro. But the fire was rekindled in the former Florida standout, and he returned to the Web.com Tour. He finished seventh in the final regular-season event just to qualify for Finals, then opened the posteseason with back-to-back top-10 finishes to clinch his card.

Rhein Gibson

Age: 29

How he got here: Perhaps best known for shooting a 55 during a mini-tour event, recognized by the Guiness Book of World Records as the all-time lowest round, Gibson had a solid Web.com Tour season but fell short of earning his card via regular-season earnings. The Aussie opened the Web.com Tour Finals with a missed cut, but he finished T-21 or better in the final three events to seal his card.

Hiroshi Iwata

Age: 34

How he got here: Iwata finished T-3 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November, earning enough non-member FedEx Cup points to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals. Once there, he opened with a T-4 finish to earn his card. He also finished T-21 at the PGA Championship (where he shot 63 in Round 2) and T-18 at the Web.com Tour Championship.

Abraham Ancer

Age: 24

How he got here: Ancer played in every event this year on the Web.com Tour, defeating Burgoon in a playoff in Canada for his lone win. He finished No. 11 on the regular-season money list to lock up a promotion to the PGA Tour, but saw his priority ranking fall to No. 31 after missing the cut in all four Finals events.

Harold Varner III

Age: 25

How he got here: Varner finished No. 25 on the regular-season money list, earning his card by a mere $943, becoming the first African-American to earn a PGA Tour card through the developmental circuit. He added a pair of top-25 finishes during the Web.com Tour Finals and will start the season at No. 33 in the priority rankings.

Michael Kim

Age: 22

How he got here: Kim had a decorated college career at Cal, where he was the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world and won the Haskins and Nicklaus awards in 2013. After failing to earn his card via the Web.com Tour in 2014, Kim got the job done this past year by finishing No. 13 on the regular-season money list.

Andrew Landry

Age: 28

How he got here: Landry won early in the Web.com Tour season in Colombia, one of five top-25 finishes this season. He finished No. 21 on the regular-season money list to earn his card, but dropped to No. 45 in the priority rankings after his best finish in four Finals events was T-47.

Thomas Aiken

Age: 32

How he got here: The South African has had a decorated career on the European Tour, including three wins, and qualified for the Web.com Tour Finals via non-member FedEx Cup points. While he missed his first three cuts, Aiken finished T-5 at the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship, effectively turning one good week into a PGA Tour card.

Lucas Lee

Age: 28

How he got here: Lee had a pair of runner-up finishes among his 17 Web.com Tour starts this season and finished 23rd on the regular-season money list. That was good enough to earn his card, although he didn't earn a dollar in the Web.com Tour Finals after withdrawing from all three events in which he entered.

Rob Oppenheim

Age: 35

How he got here: Oppenheim was the feel-good story from Web.com Tour Finals. After missing his card via regular-season earnings by $943, he appeared edged out again after wrapping up the Web.com Tour Championship. But a late shuffle in the standings gave him the 25th and final card available, as Oppenheim finished $101 ahead of Eric Axley on the Finals money list.

Patrick Cantlay

Age: 23

How he got here: Cantlay actually earned his card in 2013, but a vertebrae fracture has kept him largely sidelined since. He still qualifies as a rookie and has 10 starts left on a major medical extension to earn $624,746 to keep his card.

Joe Affrunti

Age: 34

How he got here: Like Cantlay, Affrunti has struggled with injuries. He earned his card in 2011 but has played sparingly since because of a left shoulder ailment. He has four starts remaining with which to earn $568,234.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.