Which rookie will have the biggest '12 impact?

By Jason SobelJanuary 2, 2012, 2:00 pm

New names, new faces. They're a big part of the delicious anticipation of a new season. Some will remain anonymous. But others will become the household names of tomorrow. We asked our senior writers to predict which rookies on any tour will make the biggest impact in 2012.

By REX HOGGARD

The highest-profile rookie in 2012 will be Lexi Thompson. Not since Michelle Wie has there been a newcomer with as much potential and pressure, but that’s a cautionary tale for another day.

For pure rooting potential, to say nothing of playing abilities, we’ll take Erik Compton as the “newcomer” to watch. We add the quotations based on Compton’s age (32) and PGA Tour history (29 starts as a professional).

Even Compton doubted his status as a rookie until it was verified by Tour officials. “Great,” was his less-than-ambiguous text message when he was informed of the good news.

The Tour’s curious criteria for identifying rookies aside, Compton’s story has the ability to transcend sport. He was 9 years old when he was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy, has survived two heart transplants and may have only one chance to leave his mark on the Tour.

Although he has the game to compete at the highest level, the rigors of 72 holes take a toll which at least partially explains why it took him so long to earn a Tour card.

But with full status this season Compton will be able to set a schedule that will not be as physically demanding. He’s also enjoyed his first true “offseason” in years thanks to his 13th-place finish on the Nationwide Tour money list.

He may not be the most high-profile rookie in 2012. He may not be a rookie at all by many standards, but a solid season for Compton would be unforgettable.


Jason Kokrak

By JASON SOBEL

A few years ago, I covered a late-season event on the Nationwide Tour and took an informal straw poll of more than a dozen players on which of their peers would become the next star on the next level. The unanimous answer was Jason Day – and, of course, those guys were right. Day has transitioned from the developmental circuit to one of the world’s top10 players.

There’s a similar groundswell of support entering this season for another Jason, as fellow players have been unilaterally impressed with Jason Kokrak.

Coming off a year in which he won two Nationwide titles and finished fourth on the final money list, the former Xavier University golfer owns a game that should translate well to the big leagues. At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, the masher led the tour by averaging 318.6 yards per drive. We’ve seen guys who can bang it like that in the past, but they’re usually wild. Kokrak, on the other hand, found more than 63 percent of fairways, ranking in the top half of the tour.

We won’t see another rookie class in 2012 like we did a year ago, but we may never see a rookie class like that again. Last season’s crop included major champions in Charl Schwartzel and Keegan Bradley, plus four other PGA Tour winners.

This year’s class should be led by Nationwide promotions Danny Lee and Ted Potter Jr., and Q-School grads Noh Seung-Yul and Harris English. I’ll take Kokrak in a close race over those guys, based largely on the gushing reports from his fellow pros last season.


Danny Lee

By RANDALL MELL

Danny Lee’s bounce-back continues in 2012.

Look for Lee, 21, to distinguish himself in the newest class of PGA Tour rookies.

The South Korean Kiwi got off to a rough start in his professional career, but he showed last year that he’s on the rise again.

After becoming the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur at 18 years and one month in 2008, Lee dazzled us again six months later, still as an amateur. He became the youngest winner of a European Tour event, taking home the Johnnie Walker Classic trophy.

Born in South Korea, and later gaining New Zealand citizenship while growing up there, Lee didn’t exactly take the professional game by storm. After turning pro following the Masters in ’09, he fell short in a bid to win a PGA Tour card through sponsor exemptions. His pro career took a dismal turn when he failed to advance past the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School later that year.

The old spark was back in Lee’s game on the Nationwide Tour last year. Despite wrist problems that kept him out for a month last summer, Lee still earned his PGA Tour card, finishing sixth on the Nationwide Tour money list. He claimed his first victory as a pro (WNB Classic) in October. He led the Nationwide Tour in scoring (68.98), birdie average (4.66 per round) and top-10 finishes (9). He was sixth in putting and 12th in greens in regulation. Those numbers make Lee a formidable addition to the PGA Tour this year.

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McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.