Punch Shot: Breakout performer of 2017?

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Alex Noren and Danny Willett were among the players who had break-out seasons in 2016. Who will take the next step in 2017? Our writers weigh in.

By REX HOGGARD

If it wasn’t for Jason Day, Kevin Chappell would have had a better year in the Sunshine State than Donald Trump.

Chappell finished runner-up to the Australian twice in Florida, first at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and two months later at The Players. It was all part of a season that was so close to being truly special.

All total, Chappell had eight top-10s and four runner-up showings, which included a playoff loss to Rory McIlroy at the Tour Championship. Although he remains winless on the PGA Tour, that is certain to change in 2017.

He’ll need to improve his play in the majors, where he has just two top-10 finishes, but Chappell has proven he can compete against the world’s best players. The next step is to prove he can beat them.


By RYAN LAVNER

Jon Rahm … unless you don’t like your budding stars to have titanium-denting power, laser-like precision and soft hands on and around the green. This kid is the real deal.

Earning his Tour card only a few months after graduating from Arizona State, Rahm simply built on what was an epic college career, which was highlighted by the second-most victories in school history (behind only Phil Mickelson) and remarkable consistency, finishing in the top 10 in all 13 events last season.

Rahm has already shown that he’s capable of playing with the big boys, finishing in the top 3 twice in his first four pro starts. He’ll win at least once in 2017.


Photos: Players to watch in 2017


By WILL GRAY 

This will be the year that Jamie Lovemark puts it all together.

On the cusp of his 29th birthday, Lovemark no longer qualifies as a young gun by PGA Tour standards. But the fresh face that cruised to an NCAA individual title while at USC is still there, and his game isn’t far behind.

Lovemark’s career was derailed by a back injury, but he has once again found his footing on Tour. He shared the Sunday lead last year in Houston, and he lost a playoff a few weeks later in New Orleans.

Those results were largely thanks to an improved short game, which now complements the missiles he routinely launches from the tee. He came close in 2016, but this will be the year that Lovemark finally wins on the PGA Tour and once again stamps his name as one to watch in the game’s biggest events.


By RANDALL MELL

Thomas Pieters.

The 24-year-old Belgian was known among golf faithful before the Ryder Cup last fall, but his profile soared with his effort in Hazeltine. The first European rookie to win four points in a Ryder Cup, Pieters starred on one of golf’s largest stages, teaming formidably with Rory McIlroy to go 3-0.

Pieters showed a lot of moxie in a hostile environment, fist pumping and even shushing American crowds. He showed us something special just making the European team, mounting a hard, late run under pressure late last summer to secure one of Darren Clarke’s captain’s picks. Pieters is 6 feet 5, a long-hitting, giant talent on the European Tour lauded for his potential. Now, we should be seeing more of him on the PGA Tour, with his top-50 world ranking getting him into more World Golf Championships and majors, including this year’s Masters.