Punch Shot: Who will win Tour Rookie of the Year?

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Left to right: Emiliano Grillo and Smylie Kaufman (AP/Getty)

Two events into the new PGA Tour season, two rookie winners. That's already one more rookie champion than the entirety of the previous season. So, looking very far ahead, who will take home Rookie of the Year honors? Our writers weigh in.

By RYAN LAVNER

Emiliano Grillo was an emerging star even before he won the season-opening Frys.com Open.

The 23-year-old Argentine was a heralded part of the high school class of 2011, as much of a talent in those days as Jordan Spieth or Justin Thomas or Patrick Rodgers or Ollie Schniederjans. They went their separate ways – to the pros, to college, to Europe – but now have reconnected on the PGA Tour.

Grillo apprenticed on the European circuit for the past few years, and was in position to win the PGA Tour's Puerto Rico Open last season before blowing a 3-footer on the 72nd hole. A few months later, he ripped through the Web.com Tour Finals, a run that saw him win the Tour Championship with a cold-blooded 25-footer on the last.

Keep in mind that he’s had three major life changes recently – he got married, earned his card and won on Tour in a matter of weeks – so he’s due for a letdown at some point. But once he settles into a rhythm, he’ll be a weekly contender, just like the old days, with Spieth, Thomas and Rodgers. 


By RANDALL MELL

Emiliano Grillo is tough to bet against, but Smylie Kaufman came from seven strokes back and won in the betting capital of the world Sunday taking the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas with that brilliant 61.

Kaufman, 23, is yet another big-hitter, but he’s also a terrific putter. It’s a tough combination to beat these days. Kaufman was sixth in driving distance on the Web.com Tour this past season, but he ranked even higher with the flat stick. He was fifth in putting average and third in birdies. Sunday’s victory combined with his T-10 finish at the season-opening Frys.com makes Kaufman the early – yes, very early – man to beat in the Rookie of the Year race. He’s also atop the FedEx Cup standings.



By REX HOGGARD

Emiliano Grillo and Smylie Kaufman have gotten off to impressive head starts in the race for the 2015-16 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, but fellow first-timer Patton Kizzire has proven he has the consistency to claim the title.

Kizzire finished second to Kaufman on Sunday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open after skipping the season-opening Frys.com Open, which was won by Grillo, to get married.

But it’s what the 29-year-old did in 2015 on the Web.com Tour that makes him the favorite among a particularly strong list of rookies this season.

In his first full season on the secondary circuit, Kizzire finished in the top 10 in 12 of 23 starts, including two victories (Utah Championship and News Sentinel Open) and a pair of runner-up showings.

The former Auburn University standout won the regular and Finals combined money list on the Web.com Tour to secure his first trip to the PGA Tour and, more importantly, full status this season.

Kizzire will be able to play a full schedule, at least relative to this year’s other rookies, free from the worries of the priority list that dictates what events newcomers can play.

Kizzire may have spotted Grillo and Kaufman an early victory but he still has the time and the track record to emerge as this year’s top rookie.


By WILL GRAY

It’s hard to pass on Emiliano Grillo, especially after his season-opening win, but I’ll side with the player who nearly followed Grillo to the winner’s circle last week: Patton Kizzire.

It took some time for Kizzire to find his footing in the professional game, but the 29-year-old experienced a breakthrough season last year on the Web.com Tour that was marked by impressive consistency. Kizzire won twice en route to challenging the circuit’s all-time, single-season earnings record, and his 12 top-10 finishes in 23 starts showed that his results were the product of steady play throughout the year.

Kizzire took a week off earlier this month to get married, then promptly finished T-2 in Las Vegas in his first start as a member, highlighted by a Sunday 63. PGA Tour courses aren’t the same as on the Web.com, but Kizzire hits it plenty long and should his putter remain reliable – he led the tour last year in birdie average, scoring average and total putting – he could challenge for a spot at the Tour Championship.