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.
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.
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.