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Punch Shot: Next 20-something Tour winner

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Billy Horschel became the latest 20-something to earn his maiden PGA Tour victory, doing so at last week's Zurich Classic. As the Tour hits Charlotte, N.C., for the Wells Fargo Championship, GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with who will be next in line among the under-30 crowd.

By REX HOGGARD

If we learned anything from Billy Horschel’s steady climb from Q-School to PGA Tour champion it is these things don’t sneak up on you.

Before becoming the most-recent 20-something to land in the winner’s circle on Sunday in New Orleans, Horschel had finished inside the top 10 on four occasions this season. In many circles, it wasn’t a question of if he would crack the champion’s ceiling so much as it was a matter of when?

You can track a similar trajectory to triumph with Harris English (pictured above left). The 23-year-old, second-year Tour player has competed in 40 events in the big leagues, missed just eight cuts and finished inside the top 25 on 13 occasions.

Even more impressive has been English’s solid play on Tour Sundays. At TPC Louisiana, where he tied for sixth, he closed with a 67 to improve his fourth-round scoring average to 71.10.

By comparison, before his Sunday 64 in New Orleans, Horschel had struggled in Round 4 with a 71.55 scoring average, which was ballooned by a closing 85 at Bay Hill.

For young players, the final piece of the puzzle is normally learning to deal with Sunday pressure. By most accounts, English has already solved that riddle which makes him the logical next choice for a 20-something champion.


By RANDALL MELL

Luke Guthrie (pictured above right) is learning, processing and adapting as a PGA Tour rookie, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it all comes together in a victory as early as this week’s Wells Fargo Championship.

Guthrie, 23, won twice on the Web.com Tour in back-to-back weeks coming out of the University of Illinois last year. He finished second on the tour’s money list in just 10 starts in 2012. He gave himself a chance to win the Honda Classic this spring before finishing third, and he’s coming off a tie for eighth at the Zurich Classic last weekend.

Guthrie has the game and the guts to break through as a rookie.


By RYAN LAVNER

The best of the 20-something crop just might be Harris English. But don’t take my word for it. Here is Russell Henley, English’s former teammate at Georgia and already a winner this season (Sony Open):

“He’s just very, very impressive physically. Obviously hits the ball a long way, and he can shoot low scores. Physically, what he can do with golf ball is probably the most impressive I’ve seen. And mentally, he’s always impressed me. His perspective and his competitiveness and his toughness are just very impressive to me. You’re going to be seeing a lot of him for a long time.'

That’s not just pumping up his buddy, either. English was a multiple winner for the Bulldogs. In his only season on the Web.com Tour, he won once, finished second and tied for third to sew up his card, despite making just seven starts.

This year he’s already matched his top-10 output from last season (three), and is strong in virtually every statistical category, including birdies made (fourth on Tour, with 176).

If he can steady himself on the weekend – he’s 127th and 92nd in third- and final-round scoring average, respectively – he’ll break into the winner’s circle soon, just like Billy Horschel.  


By WILL GRAY

The PGA Tour is blessed right now with a deep talent pool, especially among the under-30 crowd. If I have to peg the next “young gun” to break through with a maiden victory, though, I’m going with Luke Guthrie.

Much like fellow Web.com Tour graduate Russell Henley, Guthrie has won at all levels prior to making the PGA Tour. He took home seven trophies while a standout at the University of Illinois, including two Big Ten titles, and won twice during an abbreviated rookie season on the Web.com circuit.

Having already received invaluable experience from playing in the final group Sunday at the Honda Classic, where he finished third, Guthrie tied for eighth this past week in New Orleans. Like Billy Horschel, he has shown an ability to consistently put himself in contention – last year, he posted top-10 finishes in four of his first five Web.com Tour starts immediately after turning pro, and in 17 career starts on the PGA Tour, he’s been inside the top 25 eight times.

Guthrie also has the numbers to back up his performance this year; he’s 15th on Tour in birdie average, 30th on the FedEx Cup points list and 40th in scoring average. Sooner rather than later, I think he’ll have some hardware to go along with an already impressive stat line.