The top 25 money-winners from this year's Web.com Tour earned PGA Tour cards for 2013. All have dreams of success in the big time. We asked our writers to pick the player they feel will have the biggest year in 2013.
By RANDALL MELL
I’m bullish on the former Bulldog.
Give me Russell Henley.
In his first victory as a professional late this season, he beat Patrick Cantlay and Morgan Hoffmann in a playoff to win the Chiquita Classic. It wasn’t actually Henley’s first Web.com Tour title. As an amateur last year, a week before he graduated from the University of Georgia, Henley won the Stadion Classic. He’s one of just two amateurs to have won on that tour. Overall, Henley takes three Web.com Tour titles to the PGA Tour with him. He also won the Winn Dixie Jacksonville Open just two weeks ago.
Henley, 23, has marched through the ranks impressively. He was the Haskins Award winner as the most outstanding collegiate golfer in 2010. He tied for low amateur honors at the U.S. Open that year and played on the American Walker Cup team in ’11. He finished third on the Web.com Tour money list this year, thanks to some superior shot-making. He was sixth on tour in total driving and also sixth in ball-striking. That bodes well going into his rookie year on the PGA Tour.
By JASON SOBEL
A few years ago, one PGA Tour member showed up for a casual round with another pro, who brought a buddy along. The buddy was a young kid named Morgan Hoffmann and as legend has it, he posted two eagles and eight birdies that day, leaving the first Tour pro calling him Drago after that indomitable boxer of “Rocky IV” fame.
Well, that young kid is all grown up and a PGA Tour member himself for the 2013 season.
Look only briefly at Hoffmann’s final money list placement and it doesn’t seem overly impressive; he finished just 19th for the year. However, that came after starting the season without any status and getting into just 13 total events. Earning a PGA Tour card in a baker’s dozen appearances is difficult enough even with a win, but much tougher without one. But Hoffmann had a second, a third and seven top-10s en route to clinching his status at the season finale.
What makes him the cream of next year’s crop? He’s a big hitter (averaged more than 303 yards per drive this year) who can roll the rock (ninth in putts per round) and isn’t afraid to go low (led the Web.com Tour in scoring average).
At 23, the Oklahoma State product may feel like he’s already a few years behind buddies like Rickie Fowler, but don’t be surprised to see him catch pace in a hurry next season.
BY RYAN LAVNER
The Web.com Tour grad with the best chance of success on the 2013 PGA Tour is the same player who enjoyed the most success this season: 22-year-old Luke Guthrie.
No, he didn’t win the Web.com Tour money title. And no, he likely won’t be named the circuit’s Player of the Year.
But consider this: In 10 Web.com starts this season, Guthrie finished in the top 10 in all but one of his eight made cuts, and he recorded two victories, a runner-up and a third. His season earnings of $410,593 put him second on the money list, some $23,000 behind Casey Wittenberg, but Guthrie ascended to that spot with 14 fewer events. Fourteen – essentially, another entire season.
Perhaps even more impressive, he earned another $284,672 in four spot starts on the PGA Tour (including a T-5 at the John Deere Classic), which would have put the non-member 172nd on the money list.
Yes, in the span of a year, Guthrie may very well go from competing for Illinois at the NCAA Championship to becoming a PGA Tour winner.
By REX HOGGARD
This is why golf, at least as a general rule, rewards performance, not potential, and why Casey Wittenberg will be the player to watch from this year’s Web.com Tour class.
Fresh off a runner-up finish at the 2003 U.S. Amateur and a 13th-place showing at the ’04 Masters, Wittenberg bolted Oklahoma State after a single year for what many predicted would be a standout professional career. But these things rarely go to plan.
In 53 PGA Tour career starts he has collected a grand total of three top-10 finishes, he has tried, and failed, at Q-School (advancing to the final stage just twice and never finishing inside the top 25) and “had a cup of coffee” in the Big Leagues in ’09 only to finish outside of the top 150.
However, adversity, given in proper doses, can be a powerful tool. After years adrift in golf’s farm system he scorched the Web.com Tour this year with two victories and tied for 10th at the U.S. Open.
“He’s evolved,” said one longtime observer of the one-time phenom who topped the secondary circuit’s money list to earn fully exempt status on the PGA Tour in 2013, a crucial advantage given next season’s condensed schedule.
It seems Wittenberg has ended up where everyone thought he’d be; it just took a little longer than expected.