Sometimes players take a while to get acclimated to life on Tour. Others come out of the gates firing. So who will get their career off to the best start this year? Our writers look into their crystal balls and predict who they think will win the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2015:
By JASON SOBEL
Unlike the NFL, where the latest crop of rookies is always less experienced than the veteran majority, the PGA Tour doesn’t necessarily work that way. Some rookies might have way more tournament experience than players who have been competing already. Just check out the world ranking and you won’t have to scroll too long to find players younger than most of this year’s freshman class.
By that same measure, many of these rookies will continue competing in this wraparound schedule emboldened by this knowledge. One of ‘em is Justin Thomas, who played junior and collegiate golf against the likes of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed – and knows he can hang with ‘em.
Last year on the Web.com Tour, he had a win, a second, a third and 13 overall top-25 finishes to earn a promotion to the big leagues. Already this season, he’s pulled a T-4 result at the Sanderson Farms Open.
More importantly, he owns the confidence necessary to beat some of the world’s best players. But don’t take it from me. Just listen to the words of those he’s played against in the past. They all expect him to join the ranks of PGA Tour winners without much delay.
By RYAN LAVNER
Book it: This guy will win on the PGA Tour in 2015.
Still just 25, it seems like Finau has been around forever. He turned pro at 17 and starred on Golf Channel’s “Big Break” before finally coming into his own in golf’s minor leagues. Now that he has his PGA Tour card, his brawny game reminds of Dustin Johnson. He’s crazy-long off the tee (already has two pops of 370-plus yards this season) and makes birdies in bunches (5 per round).
Even better, he’s well on his way to keeping his card for next season, after opening the fall slate with four top 15s in five starts. It appears as though he won’t have the added pressure of trying to play every week to earn a buck.
In a strong rookie class, Finau is the one who possesses the most potential.
On the Clock: Who wins 2015 Rookie of the Year?
By REX HOGGARD
Following one of the weakest rookie classes in recent history – only two first-year players kept their Tour cards in 2013-14 and Rookie of the Year Chesson Hadley posted just a single top-10 finish after his breakthrough victory in March in Puerto Rico – the 2014-15 line up has all the markings of something special.
Atop that list of potential first-time phenoms will be Justin Thomas. The 21-year-old proved himself surprisingly consistent during his rookie year in 2014 on the Web.com Tour, missing just two cuts in 20 starts, posting 13 top-25 finishes and closing the season with a playoff victory at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship in September.
The University of Alabama product has a history of fast starts in his young career having won the Phil Mickelson Award in 2012 as the top college freshman.
He also showed signs of what fans can expect in the prelude portion of the 2014-15 schedule with his tie for fourth at the Sanderson Farms Championship in November, which helped pad his priority ranking for the first reshuffle and will make it easier for him to secure starts during the circuit’s West Coast swing.
Although he will have plenty of competition for this year’s Rookie of the Year hardware from the likes of Carlos Ortiz, Andrew Putnam and Blayne Barber, Thomas will emerge as this season’s top newcomer.
By RANDALL MELL
It’s hard to bet against the 2014 Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
Carlos Ortiz proved something winning three Web.com Tour events last season. While Nick Taylor is on the board with a rookie win already this PGA Tour season, Ortiz is off to a solid start. He made the cut in all four of his PGA Tour starts this fall with a T-9 at the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, where he posted four rounds in the 60s.
Wiry at 6 foot and 150 pounds, Ortiz is a big hitter with a nice putting stroke. It’s a formidable combination that should give him a consistent edge against his fellow rookies.
By WILL GRAY
He’s gotten off to a bit of a slow start, but by the end of 2014-15, Justin Thomas will be the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year.
Thomas has the pedigree for success at the highest level: a strong junior career, followed by a stint at Alabama where he anchored a team that won the national title, followed by a quick stop on the Web.com Tour. There, he was one of the circuit’s best players in 2014, leading in birdie average and the all-around ranking.
After several close calls, Thomas broke through for his first win as a professional during the Web.com Tour Finals, a victory that ensured he would carry a high priority ranking into his first season on the PGA Tour. He struggled out of the gate but got on track with a T-4 at the Sanderson Farms Championship, followed by a T-23 in Mexico in the final official event of 2014. That momentum should carry into the new year.
Thomas has all the tools to thrive on the PGA Tour, and if he has any questions about strategy, he has a pretty good resource at his disposal in friend and former college foe Jordan Spieth. Once he gets going in 2015, though, there won’t be a need for many tips.