The Leap: Players making career jumps in 2015

By Jason SobelJanuary 1, 2015, 7:00 pm

Hope springs eternal. But it always springs a little higher on New Year's Day.

This is a day for optimism, for anticipation and, yes, for predictions of what might come to fruition.

Welcome to the 2015 edition of The Leap, my annual column in which I (often unsuccessfully) attempt to determine which players will take a step into the next echelon on golf's ever-changing hierarchy.

Here's what you won’t find: This isn't a list of the best players or a predicted top-10 for the year. So you won't find Rory McIlroy, because, well, he's done plenty of leaping already. Also left out are Sergio Garcia, Ryan Moore and Graham DeLaet, players I've predicted for major champion, U.S. team member and PGA Tour winner, respectively, in recent years – predictions I'm sticking with despite my delayed timing.

What you will find are players who will earn an increase in status over the next 365 days. Here are 10 of ’em.

Rickie Fowler and Jason Day
The Leap: Major champions

For the first time since 2000, there were no first-time major champions last year. The law of averages says that will change this year, and the law of common sense says we shouldn’t look too far down recent major leaderboards to find the next first-timer. Fowler and Day have separated themselves as candidates because their games are equally suited for all four majors. They might not be the only ones, either. The aforementioned Garcia is going to get one – maybe more than one – at some point and Jordan Spieth is already knocking at the door, too.


Patrick ReedPatrick Reed
The Leap: Top-10 player

Yeah, yeah. I already know what you’re thinking. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Make the obligatory “top-five” remark in regard to Reed’s comment about himself after winning at Doral last year. Feel better? OK, now let’s move on to the cold, hard facts: Before his 25th birthday, Reed has three PGA Tour victories and, more importantly, has shown the confidence necessary to compete against the world’s best. The only thing missing has been consistency, but that will come this year. Top-five? Maybe not. But he’ll come close pretty soon.


Pablo LarrazabalPablo Larrazabal
The Leap: Major championship contender

Your ears might have been buzzing the last time you heard this name. Or maybe that was just the swarm of hornets attacking him on the course in Malaysia, resulting in one of last year’s scariest incidents, not to mention one of the most watched viral videos. But he’s more than just a cushion for stingers. He’s fresh off a season during which he led the European circuit in both scrambling and putting average. Though he’s never finished better than 30th in 11 major starts, those numbers are too good for him to be lingering off the leaderboard for much longer.


Brooks KoepkaBrooks Koepka
The Leap: Presidents Cup team member

Let’s face it: There were a lot of ways to go with Koepka’s inclusion on this list – PGA Tour winner, top-20 in the world and major championship contender are all in play – but for a guy who clearly looks like an impending star, a roster spot on this year’s United States team feels like the best fit. Fresh off a European Tour victory in the fall, Koepka now owns full status on the PGA Tour, as well. It was a circuitous route to the game’s most elite circuit, but now that he’s there, the Florida State product is there to stay.


Paul CaseyPaul Casey
The Leap: FedEx Cup contender

When you’ve been a top-10 player, a Ryder Cupper and contended in major championships, there aren’t many places to which you can leap. But Casey is on the verge of a career renaissance, much like Steve Stricker or Henrik Stenson years before, so he’s worthy of inclusion here. One year after finishing 95th on the FedEx Cup list, I’ll stop short of predicting him a winner of the fickle playoff series, but I’d similarly be surprised if he isn’t on the short list heading to East Lake. Fantasy owners beware.


Chris StroudChris Stroud
The Leap: Top-50 player

You might say he’s a career journeyman, having played nearly a decade on the PGA Tour without making much of a splash. I might say two words in response: Jimmy Walker. He won’t replicate Walker’s breakout three-win season of a year ago, but Stroud has the game to elevate himself at the age of 32 – which is, oh by the way, right about a golfer’s prime. He was as high as 74th in the world at one point last year, but goes into this year at 108th. That will change, though, perhaps in mid-summer, when he tends to play some of his best golf.


Cameron TringaleCameron Tringale
The Leap: PGA Tour tournament winner

What did most players seeking a first career win do in their offseason? They probably worked hard and dreamed of getting that proverbial monkey off their backs. What did Tringale do? Well … he won. Teaming with Day at the Franklin Templeton Shootout, the sixth-year PGA Tour veteran got a taste of life in the winner’s circle. It won’t be his last. Already this season, he owns three finishes of 26th or better in five starts. His spot in last year’s Tour Championship puts him in the year’s first three majors and allows him to set a favorable schedule for the coming months. That should translate into an individual trophy at a place like Tampa, Houston or Greenbrier, each of which he’s played well at in the past.


Anirban LahiriAnirban Lahiri
The Leap: European Tour tournament winner

Riddle me this: How can a player who competed in two majors and a WGC last year, who enters this year ranked 64th in the world (only one behind Ernie freakin’ Els!), who would be in the Match Play field if it started today, for goodness sake – how can a player with all of these credentials still be barely on his journey toward a successful career? The easy answer is math, as the 27-year-old has been beating up on his Asian Tour foes to rise to his current ranking. Now he’s got a clear path toward improving that number, having graduated European Tour Q-School in November. Expect the ball-striker from India to claim a win or two this season.


Hudson SwaffordHudson Swafford
The Leap: Tour Championship competitor

He played college golf with Harris English, he’s good friends with English, he even looks like English – and so it stands to reason that Swafford’s game isn’t too far from his fellow University of Georgia product with two wins already to his name. Last season, Swafford had five top-25s in 26 starts; this season, he’s already more than halfway to matching that, with three such finishes in five starts before the calendar turned over. The stats say he hits it long and often hits it close to the hole. It shouldn’t be long until that turns into a berth at the season finale.


Tony FinauTony Finau
The Leap: Ballyhooed rookie

OK, so this leap is less official than all of the others, but it’s no less significant. Finau is going to be the guy people are whispering about. He’s going to be the young player who impresses the hell out of his veteran playing partners; he’ll be the guy your Sunday foursome is marveling over, even if you can’t remember his name. I’ll stop short of giving him the Rookie of the Year award – I like Justin Thomas for that one – but Finau’s prowess off the tee and aggressive nature will have all of us talking about his immense potential for coming seasons.

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Golf Channel Ramps Up Six Weeks of Comprehensive College Golf Coverage Culminating With The NCAA Women's and Men's Golf Championships, May 18-30

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 24, 2018, 9:00 pm

Golf Channel to Announce NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections on Wednesday, April 25 and Wednesday, May 2

 Golf Channel to Expand Coverage of NCAA Women’s and Men’s Regional Championships  

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys, a Four-Part Docu-Series Executive Produced by Rickie Fowler, Premieres on Golf Channel Monday, May 7

 More than 100 News and Tournament Hours Planned for Women’s and Men’s Championships, Back-to-Back Weeks at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

 

ORLANDO, Fla., April 24, 2018 – With conference championships underway, golf fans will be able to follow their favorite college golf programs and alma maters as they attempt to qualify and compete in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships in May at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., as Golf Channel expands its comprehensive on-air and digital collegiate golf coverage the next six weeks.

“Through our new long-term partnership, the NCAA and Golf Channel are successfully raising the profile of college golf by shining a spotlight on the game’s future stars and the passion these programs have in competing for national championships,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive vice president of content and executive producer. “With our expanded coverage of the regional championships and partnering with OSU alum Rickie Fowler for Driven, our viewers will be treated to the most college golf coverage in network history leading into the NCAA Golf National Championships.”

REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS SELECTION ANNOUNCEMENTS: On Wednesday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET (women) and continuing Wednesday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET (men), Golf Channel will announce the teams and individuals selected by the NCAA to participate in the women’s and men’s regional championships, the first step on the road to the NCAA Golf Championships. Live streaming coverage of selection shows will be available through the Golf Channel Mobile App or GolfChannel.com, and Golf Channel will aggregate social content for the shows using the hashtag #NCAAGolf. 

  • Women’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, April 25, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce (live) the 72 teams and24 individuals selected to compete in the four NCAA Women’s Regional Championships, May 7-9 (18 teams and six individuals per regional). 24 teams and 12 individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.
  • Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, May 2, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce the 81 teams and 45 individuals selected to compete in the six NCAA Men’s Regional Championships, May 14-16 (13 teams and 10 individuals at three regionals and 14 teams and five individuals at three regionals). 30 teams and six individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.

GOLF CHANNEL TO EXPAND REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: New for 2018, Golf Channel will feature expanded coverage of the final day of the NCAA women’s and men’s regional championships, Wednesday May 9 and Wednesday, May 16, respectively. Beginning within Morning Drive, Golf Channel’s daily lifestyle news show, and continuing hourly throughout the day via live Golf Central news updates from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET that will be published to Golf Channel Digital and Golf Channel’s social media handles. Coverage will conclude with live news segments, featuring highlights and interviews, announcing the teams and individuals who qualified for the women’s and men’s national championships.

RICKIE FOWLER AND NBC SPORTS COLLABORATE ON FOUR-PART DOCU-SERIES DRIVEN: OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: NBC Sports Group is teaming up with PGA TOUR superstar Rickie Fowler to give viewers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look into Fowler’s alma mater in a four-part documentary series – Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys. Driven, executive produced by Fowler, will premiere Monday, May 7 at 10 p.m. ET and continue Monday, May 14 (10 p.m. ET) and Monday, May 21 (8 p.m. ET). The finale will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16, recapping their season that culminates with a run at a potential 11th national championship, taking place on their home turf.

NCAA GOLF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: Contested in back-to-back weeks, May 18-30 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Golf Channel will dedicate its full suite of production resources to the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships, featuring nearly 30 combined hours of live tournament coverage. In addition, Golf Central will feature nearly 30 hours of combined pre-and post-event live news coverage produced on location, as well as daily news updates on Morning Drive and Golf Channel Digital.                                             

Golf Channel NCAA Women’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   21       

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   22          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   22                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   23            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

Golf Channel NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   28      

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   29          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   29                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   30            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

COLLEGE CENTRAL – GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL COVERAGE: Golf Channel is providing comprehensive coverage leading up to and during the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships as part of College Central,Golf Channel Digital’s home for college golf. Led by Jay Coffin, Ryan Lavner and Steve Burkowski, College Central will be the source for all things college golf, including tournament results and scores, features and columns, video highlights and breaking news.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS NEWS COVERAGE: Golf Channel will cover the conference championships with scores and analysis across its on-air news platforms - Morning Drive and Golf Central – and online within College Central.

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With help from partner, Burns could secure Tour status

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 8:33 pm

AVONDALE, La. – This week Sam Burns has yet another chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, but his partner may determine whether he’s ultimately successful.

In an interesting twist, Burns is burning one of his seven available sponsor exemptions this week at the Zurich Classic. He is 80 non-member points shy of securing special temporary membership, which would allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.

Burns needs at least a two-way tie for fourth to earn the necessary points, but it won’t all depend on how he plays this week. The Zurich is a two-man game, with two rounds apiece of fourballs and alternate shot.

Burns' partner this week is William McGirt. Their games couldn’t be more different – Burns ranks eighth on Tour in driving distance, at 309 yards per pop, while McGirt is 143rd (290) – but they hope to compliment each other over four days at TPC Louisiana.


Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


“I got a good pair of spurs sharpened up last week while I was in San Antonio,” joked McGirt, who is looking for his first top-10 since the fall. “I told him I was going to ride him hard this week. It’ll be fun.”

Burns will have at least two (and maybe three) more opportunities to earn status, with starts lined up next week at the Wells Fargo Championship and also at the Memorial. He doesn’t face quite as much pressure because he won earlier this month on the Web.com Tour and currently sits fourth on the money list, essentially locking up his PGA Tour card for next season.

“It’s obviously nice to have that win,” he said, “but at the same time you have to be careful and make sure you play enough out there to where you’re secure for sure. You don’t want to get at the end of the year and then have two or three events left and you have to make a certain amount of money to get your card.

“So I’m just going step by step, tournament by tournament, and trying to figure out what’s the best route.”   

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Spieth-Palmer draw Rahm-Bryan early at Zurich

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:49 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The PGA Tour’s only team event gets underway Thursday at the Zurich Classic. Here are some featured groups to watch at TPC Louisiana.

Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley/Daniel Berger-Gary Woodland: 8:39 a.m. ET Thursday off 10 tee, 2:08 p.m. Friday off 1: 

The Bama boys, Thomas and Cauley, team up for the second consecutive year, after tying for fifth a year ago on the strength of a final-round 61. Berger teamed with Thomas Pieters a year ago but missed the cut, so he’ll try his luck with Woodland, who also shares a management team at Excel Sports.

Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer/Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan: 8:52 a.m. Thursday off 10, 2:19 p.m. Friday off 1: 

Spieth and Palmer finished fourth a year ago, five shots back of the leaders. Spieth is making his first start since his epic Sunday run at the Masters. Rahm and Bryan have opposite strengths – Rahm is one of the game’s preeminent drivers, while Bryan, statistically, is one of the worst – but the Spaniard is coming off a European Tour victory at home. Another wrinkle here: Even though no world-ranking points are on offer this week, Rahm is set to supplant Spieth as the third-ranked player in the world.

Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels/Brooks Koepka-Marc Turnesa: 1:31 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:42 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Two stars with questionable sidekicks. Ruffels is an up-and-coming Australian who has been playing primarily in Latin America. (He also shares a manager with Day.) Turnesa, meanwhile, got the call late last week from Koepka, who is finally ready to return from a 15-week layoff because of a wrist injury. They both play out of Medalist in South Florida, but Turnesa, 40, has turned his attention to real estate instead of professional golf.

Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay/Jonas Blixt-Cameron Smith: 1:44 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:53 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Reed makes his first start as Masters champion after taking off the past two weeks. This duo tied for 14th last year, undone by a Saturday 75 in foursomes play. Blixt and Smith are the defending champions, after shooting 27 under par last year and holding off Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a playoff. Blixt doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour since then, while Smith tied for fifth at the Match Play and the Masters.

Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson/Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar: 1:57 p.m. Thursday off 1, 10:04 a.m. Friday off 10:

Rose and Stenson, who have proved to be a formidable pairing in the Ryder Cup, were a stunning missed cut last year, after shooting 6 under par for two rounds. Watson teamed up with J.B. Holmes to finish fifth last year, while Kuchar is making his first start in this event since 2009.

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Zurich Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:09 pm

The PGA Tour tries team competition for the second year in a row at the Zurich Classic. Here are the key stats and information for play at TPC LouisianaClick here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $7,200,000 ($1,036,800 to each winner)

Course: TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards)

Defending champions: Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt (-27) in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner


News and notes

• All four reigning major champions - Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed - are in the field this week. This is the first time all four reigning major winners have played this event since 1984 (Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Tom Watson, Hall Sutton).

 Both members of winning team this week will earn an official PGA Tour victory, two-year Tour exemptions, and exemptions into the Players and PGA Championships.

• That said, no Official World Golf Ranking points are awarded from this event and winners will not earn exemptions into the 2019 Masters.


Notable teams in the field 

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson

 Rose won this event in 2014, when it was individual stroke play. From 2012-16, he was a combined 60 under at TPC Louisiana in stroke play, seven shots better than any other player.

 Rose has dramatically improved his performance on the greens from last season, moving from 123rd in strokes gained-putting to 10th.

 Stenson's last three starts look like this: solo 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T-6 at the Houston Open, and T-5 at the Masters.

Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan

 Rahm is coming off a victory at the Spanish Open, his second worldwide win in 2018 and fifth since Jan. 2017.

 Rahm outdrives Bryan by an average of 30 yards off the tee, 305.1 to 276.3.

 Rahm is second on Tour in the strokes gained-off the tee, while Bryan is 210th, last among qualifying players.

Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay

 Reed is just the fifth reigning Masters champ to play the Zurich since 2000, joining Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson (twice), and Bubba Watson.

 Reed has gone T-2, T-7, T-9, WIN in his last four starts.

 Cantlay broke through for his maiden PGA Tour win earlier this season at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.