The Rise of the PGA Tour Rookie

By Jason SobelJune 1, 2011, 11:47 am

Jhonattan Vegas had barely clinched the Bob Hope Classic in a playoff, winning a PGA Tour title in his fifth career start, when my phone bleated with a new text message.

It was from a veteran player who has yet to earn any first-place hardware and it was dripping with sarcasm: “Guess winning out here isn’t that difficult after all.”

Little did he know back in January, but rookie triumphs were about to become the hottest thing in golf since titanium drivers. Vegas was followed in the winner’s circle by fellow Nationwide Tour graduates Brendan Steele (Texas Open) and Keegan Bradley (Byron Nelson Championship) – each of whom would be putting together a pretty decent resume for his Rookie of the Year candidacy if it wasn’t for Charl Schwartzel, who simply won a little toonament called the Masters.

That’s four fantastic freshman finishes in the season’s first five months. If that sounds like a lot, well, it is. Last year, only two rookies won all season. The year before? Zero. The year before that? Four, but only one at this point in the calendar.

In the three decades since 1980, first-year Tour members have accounted for more than four victories on only three separate occasions. In the six-year period from 1981-86, there was a total of four rookie wins – equal to the number in the first 23 events this season.

All of which leads to – quite literally – the million-dollar question: Why?

Well, first let’s remove Schwartzel from the conversation. An elite player for years with a half-dozen international victories, his greatest success just happened to coincide with taking up PGA Tour membership this season. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he won, although becoming the first rookie to claim a major since Todd Hamilton seven years earlier certainly wasn’t expected.

The other three were each among the top 14 money leaders on the developmental circuit last year – and they each credit that experience for helping them win so quickly in the big leagues.

“I think this just shows how strong the Nationwide Tour is,” said Bradley, who defeated Ryan Palmer on the first playoff hole outside Dallas to win Sunday. “I was as prepared as I could be. I felt like I was ready and I wanted to contend and have the chance to win.”

“I felt like I was ready, but I didn’t think I would. I thought I’d see more good results before I won,” explained Steele, whose best result other than his victory is a T-17 at the Farmers Insurance Open. “The best explanation I can give is that the levels below the PGA Tour are getting better – college, Canadian Tour, Nationwide Tour – everything is improving. Instead of a few guys coming out of each tour, more and more are that good coming out each year.”

If this was professional baseball, these rookies would be carrying pink Hello Kitty knapsacks to the bullpen. If it was football, they’d be tied to the goalpost at practice and picking up the tab for extravagant dinners.

Instead, the only hazing taking place comes from weather conditions during twilight practice rounds. The rooks have reported nothing but random acts of kindness from their elders. Steele received a congratulatory phone call from Corey Pavin. Bradley got a handshake from Fred Couples. They both teed it up with Phil Mickelson at The Players Championship.

“With the individual nature of the sport, it’s different,” Steele said. “Everyone has welcomed me with open arms, especially after the win. When you first get out here, it’s sort of an uncomfortable feeling; you haven’t earned any respect. It’s nice to get that respect once you’ve earned it.”

It’s all a complete departure from usual rookie strategy: Work hard, grind away, get some experience, hope to play well, try to keep your card. Now these players can hit the ground running filled with confidence.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s a team mentality among the newbies in this ultimately individual pursuit.

“There’s a tightness amongst the 25 Nationwide Tour guys that graduated, no question,” Bradley maintained. “It’s amazing. It’s like we’re in some sort of weird club or fraternity together. It’s good to have out here; it can be lonely out here.”

“You’re almost like a graduating class out of high school or college,” Steele added. “They’re the guys that you know, you’re all in the same boat. I like Jhonny a lot, even though I don’t know him overly well. I’m good friends with Keegan, he’s a great guy and great player. I wasn’t surprised at all by his win; it was only a matter of time.”

All of which leads to the next step: The battle against complacency.

“I want to validate it and I want to validate it quickly,” Steele said. “I don’t want to sit back and enjoy my couple of years with an exemption.”

Sounds like that text message had it all wrong. Considering the moxie and preparedness of the current rookie crop, it’s becoming more difficult than ever to win PGA Tour events.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 22, 2018, 11:00 am

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Saturday, Day 3 (Times ET)

7AM-3PM (Watch): Jordan Spieth fired 65 to move into a three-way share of the 54-hole lead, while Tiger Woods (66) played his way into contention. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Rickie Fowler and Thorbjorn Olesen.

4:30-7AM (Watch): Sunny skies and birdies were on the menu early in Round 3, as Justin Rose made his way around Carnoustie in 64 strokes. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Henrik Stenson and Bryson DeChambeau.

Friday, Day 2 (Times ET)

8:20AM-3PM (Watch): As the skies cleared on Friday afternoon, defending champion Jordan Spieth made a run to try and regain the claret jug. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

1:30-8:20AM (Watch): On a rainy Friday morning at Carnoustie, Rory McIlroy shot 69 to reach 4 under, while Zach Johnson fired a 67 for the early lead. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter and Cameron Smith.

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 22, 2018, 8:30 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM ( Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM ( Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM ( Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM ( Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM ( Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 22, 2018, 8:30 am

Tiger Woods begins the final round of the 147th Open Championship four shots off the lead. He's out at 9:25 a.m. ET on Sunday and we're tracking him.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”