Just how far can a rookie go on the modern PGA Tour scene? Ask Xander Schauffele.
The 24-year-old went from PGA Tour member to two-time winner and Tour champion by the end of his 2016-17 rookie season. The San Diego State product went from relative anonymity to a firm spot on the list of young rising stars in the sport.
Is there another player who can pull a Schauffele in the 2017-18 campaign?
There’s certainly some already trying hard. The season is of course a couple months old due to its wraparound nature.
We already gave you five rookies to watch heading into the season. With some results flowing in, who is most likely to follow Schauffele to Rookie of the Year honors in 2017-18? Our top early candidates are below:
- Talor Gooch
It took a couple of years but Gooch, 26, is proving his game translates to the pro level. The standout at Oklahoma State (he finished each of his final three seasons top 50 in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings) had solid but unspectacular results in two Mackenzie Tour seasons, but he burst out in 2017 on the Web.com Tour. A runner-up-win sequence in back-to-back weeks late in the season pushed him to a sixth-place finish on the money list and to a PGA Tour card.
So far as a PGA Tour rookie, Gooch has missed just one cut in five starts and posted a best finish of T-16. He’ll need to ramp things up to be a true contender in the Rookie of the Year race, but he’s off to a promising start. He’s giving himself chances with good starts most weeks, now he’s just got to capitalize more on the weekend.
- Stephan Jaeger
It’s tough to leave the guy who shot 58 on the Web.com Tour then won twice there in 2017 off this list. Jaeger, 28, parlayed his hot play into a fifth-place showing on the Web.com Tour money list. But he would still be on the outside looking in on this list without a solid start to his 2017-18 PGA Tour rookie season.
Fortunately for Jaeger, he’s accomplished just that. Like Gooch, it’s been nothing too flashy, but Jaeger has been steady and posted some performances to build on. He’s also made four cuts in five starts, and three of those have produced top 30s. There’s a lot to like from Jaeger, and like Gooch the next step is to contend more often from these weekend spots.
- Aaron Wise
The 2016 NCAA individual champion is still just 21 years old, so he certainly remains a potential star. Even with a U.S. Amateur champion and former World Amateur No. 1 among these rookies, one could argue Wise has the most talent in this crop. He didn’t exactly dispel that when he posted a win and a third in a 2017 Web.com Tour season in which he only played 16 events but still earned his PGA Tour card.
Wise missed the cut in his opening event of his rookie PGA Tour season, but three of his next four starts produced results of T-25, T-32 and T-13. If Wise really brings out his best in 2017-18, expect to see those results improve further, and don’t be shocked if this guy posts a win or two in his rookie year.
- Peter Uihlein
That U.S. Amateur champion (2010) and former World Amateur No. 1 would be Uihlein. The 28-year-old is actually the only one on this list who didn’t earn his 2017-18 PGA Tour card via the Web.com Tour regular season money list – he got it through the Web.com Tour Finals. And it’s not because Uihlein didn’t play well enough in the 2017 Web.com Tour season. Uihlein has played in Europe in the early years of his career but did enough in limited 2016-17 PGA Tour starts to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals. With a chance to earn a PGA Tour card, Uihlein sealed things quickly by winning the opening Web.com Tour Finals event.
Uihlein has actually only played three events in his rookie PGA Tour season (he used the end of 2017 to finish out the European Tour season, too), but two have produced top-10 finishes (T-10 and T-5). The latter was a WGC field, too. With the combination of Uihlein’s pedigree and highly encouraging early results, he would be the early Rookie of the Year favorite, but…
- Austin Cook
… Cook got in the way of that. The 26-year-old ended the 2017 portion of the 2017-18 season with an emphatic victory at the RSM Classic. Cook impressed in the showing, but in the Rookie of the Year race the performance also got him something that no other rookie has at this point … a win.
As Schauffele could tell you, those prove invaluable on a Rookie of the Year candidate’s resume. Frankly, Uihlein’s resume in three events was better than Cook’s in his first three, as the former Razorback didn’t miss a cut and had two top 25s but only a best finish of T-20. The win, though, for sure puts Cook ahead early in this race, especially as he sits third in the FedEx Cup standings.
Cook actually didn’t win in his 2017 Web.com Tour campaign that saw him place 15th on the money list and gain his PGA Tour card. Good thing he saved it for his PGA Tour days. Cook has a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour because of it, and if he ends up winning Rookie of the Year, that RSM victory will have likely served as the early catalyst. [/restrict]