Category: PGA Tour

Greats of the Game: Volume I—The Top 5

Arnold Palmer: Brings Golf to Prime-Time

Major championship performance and PGA Tour wins are the biggest factors in determining where players stand in the history of golf, but making cuts and Top-10 finishes are also important for identifying excellence and consistency.

In deriving our ratings, major championship wins carry the most weight, followed by major runner-up finishes and Tour wins. Top-5’s and Top-10’s at the majors also receive strong consideration, along with wins on the DP World Tour and to a lesser degree, wins on other recognized Tours (Japan Tour, Asian Tour, etc.).

Making cuts and Top-10 finishes are calculated on the basis of percentage in relation to total starts at PGA Tour sanctioned events through age 49 (when players become eligible for the Champions Tour). Top 10 percentage is given considerable weight, and cut percentage is also a factor in the rating a player receives.   

Cuts and Top-10 percentage are overstated as a measure for Snead and Hogan, because fields were limited–but this is offset by the fact that each lost prime years in their career due to WWII (they were both 29 in 1941).

While Bobby Jones is certainly amoing the top 5 players in history with 4 U.S. Open and 3 Open Championship titles, he chose to remain an amateur and therefore has no PGA record for reference–and is not included below.

Nicklaus: Still the Greatest

Number 1: Jack Nicklaus (403)

In addition to his 18 major championship wins, Jack recorded 55 Top-10 finishes at the majors (19 runner-up’s, 19 Top-5’s and 17 Top-10’s)–by far the most of any player in history. The Golden Bear also recorded 55 Tour wins along with his major championships for a total of 73, and he had the highest Top-10 percentage (60.2%) and cut percentage (93.6%) of any modern-day player.

Tiger: Closing in on Jack

Number 2: Tiger Woods (386)

Tiger is second to Jack with 15 major championship wins, a close second in Top-10 percentage (91%) and just behind Nicklaus in cut percentage as well at 54.9%. With his 67 Tour wins, Tiger is tied with Sam Snead for the most wins in history (82), and also added 8 wins on the DP world Tour. At 46 years old, Tiger still has a number of years with which to add additional wins and Top-10 finishes—so Jack’s position at No. 1 is by no means a certainty when all is said and done.  

Sam Snead: Most All-Time Wins
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Number 3: Sam Snead (385)

Sam Snead recorded 7 major championship victories along with 75 wins on Tour, setting the mark of 82 total wins (tied by Tiger.) Snead made the cut in 391 of the 394 tournaments he entered (99%), and recorded Top 10 finishes in 75% of those events. When you include 8 runner-up finishes, 15 Top-5’s and 18 Top-10’s at the major championships, Snead comes up at No. 3—just a whisker behind Tiger.

Ben Hogan: 9 major Championships
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Number 4: Ben Hogan (331)

Ben Hogan won 9 major championships along with 55 PGA events. He made the cut in 97.8% of the tournaments he played, and finished in the top 10 close to 80% of the time. After his near fatal auto accident in 1949 at age 36, Hogan never played more than 6 tournaments in any year—yet won 6 more major champions and recorded an additional 15 top 10’s at the majors (including 4 runner-up’s).

Number 5: Arnold Palmer (301)

Arnie’s career spanned 55 years from 1949 through his last appearance at The Masters in 2004, and while Tiger has had a huge impact on the popularity of golf in the last 25 years, Palmer brought the game to prime-time—and set the stage for the global appeal that golf currently enjoys. And he was perfect for the role. Photogenic with a big personality, tremendous power and ability combined with a go-for-broke style of play that endeared him to millions—commonly known as “Arnie’s Army.”

Throughout the course of his career, Arnie won 7 major championships and recorded 55 wins on tour. When Jack burst onto the PGA Tour in 1962, Palmer was still in his prime at 32 years and had just won The Masters and The Open Championship—and while Arnie added only one more major win (1964 Masters), he recorded an additional 7 major runner-up’s and 7 Top-10’s through 1970.

Palmer also made the cut in 90% of the tournaments he entered, with a Top-10 percentage of 43.5%.

Byron Nelson: No. 6

Keep an eye out for Greats of the Game Volume II, where we will take a look at Byron Nelson (No. 6), Gary Player (No. 7), Walter Hagan (No. 8), Gene Sarazen (No. 9), and Phil Mickelson at No. 10.

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Tony Finau Goes Back-To-Back

Tony Finau: Back-To-Back wins at 3M and Rocket Mortgage

Tony Finau cruised to victory last week at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, giving him back-to-back wins after his dominant performance at the 3M Open the previous week. His latest win (and 4th on tour), included rounds of 64, 66, 65 and 67—5 shots clear of the field, and a new tournament record score of 26 under par.

It’s been 3 years since anyone has won consecutive events on the PGA Tour (Brendon Todd did it back in 2019), and Tony’s accomplishment couldn’t have come at two courses that were less alike. The venerable Detroit Golf Club (Rocket Mortgage) was founded back in 1899 and features a classic Donald Ross design, while TPC Twin Cities (3M) is an extremely demanding Palmer design built in 2000. That tells you Finau can win anywhere, on any track, when he’s driving the ball consistently and making a few putts—because there are not many on Tour with his kind of power.    

Detroit Golf: Donald Ross Design

Breaking the Jinx

Since Tony’s first full season back in 2014-15, he’s been among the best on tour, making the cut in almost 80% of the tournaments he enters, while averaging 7 Top 10’s a year (and he’s recorded 10 Top 10’s at the major championships). But wins had been illusive—until now. Some believed it was due to the Puerto Rico Open jinx (Tony’s first Tour win was in Puerto Rico), because for a long time only Michael Bradley (the ’09 winner) was able to win again on tour after winning there (and his only other win was in Puerto Rico in 2011). Victor Hoveland (the 2020 winner) first dispelled the jinx by adding a win in 2021 at Mayakoba, and then Tony broke the jinx as well with his win at the Northern Trust in 2021—but notching two wins in a row should put an end to the jinx forever.

The Early Years

Tony was born on September 14, 1989 in Salt Lake City, Utah, and golf first grabbed his attention when he was 7 years old and Tiger burst onto the scene, winning 2 of the first 8 tournaments he entered. Picking up a copy of Nicklaus’ “Golf My Way,” he and his father (who had no knowledge of golf) set about learning the fundamentals of the game. His talent became immediately apparent, and with the support of his mom and dad he played junior tournaments throughout the state, ultimately winning the 2006 Utah State Amateur Championship at just 16 years old.

Big Break: Tony 2014
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Although he was offered scholarships to play college golf at Stanford and BYU, and he was sought after to play basketball at Utah State and Webber State, Tony decided to turn pro at 18 and began playing various mini-tour events to get right into the action. In 2009 Finau got his first break—literally—when he landed a place on Golf Channel’s hit show “Big Break.” Although he finished second, golf fans were able to get their first look at Tony’s immense power—and with his grit and determination, it was only a matter of time before he would bring his talent to the PGA Tour.

In 2011, however, Tony’s golf career was put on hold when his mother was tragically killed in an automobile accident. Raised in a close-knit family, the loss of his mother hit him hard and it was almost a year before he could resume competitive golf.

Tony Overcomes Tragedy
Childhood Biography (https://childhoodbiography.com/)

By 2013 he was back, competing on the Canadian Tour where he made the cut in 7 of 8 events including 2 Top 10’s. And in 2014 he qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour, making the cut in 19 of 23 events with 5 Top 10’s including a win—and earned his PGA Tour card for the 2014-2015 season.

PGA Tour

In his first year on Tour Tony racked up 5 Top-10 finishes, including a T10 at the PGA Championship and a T8 at The Memorial. In 2016 he recorded his first win at the Puerto Rico Open, and in 2017 Tony made the cut in 24 of 29 events with 8 Top-10’s and the first of his 5 consecutive trips to the Tour Championship (where he finished with a T7).

Perhaps one of the most defining moments of Tony’s career came at the 2018 Masters, when he dislocated his ankle following an ace at the par 3 tournament on Wednesday, popped it back in, and proceeded to record a T10 with a closing 66 on a purple foot that looked like something from a horror film. At the 2019 Masters Tony shared the 54 lead and played in the final group with Tiger, fulfilling a life-long dream while getting a front row seat of history in the making, as Woods recorded his 15th major championship victory (Tony played well amid the frenzied gallery, posting a final round 72 while finishing 2 stokes back for a T5).

2018 Masters: Tough as Nails

With his back-to-back wins Finau has moved to No. 13 in the World Golf Rankings, and his game could not have rounded into top form at a better time as the FedEx Cup playoffs get under way in two weeks. Tony has made it clear that he has no intention of jumping at the money offered by LIV, and with nearly $3 million in earnings from the last two weeks alone, its seems that his decision was sound from a financial standpoint as well.

Finau Ready for FedEx Cup Run

Tony now holds the No. 7 position in the FedEx Cup standings, just behind Rory McIlroy, and the way he’s playing it would be a surprise if he didn’t move up even further—with the $18 million first place check waiting at the end of the rainbow.

And it couldn’t happen for a more deserving young man.

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The Greatest of All-Time: Tiger and Jack

Watching Tiger walk the fairway at the final hole on the Old Course at St. Andrews, where he received a rousing tribute at a place where golf history has been made for centuries, brought back images of Nicklaus when he made his last appearance at The Open in 2005.

While the 2022 Open may not be the last for Tiger, it seems an appropriate moment to look at the greatest two players in the history of golf side by side—and the similarity is striking.

Tiger’s eventual induction to the World Golf Hall of Fame was inevitable from the moment he burst onto the golf scene, as he surpassed Jack with three U.S. Amateur titles (1994-1996), while Jack won only two, losing in the quarter-finals in 1959. Under the carefully scripted guidance of Earl Woods, the father whom he deeply loved and admired, Tiger’s arrival on Tour had been long anticipated (most everyone has seen the famous clip of Tiger, at two years old, putting against Bob Hope on the Mike Douglas Show).

For Tiger though, it was always about Jack. Unlike every other sport, in golf there was never a debate about the best everhands down it was Nicklaus. And since Tiger’s goal from when he first picked up a club was to be the greatest ever to play the game, then Jack was the man to beat.

As a boy, Tiger had a list of Nicklaus’ amateur accomplishments hanging on his wall, with Jack’s age when each was achieved. Nicklaus was 17 years old when he first stepped onto the stage at the 1957 U.S. Open, and Tiger made his debut at 16 (the 1992 Nissan Open)—becoming the youngest ever to compete in a PGA Tour event. Expectations were sky high for Tiger as an enormous gallery gathered to follow him, and he also got a glimpse of the future, as the media hounded him relentlessly while exiting the eighteenth green when he completed his first round.

Tiger wins first U.S. Amateur

Amateur Careers

Pushing himself to stay ahead of Jack, however, would be no easy task. In ’93, when Tiger was 17, he entered three PGA Tour events, but missed the cut in each by a wide margin. At 18 he entered three more PGA tournaments, once again missing the cut in each. Jack, at 18, played two events—the U.S. Open (missing the cut), and the Rubber City Classic, where he made the cut and finished in a tie for 15th. Tiger needed to kick it up a notch.

In 1995 at age 19 he did just that—making his first ever cut at a PGA sanctioned event, and ironically it was The Masters, where his star shines the brightest. Jack, at 19, played seven Tour events, including the Masters and U.S. Open, missing the cut in both, but making the cut in all five regular Tour events, including a T12 at the Buick Invitational. But for Tiger and Jack, it’s always all about the majors, so Tiger had nudged ahead.

In ’96, at 20 years old and still an amateur, Tiger entered three tournaments–The Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship. He missed the cut at The Masters, but made the cut at the U.S. Open, and tied for 22nd at The Open Championship. In 1960, when Nicklaus was 20 and still an amateur, he also entered three tournaments–the Masters (tied for thirteenth), the U.S. Open (where he famously finished second to Arnie at Cherry Hills), and the Buick Open (making the cut). Again, Tiger would need to elevate his game to stay ahead of Jack, and once again he did exactly that—but with a different approach.

Nicklaus retained his amateur status through his 21st birthday in 1961, recording a T7 at The Masters and a T4 at the U.S. Open, while entering five regular tour events—and making the cut in each (including a T6 at the Milwaukee Open.)

Tiger, on the other hand, decided to turn pro at 20 following the ’96 Open Championship, and immediately dominated the Tour. He made the cut in all eight tournaments he entered, including 2 wins (The Vegas Invitational and The Oldsmobile Classic), a T3 at The Texas Open, T5 at The Quad Cities, and finished up with a trip to The Tour Championship.

For Tiger, his early challenges against seasoned tour pros served only to deepen his resolve, intensify his focus, and set the stage for an assault on the record book that Nicklaus had rewritten. And while Tiger and Jack have much in common, including tremendous power, uncanny putting, and the ability to hit towering long irons and destroy Par 5’s, what sets them apart from all others is a monumental will to win. Who can forget Tiger’s putt on eighteen at Torrey Pines in the 2008 U.S. Open, where he fought through seventy-two holes with a fractured leg and torn ligaments in his knee to defeat Rocco Mediate. Or the putt Nicklaus holed on seventeen at The Masters in 1986, when he fired a back nine 30 on Sunday to win his final major at forty-six years old.

The Chase

Both Tiger and Jack won their first major championship at 22 years old (the ’62 U.S. Open for Jack and the ’97 Masters for Tiger). While in his twenties, Tiger won eight Major’s, including four in a row (the famous “Tiger Slam”) beginning with the 2000 U.S. Open through the 2001 Masters, putting him ahead of Jack’s pace (Nicklaus won seven majors in his twenties).

Curiously, both Jack and Tiger went into a lull at exactly the same time, as neither recorded a major win at 28 and 29 years of age. But Tiger came out of it faster, with four major wins between ‘05 and ’06, giving him a total of 12 major championships at 31 years old, while increasing his margin to 3 over Jack, who had 9 majors at 31.

Tiger added 2 more majors in ‘07 and ‘08, giving him 14 major championship wins at 33 years old as he headed into the 2009 season. Jack had picked up 3 majors between ’72 and ’73, giving him a total of 12 at age 33— so Tiger held a comfortable lead as he prepared to make his final assault on Jack’s record.

Tiger Struggles

The Struggle

Following his incredible win at the 2008 U.S. Open, Tiger underwent surgery to repair the ruptured tendons in his knee, and missed the rest of the season. But with intensive rehab, he was back for the ’09 season and looking like the Tiger of old. He recorded six wins including top 10’s at the Masters and U.S. Open, and a runner up at the PGA Championship. As the season came to a close it seemed certain that he would break Nicklaus’ record for major championship victories.

The runner-up finish at the ’09 PGA, however, would prove to be a turning point, the beginning of what became a long and difficult struggle for Tiger. He went into Sunday as the leader by two shots over Y.E. Yang and Padraig Harrington, having never yielded the lead at a major going to the final round. On this day, however, the clutch putts that had always been Tiger’s trademark failed to fall, and Yang charged past him to take the championship. The veil of invincibility had been lifted.

Within months his world was rocked again by reports of marital infidelity, his pristine image pummeled by the media as past transgressions came flooding out. Shortly thereafter his wife filed for divorce, and sponsors began to abandon him. While Tiger had been able to overcome physical injury, and even the loss of his dad in 2006, the steely mental toughness that defined him had taken a major blow, and he failed to record a single win in 2010 and 2011.

Mounts his Comeback

The Come Back

As the 2012 season got under way Tiger picked himself up, and at 37 years old he was determined to continue his pursuit of Jack. With seventy-one tour wins, he was only two behind Nicklaus, and even though he hadn’t won a major since 2008, he was still on pace to challenge Jack’s record for major championship wins (Jack also had fourteen majors at 37). Tiger recorded three wins in 2012 to pass Nicklaus in regular Tour titles, and added five more in 2013 to put some distance between them. Unfortunately, though, he was unable to take any of the majors (his best finishes were a T3 at the Open Championship in 2012, and a T4 at the Masters in 2013), so for the first time, at 39 years old, Tiger was behind Jack’s pace in his quest for the major championship record (Jack had recorded 15 major wins at age 39).

Tiger Fights Through Injury

The Pain

And then Tiger’s back blew up. It started toward the end of the 2013 season when he was hit with severe back spasms at The Barclays, just as the FedEx Cup playoffs were getting under way. Somehow, he was able to finish second, and make it through the final weeks of the season to the Tour Championship, but the writing was on the wall. Even after a few months of rest and rehab, the pain was only getting worse. Tiger tried to push through it as the 2014 season got underway, but was forced to withdraw from the Honda in early March and underwent his first back surgery shortly thereafter, announcing that he would miss the Masters (and he would miss the U.S. Open as well).

Determined to compete at the remaining majors, Tiger came back for the Open Championship and the PGA, but it was clear that the surgery had been unsuccessful, and even his indomitable will just wasn’t enough. Finishing well back at The Open, and then missing the cut at the PGA Championship, Tiger shut it down for the remainder of the season, opting for rest and rehab once again—but the pain would not subside.

In 2015 he tried to fight his way through once again, but was only able to tee it up 11 times, with his best finish a T17 at the Masters, while missing the cut at the other three majors. And so, at age 40, Tiger found himself 3 behind Nicklaus’ pace for the record in major championship wins (Jack recorded his seventeenth at 40).

Tiger made a decision to have a second back surgery in September, followed by another procedure barely a month later, and the 2016 season was completely lost. When he tried to return in 2017, his back broke down again, leaving him only one alternative for resuming his pursuit—a fourth surgery, this time spinal fusion, and the loss of yet another full season.

Tiger Wins Fifteenth Major Championship

The Resurrection

Most people would have given up at that point, but Tiger is not most people. After the surgery he dedicated himself to an even more rigorous rehab, and returned for the 2018 season ready to go. In 18 events he finished in the top ten 7 times, including a T6 at the Open Championship and a runner-up at the PGA, and then capped off the season with a win at the Tour Championship. But he had failed to move closer in his goal of reaching Jack’s record for major championship wins.

And then Tiger won The Masters in 2019, his 15th major title (and 5th Green Jacket), so at 44 he had suddenly moved back to within two of Nicklaus’ pace (Jack had recorded 17 major wins at 44, with his 18th and final major championship coming at age 46).

As the 2020 season got going Tiger came out strong with a T9 at The Farmers, held each year at Torrey Pines where he had won the 2008 U.S. Open. It looked like Tiger would make his presence felt in a big way at the 2020 major championships when suddenly the pandemic hit, putting the Tour season (and Tiger’s pursuit) on hold. By the time the world began opening up again, only two major championships could be held—The PGA, where Tiger recorded a T37, and the U.S. Open (that had been moved to September), where Tiger missed the cut.

The Challenge
Sports Illustrated (https://www.si.com/)

The Challenge

As everyone knows, Tiger was involved in a horrendous automobile accident in February 2021, suffering massive leg injuries from which he is making a slow but steady recovery. At 46, it may appear that Tiger’s chase to match or surpass Jack’s major championship record is over.

Counting Tiger out, however, is never a good idea. You can be sure he has no intention of walking into the sunset just yet, and he’ll be back giving it everything he has. As the saying goes, “if there is a will, there is a way,” and Tiger has proven again and again that there is no one with a greater will to win.

Tiger and Jack

The Recap

With 82 PGA Tour victories, Tiger has surpassed Jack at seventy-three, and matched the record held by Sam Snead. And his 15 major championship wins are second only to Jack’s 18. Regardless of whether Tiger comes back to win another major or breaks Sam Snead’s record for Tour wins, the sports world now has a fierce debate as to the greatest golfer of all time.

Tiger holds 3 U.S. Amateur Championships to Jack’s 2, while Jack holds 18 Major Championships to Tiger’s 15, but Tiger won 82 tour events to Jack’s 73. Some may point to Jack’s overall record at the majors (Nicklaus finished in the top five 56 times, while Tiger recorded 33 Top-5 finishes), and others may say that Tiger faced much deeper fields throughout his career than did Jack.

Much of Tiger’s prime was lost to injury as well, and there is little doubt that he would have matched or surpassed Jack’s major championship win total had he remained healthy. Illness and injury have impacted the careers of great athletes throughout history, however. Lou Gehrig recorded 2,721 hits and had 493 home runs when he was diagnosed with ALS on his 36th birthday. And Bo Jackson, who likely would have been recognized as the greatest athlete in the history of sport, suffered a career ending injury at age 29 (he was selected for both the MLB All-Star team and NFL Pro Bowl—the only athlete ever to accomplish that feat).

Tiger has created a legacy of greatness that is simply remarkable, and while he may fall just short of his ultimate goal all those years ago, he has allowed us to witness golf history in the making— and don’t be surprised if he doesn’t find a way to keep Jack in his sights.

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All-time Player Rankings

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Measuring Greatness: Jack, Tiger, and the Young Stars on Tour

Jack and Tiger: A League of Their Own

While Major Championships and Tour wins define a player’s legacy, making cuts and recording Top-10’s are the most revealing measurement of success in professional golf. Not surprisingly, Jack and Tiger set the high-water mark for these criteria as well, and they are the standard of comparison when looking at the current group of highly talented young stars.

In the graphic below, Jack’s numbers include the entirety of his career, through his retirement at age 65—and it is particularly impressive that his percentage of Top-10 finishes remains so much higher than any player other than Tiger, even when his twilight years on Tour are included.

Athletes peak at different ages, and unfortunately, injury also plays a significant role. For Jack, his percentage of Top-10’s actually increased throughout his 30’s (his Top-10 percentage was 71.8% on his 30th birthday, and 74.5% when he turned 40). Tiger, on the other hand, built the bulk of his record in his 20’s, with serious physical issues beginning to impact his play almost immediately on turning 30. He lost significant portions of the 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2015 seasons, so although Tiger’s Top-10 percentage stood at 66.0% on his 30th birthday, it fell to 60.4% when he turned 40. And then he lost the entire 2015-2016 season following another back surgery.

Current players are at different stages in their career, so the best way to view performance is by looking at percentages, rather than just the totals. As shown in the graphic below, there is a vast gulf in Top-10 percentage between Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy (No.’s 1 and 2), and Dustin Johnson (No. 3).

Rory McIlroy and John Rahm: Separating themselves from the Field

Jon Rahm, at 27 years old, is only just entering the peak performance years of his career, and Rory, at 33, is at the height of his ability. Collin Morikawa, 25 years old, with the same Top-10 percentage as Dustin Johnson and a significantly higher cut percentage, has virtually his entire career before him. It will be fascinating to track the progress of the current group of talented young PGA Tour stars over the next decade and more, when viewed against the eye-popping numbers that Jack and Tiger put up.

Collen Morikawa: Two Majors at 25

Movers

Although Scottie Scheffler has the look of a much more “seasoned” pro, he only just turned 26 on June 21. On top of his Masters victory in April, and strong performance at the U.S. Open (T2), Scottie has made the cut in 18 of the 20 events he’s played this year while recording 9 Top-10’s (including 4 wins). When The Open Championship gets underway at St. Andrews in July, it’s a pretty safe bet that Scheffler will be on the leader board come Sunday.

Scheffler, Thomas and Spieth: Moving the Needle

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, boyhood rivals with 5 major championships between them, are both at the top of the list when it comes to making cuts and Top-10 percentage. Still in their 20’s, each is a lock for the World Golf Hall of Fame when the curtain comes down on their careers.

Will Zalatoris (No. 8), at 25 years old, has already recorded 6 Top-10’s in major championships. While he has yet to record his first Tour victory, his ball striking is second to none. Should Will begin to putt with more consistency, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Players with Hall of Fame talent who have yet to reach 25 years of age include Victor Hoveland (No. 20), Sungjae Im (No. 23), and Joaquin Niemann (No. 28).

With so much talent currently on the PGA Tour, challenging the records of Jack and Tiger would seem an impossible task—but it makes for tremendous excitement week in and week out.

LIV

While LIV has picked off 7 of the Career Top 30, closer inspection reveals that the Tour hasn’t given up a whole heck of a lot. As a group, the PGA ex-pats played a total of 99 events in the 2021-2022 season, making just 66 cuts (66%) along with a grand total of 10 Top-10 Finishes (10%). Surprisingly, the star of the show is Abraham Ancer with 3 Top-10’s.

Mickelson, Johnson and Koepka: 4 Top-10’s combined in 2022

Perhaps it’s mostly related to age, with just one defector under 30 years old (Bryson DeChambeau). Two are soon to be 40 (Louis Oosthuizen–39 and Dustin Johnson–38), Sergio is 42, and Phil just turned 52.

Phil and Dustin have already punched their ticket to the World Golf Hall of Fame, but with only 1 major and 6 Tour wins, Sergio has become an extreme long shot (although his 22 worldwide wins give him an outside chance). Pat Reed with 1 major and 9 Tour wins, has removed himself from any consideration. Koepka, with 4 major championships, has closed out his PGA Tour career with a total of  only 8 wins—so his chances of getting to the Hall are now very much in doubt.

The Saudi’s have paid a boatload of money with this venture, but the quality of their purchases have thus far been questionable to say the least.          

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World Rank Top 30: The Changing Face of Golf

Young Guns

There are seven players among the top 30 in the world golf rankings who have yet to hit their 26th birthday. Everyone is buzzing about 25-year-old Scottie Scheffler after his dominant victory at The Masters. And Collin Morikawa (also 25), with 5 tour wins including two major championships, lived up to everyone’s expectations by closing with a brilliant final round 67 to record a Top 5. But the next big story may well come from one of the three youngest members of this talented group. Sungjae Im, who just turned 24, has accumulated 24 Top 10 finishes in his early career, the same number as Morikawa and one more than Scheffler. Also keep a sharp eye on Victor Hoveland and Joaquin Niemann. Niemann, the youngest of the group at 23, has recorded 20 Top 10’s including a pair of wins. Hoveland, at 24, has notched 3 wins on tour with 12 additional Top 10’s, and has made the cut in 54 of his 60 Tour starts (90%), a figure that surpasses even Morikawa (89%). So, who are these guys? Flying under the radar, they each learned the game abroad, and followed different paths on their journey to the PGA Tour—but don’t be too surprised if one of them suddenly jumps up and flashes across your screen on Sunday next month at the PGA Championship.

Sungjae Im (Age 24/No. 19 in the World Rankings)

Sungjae Im grew up in South Korea. Both of his parents were avid golfers, so he became interested in the game as soon as he could walk and started hitting balls at 4 years old. Sungjae had the gift, so he attended the Korea National Sport University and was named to the South Korean National team in 2014 at 16 years old. In 2015, he received an exemption to play an event on the Japan Tour, and shortly thereafter turned pro. In 2017, at 18 years old, Sungjae played a full year on the Japan Tour and made the most of it, finishing among the top 15 on the money list—which gained him eligibility for the 2018 Korn Ferry Tour season. Blazing right out of the blocks, Sungjae won the first tournament he entered, finished second the following week, and ended the year at No.1 on the Korn Ferry money list while taking home Player of the Year honors—which qualified him for the 2019 PGA Tour season. Talk about a fast track.

Sungjae Im

Once again Sungjae jumped on his opportunity, entering 35 Tour events while making the cut in 26 of them. He recorded 7 Top 10’s, including a T4 in his first event (The Safeway Open), T3 at Bay Hill and a T4 at the Valspar, culminating in a trip to the Tour Championship. In 2020 he had to back it down to 26 events (due to COVID cancellations), but made the cut in 21 of them while recording his first Tour win (The Honda), and tacked on 6 additional Top 10’s—once again getting to the Tour Championship, where he finished 11th.

In 2021 Sungjae ramped back up to 35 Tour events, and made the cut 29 times. His win at the Honda got him into the Masters, and again he made the most of it by finishing in a tie for second behind Dustin Johnson. He then added a T5 at the Tournament of Champions, a 3rd at the BMW, and his third consecutive trip to the Tour Championship.

As the 2022 season rolls through the Spring, Sungjae shows no sign of slowing down. He’s entered 15 events and made the cut in 13 of them, adding his second win (The Shriner’s) and 4 additional Top 10’s-including a T8 at the Masters. With his foot pressed firmly on the gas, Sungjae Im seems determined to add a major championship to his resume in the near future—and based on what he has done thus far, I would not bet against him.

Joaquin Niemann (Age 23/N0. 16 in the World Rankings)   

Joaquin Niemann was born in Santiago, Chile, and he’s the youngest of this stellar group. Like Sungjae Im, Joaquin was swinging a club from the time he could walk (his father gave him a plastic club when he was two years old). Athletics in general was integral to the Niemann family (his mom was a member of the Chilean National Field hockey Team, and his dad played college basketball), but for Joaquin it was always all about golf. He attended a high school for athletes, and the golf program provided him the opportunity to compete in Junior golf championships all over the world—and he won a boatload of them. At 18 years old, Joaquin became the No. 1 ranked amateur in world, and held that position for 48 weeks before turning pro to compete at the Valero Texas Open—where at 19 years old he finished 6th. He entered 11 more events in the 2018 season, making the cut in 9 of them (including 4 Top 10’s) while earning his tour card in record time. In the 2019 season, still only 19 and sporting braces, Joaquin played 28 events—and made the cut 21 times while adding 4 more top 10’s. The following year Joaquin recorded his first Tour win at The Greenbrier (by a whopping 6 shots), joining Tiger, Phil, Rory and Jordan Spieth among the short list of players to win before their 21st birthday. He then added 4 more Top 10’s, including a T5 at the Heritage, a T3 at the BMW, and a trip to the Tour Championship.

Joaquin Niemann

2021 was a breakout season for Niemann. He made the cut in 26 of the 27 Tour events he entered, and recorded 5 Top 10’s, including 3 runner-up finishes (The Tournament of Champions, Sony Open and Rocket Mortgage), while making it to the Tour Championship once again.

The 2022 season is shaping up to be another big year for Joaquin, recording his second Tour victory (The Genesis Invitational) with 2 additional Top 10’s (a T5 at Mayakoba and a T6 at The Farmers). Currently at No. 13 in the FedEx Cup standings, look for Niemann to challenge at the majors this year—and perhaps the PGA Championship will be his biggest moment yet.

Viktor Hoveland (Age 24/No. 5 in the World Rankings)

Born and raised in Oslo Norway, Viktor Hoveland first gained notoriety by winning the Norwegian Amateur in 2014 at the age of 16. He then brought his talent to the U.S., accepting a golf scholarship to Oklahoma State University, where he was named a first team All-American in his sophomore year. In 2018, Viktor won the U.S. Amateur Championship, and became the No. 1 ranked amateur in the world in April of 2019. As the Amateur champ, Hovland gained entrance to the 2019 Masters, making the cut and finishing as low amateur (3 under par). He also competed at the 2019 U.S. Open as an amateur, opening eyes with a T12 at Pebble Beach. Following the Open, Viktor turned pro and made six starts in the remaining 2019 season—making the cut in all six and closing with a T4 at the Wyndham.

Viktor Hoveland

In 2020 (his first full year on Tour), Viktor recorded an early win at the Puerto Rico Open—only his sixteenth professional start. He then added 2 more Top 10’s, including a 3rd at the Workday Charity Open, and capped it off by getting to the Tour Championship. In the 2021 season Hoveland recorded his second Tour win (The Mayakoba Classic), and made the cut in 22 of 24 events he played with six additional Top 10’s, including 2 runner-up finishes, 2 T3’s and a T5 at the Tour Championship.

This year Viktor has been even more impressive with another win (back-to-back at Mayakoba), 10 of 11 cuts made, and 3 more Top 10’s including a T2 at Bay Hill. Currently at No. 7 in the FedEx Cup standings, and ninth on Tour in scoring average, Viktor Hoveland is primed for an assault on the majors—and it would be hard to find a nicer young man to pull for.

As the Tour continues to take on an international flavor, these three talented young men who hail from the far corners of the world are changing the face of golf—and fans will enjoy their thrilling play for many years to come.

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Phil Should Defend at Southern Hills

Southern Hills Country Club, Tulsa OK

For the past two decades, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been the preeminent figures in golf. Tiger achieved that status primarily on the extraordinary things he’s done on the golf course—and they are monumental without question. Phil’s legacy has been built largely on personal warmth and family values, as well as his remarkable achievements on the PGA Tour. When the scandal involving Tiger’s personal life exploded at the end of 2009 and continued into the Spring of 2010, there was no question that he would be at Augusta National in April. Yet a few ill-chosen words regarding Saudi Arabia have resulted in a 2022 Masters without Phil. And his appearance at Southern Hills to defend as reigning PGA Champion appears to be in doubt as well. The severity of the treatment Mickelson has received from golf’s establishment and the media is far beyond what would be considered reasonable, so clearly there is much more here than meets the eye.

Gary Player at The Masters
NY Post (https://nypost.com/)

Putting the Saudis Aside

The Saudi connection to the Super Golf League, while less than appealing, is most definitely not an issue that would raise the ire of the PGA Tour to such a degree. Two of golf’s legendary figures, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, have forged ties with golf in Saudi Arabia without creating a ripple in the media. Jack is currently designing an exclusive private course in the Kingdom (Qiddiya), just outside of Riyadh. And Gary Player, who recently joined Nicklaus Design, has been named the “International Ambassador” for Golf Saudi. Yet both took their rightful place as honorary starters at the 2022 Masters, with neither the PGA Tour nor Augusta National voicing a concern of any kind (and Gary even attended the ceremony displaying a Golf Saudi logo).

Qiddiya: Nicklaus Dessin
ASGCA (https://asgca.org/)

It’s Business

At the end of the day, money is at the heart of the matter. The PGA Tour generates annual revenue in excess of a billion dollars, and anything that threatens to disrupt that revenue stream is viewed as an existential threat. While being among the most recognized athletes in the world (No. 12 according to Business Insider), and even with the substantial resources he brings to the table, Phil simply can’t go head-to-head with the Tour. But considering all of the goodwill and excitement that Phil has generated for so many years, it is stunning to see just how far the PGA Tour is willing to go. And seeing Tiger at The Masters was wonderful, but it was painfully obvious that he pushed the envelope too far this time with such an early return. While Tiger is the fiercest competitor the world has ever known, and Augusta holds a special place in his heart, one has to wonder if he also felt pressure to deliver an inevitable spike in ratings—particularly in light of Phil’s conspicuous absence. Tiger most certainly delivered the ratings, and now we can only hope he is able to recover and make his presence felt at the PGA Championship in May.

Phil and Family
Chapelboro (https://chapelboro.com/)

Perspective

Phil has always put family first, and it is commonly known that once an event is concluded and he has given himself to the fans by signing countless autographs, he will immediately head home to have as much time as possible with Amy and his children. And while the rift between Phil and the Tour is essentially a business conflict, the media storm surrounding it has undoubtedly been difficult for the entire family. Keep in mind that Phil skipped the 2017 U.S. Open to attend his daughter’s High School graduation (where Amanda was delivering the commencement address), and they are a tightly knit group. The personal assault on Phil has escalated well beyond business boundaries, and the time has come for the Tour to consider everything that Phil Mickelson has done for the game of golf, and his importance to the millions who admire him as both a talented golfer and a good man. Amy has always stood behind Phil, in spite of his occasional missteps over the years. And they have been through challenging times before—so you can be sure the Mickelson family will weather this storm as well.

Reigning PGA Champion

Getting Back to Golf

Years from now, when the golf community looks back at the greats of the game to honor Phil along with Jack, Tiger, Snead and Hogan, this brief period of unpleasantness will be long forgotten. Now, however, it is time for the PGA Tour and Phil to mend fences and move on. Mickelson became the oldest player in golf history to win a major at the PGA Championship last year, and golf fans deserve the opportunity to see him defend it. What better way can there be to turn the page while ushering in the bright young stars of the future, than to see Phil and Tiger together at Southern Hills in May.

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