The talk all season has been about the young players on the PGA TOUR and how they're asserting themselves and pushing the veterans aside. The best ones have been identified and stamped for approval. Week after week guys like Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day are talked about as the next big things.
So what happens at the first major? Charl Schwartzel happens. An excellent player with a beautiful golf swing, Schwartzel birdied the last four holes and won the Masters. Schwartzel was on the radar because of runner-up finish at Doral last year and because he made the cut in every major in 2010. Still, anyone who said they predicted his victory at Augusta is probably telling a tall tale -- or perhaps is related to the winner.
The same thing happened last year to Louis Oosthuizen, who went from obscurity to holder of the Claret Jug. It happened to a lesser degree to Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer, who elevated their game and their international reputation by winning their first major championship.
It just goes to show that there are many good players out there who are capable to rising up and winning. Some are guys who've heard little about. Several of the Unsung Young Guns are in the field this week at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio. These guys are under 30, haven't won on the PGA TOUR, but have the qualifications that make them persons of interest this week in the shadow of the Alamo and in future majors.
Here are five players who began the week in the Valero Texas Open field (one of them a last-minute scratch) who may not be a big blip on your radar, but each one has the ability to one day "go Schwartzel" and win a major:
Marc Leishman: The big Aussie is farther along than the other four on the list. He was the 2009 PGA TOUR's rookie of the year and has two runner-up finishes in his career. He was third this year at Bay Hill thanks to a spirited final-round charge. Leishman hits the ball a long way and is capable of stringing together some low scores. He's ready to join his fellow countrymen like Adam Scott, Jason Day and Aaron Baddeley among the list of those worthy of major consideration.
Ben Martin: He had an All-American career at Clemson and was runner-up at the 2009 U.S. Amateur. Martin isn't a flashy player; he's content with being one of those steady guys who quietly gets the job done. Martin is probably less likely to be competitive in a tournament where it takes 20-under to win than he would be on a difficult course where it takes more consistency. For example, his best finish this season came at Torrey Pines. In baseball vernacular he would be considered "sneaky good."
Colt Knost: Most of the buzz about this Texan has been regarding his decision to become a professional in 2007, thus bypassing invitations to the 2008 Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship. It's still a touchy subject for Knost, who in 2007 joined Bobby Jones and Jay Sigel to become only the third player to win three USGA titles in a season. He's currently on his second season on the PGA TOUR and is enjoying only token success. Still, that go-low ability can occasionally be seen, as it was when he fired at 64 at the Bob Hope Classic.
Chris Kirk: He was a can't-miss prospect coming out of the University of Georgia who did miss. His first two seasons as a professional were struggles, only one top-10 in 32 starts on the Nationwide Tour. It all clicked last year: he won twice and would likely have won the Nationwide Tour's money title had he not injured a wrist that prevented him from starting the last two events. Kirk is extremely cool under fire, something the national broadcasters noted two weeks ago when he tied for second at the Shell Houston Open. He's also got serious go-low potential.
Jamie Lovemark: A late withdrawal from the Valero Texas Open with more back issues, which have hampered his first season on TOUR. He's previously withdrawn at Pebble Beach and Houston and skipped Riviera. He's sort of Rickie Fowler Lite. The Southern Cal product has great physical skills and is another one of those young players who has no fear. After nearly winning the 2009 Frys.com Open (losing in a three-man playoff to Fowler and winner Troy Matteson), he spent last season honing his craft on the Nationwide Tour, where he became the youngest winner of that circuit's money title. Once fully healthy, he'll be in the mix.
Should you pick these guys in the next office pool? It's probably too soon this year, but they should definitely be on the radar. One day they may be a blip, the next day a major championship winner. That seems to be a developing trend.
Stan Awtrey is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the PGA TOUR.