The top 5 candidates for PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year
5 Min Read
The TOUR’s top rookie wins the prestigious Arnold Palmer Award
Written by Justin Ray, @JustinRayGolf
Get to know: Cameron Young
With fewer than 10 events remaining before the FedExCup Playoffs, the PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year race is shaping up to be one of the most interesting subplots to the end of the season.
At last month’s PGA Championship, Mito Pereira was one hole away from arguably ending the discussion. But Pereira drove into the creek right of the fairway, made double-bogey and lost his one-shot lead, missing the playoff between Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris by a stroke. A win at Southern Hills would have not only vaulted Pereira up the FedExCup standings, it might have made him impossible to catch in the rookie race.
Instead, the race remains wide open. Let’s break down the leading candidates to hoist the Arnold Palmer Award given to the season’s top rookie.
FedExCup position: 17th
Best finish: 2nd, three times
Pereira wasn’t the only rookie who had a chance to win that Sunday at Southern Hills. For many casual golf fans, it was their introduction to Cameron Young, who also tied for third, a stroke out of the playoff. It was his third consecutive top-three finish, and one of five for him this season. Only FedExCup leader and World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler has more finishes in the top three this season. Young also trails only Scheffler in rounds spent inside the top-five this season (18).
Young doesn’t just have the high finishes. He’s a statistical darling, as well, with his consistent play accented by lofty spots in several key metrics. He’s ranked in the top 20 in Strokes Gained: Total, Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and adjusted scoring average. He’s in the top 10 in birdie average and birdie conversion percentage. He’s gained two or more strokes from tee-to-green on the field in 23 different rounds this season, tied for the most of any player on TOUR.
His performance off the tee, though, has been most notable. Only Jon Rahm has averaged more Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee per round this season than Young. Young is ranked seventh-or-better on TOUR in total driving, clubhead speed and driving distance. Power is a significant advantage virtually every week, and Young has seized that opportunity.
FedExCup position: 22nd
Best finish: 2nd, Valspar Championship (lost playoff)
While Young is probably the front-runner in this race, no rookie has finished in the top 10 more often this season on the PGA TOUR than Davis Riley (six times). Currently 22nd in the FedExCup, Riley sits just five spots behind Young. The 25-year-old Alabama product has recorded a whopping 37 rounds in the 60s so far this season – only Tom Hoge, with 41, has more. The TOUR leader in birdies-or-better this season (325), Riley is one of just two players with 300 or more red numbers this season and a birdie-or-better rate of 24% or higher. Scheffler is the other.
Riley’s best showing this season came at the Valspar Championship, when Sam Burns made a 33-foot putt to beat him in a playoff. Riley is in the field this week in Connecticut at the Travelers Championship.
FedExCup position: 28th
Best finish: 3rd, two times
The aforementioned Chilean isn’t out of this race yet. At 28th in the FedExCup, he joins Young and Riley as rookies currently ranked inside the top 30 in the FedExCup. Pereira beat the field average by 8.6 shots with his second-round 64 at Southern Hills. It marks the most Strokes Gained: Total in a single round for any rookie this season. He bounced back from his final-hole heartbreak in Tulsa with high finishes at the Charles Schwab Challenge (T7) and the Memorial Tournament presented by Workday (T13). He has 51 rounds under par this season, most of any player on the TOUR.
Pereira has built one of the more impressive approach-play profiles of anyone on TOUR the last two seasons. Since July of 2021, Pereira has averaged 0.69 Strokes Gained: Approach per round, tied for ninth-best of any player in that span. This season, he’s in the top 10 in greens in regulation (70%, 7th), a season after hitting 74% in limited action.
Consistently getting the ball close on approach play has allowed him to avoid mistakes. His 10 bogey-free rounds are tied for most of anyone this season. Pereira has made bogey or worse on just 13% of his holes played this season, the lowest rate of any rookie and sixth-best on TOUR overall.
FedExCup position: 55th
Best finish: T3, WM Phoenix Open
With nine made cuts in his last ten starts, Sahith Theegala has risen almost fifty spots in the Official World Golf Ranking since mid-March. His 19 made cuts are three more than any other rookie this season, and have led to him playing more rounds (85) than anyone else this season. His 50 rounds under par are second-most among all players, trailing only Pereira.
FedExCup position: 57th
Best finish: Win, Corales Puntacana Championship
Only one rookie has won on TOUR this season. That would be Chad Ramey, who shot a final round 67 in March to win the Corales Puntacana Championship. Ramey made 21 birdies and an eagle on his way to his first career PGA TOUR title. He is currently fifth among rookies in the FedExCup race (57th). Seven of the last eleven players to win PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year won at least once that season.