Up-and-comers for the 2020s
It’s a new decade, and these amateurs possess the talent to become future PGA TOUR stars
January 28, 2020
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
It’s a new decade, and these amateurs possess the talent to become future PGA TOUR stars
Predictions may be a fool’s errand, but there’s little that sports fans love more than peering into the crystal ball. Their appreciation of current stars is only exceeded by curiosity about who will supersede them. We will indulge that temptation by providing the below list of names to look for in the new decade.
We’re just weeks into the 2020s and when we look back at the previous decade, we see that a handful of the best players from the 2010s were in high school when the new decade began. That means that some players you’ve never heard of could have a big impact on the game by the time we reach 2029 (which is a lot closer than we’d ever believed it could be).
This past year, we saw a handful of youngsters make a big impact on the PGA TOUR. Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa won just weeks after turning pro, Sungjae Im won the Rookie of the Year Award at age 21 and Joaquin Niemann was 20 when he won his first PGA TOUR title.
Instead of listing those now-established pros, we dug a little deeper to give you some names you may not have heard yet. All the players on this list are age 21 and under and still amateurs. This isn’t supposed to be a definitive ranking of top prospects but instead a sampling of promising players from around the globe. We listed the 11 players below in alphabetical order. No, it's not a round number but there were too many names to choose from. Golf is increasingly becoming a young man's game. It's an exciting time to be a golf fan. (Note: players listed in alphabetical order).
Hometown: Yorba Linda, Calif.
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 8
Castillo compiled quite a resume before even starting his freshman season at Florida this past fall. He made the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur and the semifinals of the Western Amateur. Those are the two biggest amateur events in the United States. He beat the World's No. 1 amateur, Takumi Kanaya, in the second round of the U.S. Amateur by a 3-and-2 margin. Castillo lost to eventual runner-up John Augenstein, 1 down, in the Round of 16 at Pinehurst No. 2.
Castillo finished second in the stroke-play portion of the U.S. Amateur, as well. He was the second alternate for the United States’ Walker Cup team, which is comprised of the best amateurs in the country. He was a two-time first-team All-American for the American Junior Golf Association.
Castillo has finished in the top 25 in his first four starts for the Florida Gators. His older brother, Derek, plays for Cal State Fullerton.
“We definitely wouldn’t be as good as we are if we didn’t have each other,” Derek Castillo said. “We make each other better. That’s why we play together so much. We help each other become better players.”
Wake Forest sophomore
Hometown: Sheffield, England
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 61
Alex is the younger brother of five-time European Tour winner Matthew Fitzpatrick, but the similarities end there. Matthew is an outlier in today’s game, relying on accuracy to overcome a lack of length. Alex fits into the modern mold. “He has bags of talent, way more than I ever had,” Matthew told GolfDigest.com last year.
While Matthew spent just a semester at Northwestern after winning the 2013 U.S. Amateur (Alex was his caddie that week), the younger Fitzpatrick is spending more time in the U.S. collegiate system. Alex started his sophomore season at Wake Forest after representing Great Britain & Ireland in the 2019 Walker Cup.
Alex finished 15th in last year’s NCAA Championship, the best finish by a Wake Forest freshman since 1986. He’s also come close to matching his brother by hoisting the Havemeyer Trophy, given to the winner of the U.S. Amateur. Alex advanced to the quarterfinals in 2018 before making the Round of 16 in the match-play tournament last year at Pinehurst No. 2.
“Alex is an aggressive player,” swing coach Pete Cowen, who works with the brothers, told Golf Digest last year. “His clubhead speed gets up around 127 mph, which is plenty. He hits his irons an awful long way, too. But he’s not as confident as Matt. And although they are about the same height, Alex is stockier, like a little bull.”
He’s charging into this decade as one of the top amateurs in the world.
Hometown: Stoke Poges, England
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 14
Gough played on last year’s Great Britain & Ireland squad at the Walker Cup. He turned 17 two days before the competition, making him the second-youngest player ever to compete in the biennial competition between the United States and GB&I. He earned his spot by winning last year’s English Amateur and the 2018 R&A Boys Amateur at Royal Portrush. Gough was the same age as former FedExCup champion Justin Rose when Rose was picked for the 1997 Walker Cup team.
“I’m probably ahead of where I thought I would be at this stage in my career but I’m just taking things as they come and going with the flow,” Gough told the R&A. “I think I’ve showed a killer instinct to win events. I think that is just a trait I’ve always had in match play and in other competitions. As soon as I know I have a chance, I go for it.”
The Great Britain & Ireland team lost, 15-10, in last year's Walker Cup, but Gough went 2-2 in his four matches.
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 2
He first made headlines when he qualified for the U.S. Open five years ago. While we often don’t hear again from teenaged Open qualifiers, Hammer is proving to be an exception. He won the prestigious Western Amateur in 2018 and was a semifinalist in that year’s U.S. Amateur. Last year, Hammer won the Phil Mickelson Award as the top freshman in college golf.
Hammer recently played the Houston Open, his first PGA TOUR start since Chambers Bay, and opened with a 67 that had him inside the top 10. He eventually finished T61. He was undone by big numbers that week – making six double-bogeys – but did finish ninth in Strokes Gained: Approach and 20th in greens hit. That’s a promising sign, as strong iron play is a good predictor of success.
Tohoku Fukushi University
Hometown: Hiroshima, Japan
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 1
He attends the alma mater of Hideki Matsuyama, and the parallels don’t end there. Kanaya almost joined Matsuyama as the only two-time winners of the Asia-Pacific Amateur but lost a playoff in last year’s championship. Kanaya did win the event in 2018, though. It came with an invitation to the Masters, where Kanaya made the cut and shot a third-round 68 (just like Matsuyama did in his Masters debut as an amateur).
Matsuyama and Kanaya both reached No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and won on the Japan Tour while still amateurs. Matsuyama cracked the top 200 in the Official World Golf Ranking before turning pro and Kanaya is nearing that threshold (currently ranking 216th). He ended last year with a win at the Japan Tour’s Taiheiyo Masters and third-place finish at the Australian Open, where he beat the likes of Paul Casey, Marc Leishman, Adam Scott, Cameron Smith and Abraham Ancer.
Hometown: Beijing, China
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 72
The left-handed Lin is a two-time winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur. The only other player to accomplish that feat? Hideki Matsuyama. That’s good company.
Lin won the event in 2017 and 2019. Last year, he beat the world’s top-ranked amateur, Takumi Kanaya, in a playoff. Lin holed a 10-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole before getting up-and-down from a greenside bunker to win on the second extra hole. Lin won his first Asia-Pacific Amateur with a birdie-eagle finish.
He recently competed in the Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour. He tied for 30th, shooting four rounds under par to finish ahead of Patrick Cantlay and Brooks Koepka.
Lin also has finished in the top 10 in events on the Challenge Tour and PGA TOUR China.
Arizona State commit (Class of 2021)
Hometown: Scottsdale, Arizona
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 161
Summerhays has shown plenty of promise by winning last year’s U.S. Junior Amateur and two Utah State Amateurs. One of his best performances was a bit more under the radar.
He was 15 years old when he shot 65-60 to win a U.S. Amateur qualifier by nine strokes over Drew Kittleson, who was runner-up to Danny Lee in that championship in 2008. Summerhays’ score was the lowest in a U.S. Amateur qualifier since at least 2011.
Besides his prodigious talent, he also has advantages that most juniors aren’t accustomed to. His father, Boyd, played on the PGA TOUR and now is an instructor to a handful of TOUR players, including Tony Finau. Preston benefits from his father’s insights into the swing, and his relationship with elite players. gives him an honest assessment of his game.
“Preston’s always known he is good because he’s been winning junior tournaments, but when he plays with TOUR players he also gets to see how far he has to go,” Boyd Summerhays said. “He’s very confident in himself, but he still has the humility because he knows what he has to do better. … It gives him a clear picture of what he has to do.”
Stanford signee (Class of 2020)
Hometown: Wellesley, Mass.
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 34
Thorbjornsen has hoisted trophies at Augusta National and Baltusrol, and made the cut in a major at Pebble Beach. And he’s not even in college yet.
He’s the first player since Jordan Spieth in 2011-12 to win the U.S. Junior and then make the cut in the following year’s U.S. Open. Thorbjornsen, the 2018 U.S. Junior champ, did it with opening rounds of 71-73 at Pebble Beach. He averaged 302.8 yards off the tee that week.
Thorbjornsen won the U.S. Junior by beating Akshay Bhatia in the final. Bhatia was a dominant force in junior golf before turning pro at 17, but Thorbjornsen beat him 1 up in the final at Baltusrol. Thorbjornsen also won his age division at the 2016 Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National.
Hometown: Houston, Texas
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 86
Vick’s resume may not be as lengthy as some of the other players on this list, but for good reason. Vick also played baseball and football through his junior year of high school and was receiving interest from Division I schools in those sports. He was an all-state linebacker and all-district quarterback (in Texas, of all places) and a pitcher/third baseman. Vick’s high-school coach was former Astros star Lance Berkman.
Vick considered playing multiple sports in college but decided to focus on golf after consulting with Hal Sutton, a family friend who helps Vick with his game. Sutton’s 14 PGA TOUR victories includes the 1983 PGA Championship and two PLAYERS Championships.
“You need to dig it out of the dirt,” Sutton advised Vick, echoing the words of the immortal Ben Hogan.
Vick focused full-time on golf during his senior year of high school and now in his freshman year at Texas. “It’s up to you to determine how good you want to be, not anyone else,” Vick told USGA.org. “You’re determining your own destiny.”
Vick’s athleticism will serve him well in a game where power is of increasing importance. Vick was able to amass some impressive accomplishments even while dividing his time between athletic endeavors. He was medalist at the 2016 U.S. Junior and reached the Round of 16. He also won the 2018 Junior PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass. This fall, he holed the clinching putt to give Texas a win in the East Lake Cup.
Stanford signee (Class of 2020)
Hometown: Perth, Australia
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 10
Vilips, a member of the International Team at the 2019 Junior Presidents Cup, is truly a player for a new generation. He hasn’t played a college event yet, but his Instagram account (@koalakarl2001) is approaching 40,000 followers. He made his first post when he was 12 years old.
He’s had a presence on YouTube even longer. His father, Paul, has been posting videos of Karl’s swing on the channel since 2008. His videos have been viewed more than 11 million times. His YouTube channel helped him gain the exposure that led to a full golf and academic scholarship to Saddlebrook Prep in Florida, according to his biography on the World Amateur Golf Ranking’s website. Vilips arrived in America at age 11, and three years later Paul returned to Australia.
“I have definitely matured by being on my own,” Karl told USGA.org. “I can do small things like cooking and doing my clothes, but also being independent and learning to practice properly on my own.”
That is invaluable experience for an aspiring professional golfer. Vilips has produced the results that back up the social-media success.
He won the Southern Amateur in 2017. He was just 15 years old, matching Bobby Jones as the youngest champion in the tournament’s history. Vilips won the gold medal the following year at the Summer Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This year, Karl finished sixth in the Northeast Amateur with a course-record-tying 61, reached the Round of 16 at the Western Amateur and finished 10th in the Pacific Coast Amateur. All of those rank among the top events on the annual amateur schedule.
Vilips closed his summer by making the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur. He also shot 65 in the tournament’s stroke-play portion to tie the competitive course record at Pinehurst No. 4.
Arizona State senior
Hometown: Taoyuan, Chinese Taipei
World Amateur Golf Ranking: 3
Arizona State head coach Matt Thurmond has a history of attracting talent from Chinese Taipei. Thurmond coached PGA TOUR winner C.T. Pan when he was at Washington. Now Thurmond is the head coach at Arizona State, where Yu is a senior.
Yu, who’s played in the past two U.S. Opens, recently finished fifth in the Australian Open, finishing ahead of Marc Leishman, Paul Casey, Adam Scott and Pan.
Yu won last year’s Master of the Amateurs in Australia. He also won Arizona State’s Thunderbird Invitational, the third win of his college career, and finished third in last year’s NCAA Championship. He was a first-team All-American in 2019. Yu also won the Junior PLAYERS and Western Junior before attending Arizona State.