Top 10 Under 25
December 22, 2020
By Sean Martin , PGATOUR.COM
PGA TOUR – The CUT
2021 Players to Watch on the PGA TOUR
Kids these days. They make it look so easy.
The transition from schoolboy golf to the big leagues isn’t supposed to be so simple. Sure, there are always exceptions, but they come along once every few years. Not anymore.
It’s fitting that Viktor Hovland won the final PGA TOUR event of 2020 because he and his peers have changed the game. They’ve permanently altered our perception of what’s possible for the crop of prospects coming out of college each year. These players turned pro to big expectations and they’ve exceeded all of them. They continually sent us scouring the record books to put their accomplishments in context.
Hovland has won twice before turning 24. Collin Morikawa is 23; he already owns three TOUR titles, including a major. And Matthew Wolff, who’s still just 21, was a contender in two of this year’s majors. Some 18 months after they turned pro, all three are in the top 15 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
We can’t wait to see what they have in store for 2021. So, as we look ahead to the new year, we ranked the Top 10 TOUR members under 25.
1. Collin Morikawa
2020 FedExCup finish: 6th
PGA TOUR wins: 3
The youngest winner of the PGA Championship since Tiger Woods. The lowest final two rounds by a winner in major championship history. All thanks to an incredible eagle on the third-to-last hole.
Morikawa impressed with his victory at TPC Harding Park, which ensures he’ll never have to wear that pesky “Best Player to Never Win a Major” tag.
His ball-striking has become the stuff of legend and social media fodder, and for good reason. He finished second in Strokes Gained: Approach last season, behind only Justin Thomas.
Morikawa got the best of Thomas at the Workday Charity Open, however, overcoming a three-shot deficit with three holes remaining. Then he made a 25-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to answer Thomas’ 50-foot bomb. Morikawa won two holes later.
Iron play has often been the differentiator for the game’s best players and Morikawa is proving to be no exception.
2. Viktor Hovland
Viktor Hovland's clutch performance leads to win at Mayakoba
2020 FedExCup finish: 20th
PGA TOUR wins: 2
Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros. That is some of the company Hovland has joined with the quick start to his pro career.
Hovland won twice in 2020, displaying an ability to thrive in stressful situations at tropical locales where people traditionally go to relax. He won the Puerto Rico Open and Mayakoba Golf Classic presented by UNIFIN, making birdie on 18 both times.
“I was pretty nervous throughout the day even though I hit a lot of good shots,” he said after winning in Mexico. He sure didn’t look anxious.
Like Morikawa, he’s known for elite ball-striking. Hovland ranked in the top 20 in both Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee and Approach-the-Green last season. He’s added distance with swing coach Jeff Smith. And Hovland, who once declared, “I just suck at chipping,” has shored up his short game after switching to a 10-finger grip on all shots inside 40 yards.
His Mayakoba win was made possible thanks to an incredible up-and-down from a bunker on the 16th hole, proof that he’s filling the one hole in his game. He’ll start 2021 ranked third in the FedExCup.
3. Matthew Wolff
2020 FedExCup finish: 35th
PGA TOUR wins: 1
He didn’t win this year but he accomplished something that hasn’t been done since the 1800s. Wolff finished T4 at the PGA Championship and runner-up at the U.S. Open. Per 15th Club’s Justin Ray, Wolff is the first player to finish fourth or better in his first two major starts since Ned Cosgrove at the 1880 and 1881 Open Championships.
The U.S. Open was one of three second-place finishes for Wolff in 2020. Two came at the hands of Bryson DeChambeau. Two also were in back-to-back starts at Winged Foot and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, which is why Wolff will start 2021 ranked ninth in the FedExCup.
4. Sungjae Im
2020 FedExCup finish: 11th
PGA TOUR wins: 1
The PGA TOUR’s road warrior finally has a home. After living out of hotels for the past several years, Im has put down roots in Atlanta.
It’s a fitting residence because an annual trip to Atlanta’s East Lake Golf Club, site of the TOUR Championship, seems likely for the steady Korean.
Im, 22, has already played in the TOUR Championship twice. He’s packed a lot into his three years of playing professional golf in the United States.
He was the Korn Ferry Tour’s Player of the Year in 2018. He was the PGA TOUR’s Rookie of the Year in 2019 (becoming just the second player to win those events in back-to-back years). And he won his first PGA TOUR title in 2020.
After winning The Honda Classic and finishing third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard, the PGA TOUR’s Steady Eddie was the FedExCup leader when the season stopped because of coronavirus.
Im struggled when the season resumed but is back in form, including a runner-up finish in his Masters debut.
5. Scottie Scheffler
2020 FedExCup finish: 5th
PGA TOUR wins: 0
A top-five finish in the FedExCup. A sub-60 round. Fourth-place finishes in a major and FedExCup Playoffs event. The Arnold Palmer Award.
It was an eventful first year on the PGA TOUR for Scheffler, the All-Everything out of Texas. He became just the third player, joining Im and Stewart Cink, to win Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year and PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year in consecutive seasons.
“I felt like I had a really solid rookie season,” the understated Scheffler said.
He lets his clubs do the talking. It’s been that way for years.
Scheffler won the 2013 U.S. Junior, then finished in T22 in his hometown TOUR event, the AT&T Byron Nelson, while still in high school. He had a decorated collegiate career and was part of that 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team that also included future TOUR members Morikawa, Cameron Champ, Will Zalatoris, Doc Redman, Maverick McNealy and Doug Ghim.
6. Joaquin Niemann
Joaquin Niemann wins by six at The Greenbrier
2020 FedExCup finish: 27th
PGA TOUR wins: 1
His win at the Greenbrier made him one of just three players born outside the United States in the last 95 years who won on TOUR before turning 21. The others? McIlroy and Ballesteros.
The Chilean continues to fulfill the promise he showed as the World’s No. 1 amateur. And this year his success contributed to a good cause. He used his earnings from the final two events of 2020 to raise money for a life-saving treatment needed by his infant cousin.
Niemann’s downswing has so much lag it gives the clubhead whiplash, producing low lasers off the tee that are the envy of any amateur suffering from the balloon ball. He was especially effective in the latter half of 2020, finishing in the top 25 in seven of his last eight starts. That included a third-place finish on a demanding layout for the BMW Championship and a sixth-place finish against another strong field at THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK.
7. Will Zalatoris
2020 FedExCup finish: N/A
PGA TOUR wins: 0
What do you do when the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, the only source of PGA TOUR cards, are canceled by a pandemic.
You play your way onto the PGA TOUR the hard way, cobbling together a schedule with a series of top-10 finishes and sponsor exemptions.
That’s what Zalatoris did late in 2020.
He sat atop the KFT’s points list in September after a record-tying 11 consecutive top-20 finishes, a streak that started when the season resumed. That earned him a spot in the U.S. Open, where he confirmed that he belonged at golf’s highest tier.
Zalatoris finished T6 at Winged Foot and the world was introduced to his accurate iron play. He made a hole-in-one in the first round and hit the flagstick with another approach. Zalatoris tied Dustin Johnson over 72 holes and led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green.
That top-10 earned him a start in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, where he finished inside the top-10 once again. A missed cut at the Sanderson Farms Championship briefly slowed his run – it was his first finish outside the top 20 in any event since Februray – but he responded by finishing fifth in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He earned special temporary membership in his next start and now can accept unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season.
He would rank 30th in this season’s FedExCup standings if he were a full-time member. He has to win to appear in the FedExCup standings, but that doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities.
8. Aaron Wise
2020 FedExCup finish: 150th
PGA TOUR wins: 1
Wise turned pro at 20, right after winning the NCAA Championship, so it’s easy to forget how young he is. He won his first TOUR title at age 21 – two weeks after dueling Jason Day down to the wire at the Wells Fargo Championship -- and qualified for the TOUR Championship later that year. Wise had four top-10s in that 2018 season. He’s had just four since, but things seem to be trending upward.
He struggled in 2019 and 2020, finishing 114th and 150th in the FedExCup, but the phrase “sophomore slump” exists for a reason. It can be a tough transition when so much success comes at a young age. Many players feel pressure to tinker, and the same may be true for Wise.
After playing with Brooks Koepka in the 2018 NORTHERN TRUST, Wise decided he needed to bulk up in order to better handle approach shots from thick rough. Wise transformed his body in 2019 but his results suffered. Things seem to be turning around. He contended at the Vivint Houston Open, then concluded the year with a runner-up at the Mayakoba Golf Classic presented by UNIFIN.
He’ll start 2021 ranked 19th in the FedExCup and back on the upswing.
9. Sam Burns
2020 FedExCup finish: 111
PGA TOUR wins: 0
He’s best known as the kid who beat Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2018 Honda Classic. Before that, he was the NCAA player of the year and finished T6 in a TOUR event while still an amateur.
One wrong step derailed his pro career, though.
He graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018, then finished third in his second TOUR event as a member, the Sanderson Farms Championship. He kept his card despite suffering a season-ending ankle injury in July. He broke his right ankle while playing pickup basketball with kids in his neighborhood.
Burns returned for the start of the new season but admits that may have been premature. He said it wasn’t until this January that the ankle stopped bothering him. Two months later, the season was paused by the coronavirus pandemic.
He is 53rd in this season’s FedExCup, however, thanks to two top-10s in five starts. He’s been gaining valuable experience atop the leaderboard, as well. He was the 36-hole leader at the Safeway Open and led after the Vivint Houston Open’s third round.
10. Doc Redman
Age: Turns 23 on Dec. 27
2020 FedExCup finish: 71st
PGA TOUR wins: 0
He has the pedigree, as a former U.S. Amateur champ and Walker Cupper. He earned his way on TOUR the hard way, by Monday qualifying for the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic and finishing second.
Still just 22 years old, Redman has been knocking on the door of a TOUR win. He has three top-4 finishes in his last eight starts. That includes a T3 in the season-opening Safeway Open and T4 in the Bermuda Championship. He’ll start 2021 ranked 41st in the FedExCup.
Iron play is the strength of his game. He finished 12th in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green last season. That bodes well for his future.