Written by Jake Mulholland
If any of the following apply to you, please start this article from the page break below:
- You don’t enjoy reading prologues of novels and simply go to Chapter 1
- Are someone who asks friends to “cut to the point”
- Continuously boast about your loyalty to the New England Patriots
- Have a full schedule and don’t have 5 free minutes
- Work in Investment Banking
- Believe that Investment Bankers don’t have 5 free minutes
Let’s take things back to 2004. In a small town 20 minutes north of Pittsburgh, PA I sat in my chair during one of Mr. May’s math classes at Edgeworth Elementary. I was about to begin working on a math project with my best friend Dante. Up to this point in my elementary career, I had never worked with anyone else at the school. Unbeknownst to me, Mr. May had different plans this time around for the group project.
From 2001-2004, my best friend Dante and I never did anything without the other. To split us up for a school project was unheard of. We played four different sports together, spent the majority of summers at his house causing trouble with his older brother, and racked up countless hours playing James Bond 007 on Xbox. Needless to say, I was angered by the “random partner assignment” that was thrown our way.
Once each partner group was assigned, I found myself smack dab in front of Sarah. Following a quick confirmation with Mr. May that Sarah was indeed my partner, I flashed a quick grin across the table. My partner had beautiful blonde hair, a nice smile, and was wicked smart. As a third grader, I couldn’t have been more pumped for the opportunity to work with her.
At this point in the story, you’re probably wondering where exactly this is going. Well, the very next week was Valentine’s Day. Following my week with Sarah crunching numbers, I felt like it was time to show my true stripes. I liked the girl and wanted to show her. After school one day my mom drove me to the nearest CVS Pharmacy. There, we perused through the Valentine’s Day offerings and a large chocolate bunny rabbit caught my eye. It was perfect. I asked my lovely mother if we (she) could purchase the item. Being the mother that she was (and still is) she requested information to be shared prior to such a transaction. After I briefly summarized what the bunny rabbit was for, she agreed to buy it for me.
One day later, I plopped the chocolate bunny in Sarah’s locker on Valentines Day. That morning, I arrived to school a little early to ensure the bunny was 1) perfectly placed and 2) the note requesting her to be my Valentine was clearly visible. A few minutes passed, and I could see Sarah opening her locker through my peripheries. She immediately turned and walked to me. I couldn’t have been more scared. Now standing feet in front of me, I noticed she was smiling ear to ear. Without prolonging the story too much, we briefly hugged and decided that we were boyfriend/girlfriend, aka I had the exclusive rights to hold her hand. One month later she stopped talking to me and when I asked why, she said that I wasn’t showing her that I cared about her since Valentine’s Day. An upsetting statement at the time to hear, but a lesson learned nonetheless.
If there is one thing I have come to understand in my 24 years of life, it’s that Valentine’s Day is not the only day you should be doing extravagant things for those you care about. Rather, every day should be Valentine’s Day, meaning that you should care for and treat your significant other in the best way possible as if it were February 14th. With all that said, I hope that my colleagues, as well as the readers don’t hold my delayed submission of this post against me. At first, I wasn’t sure how I would tie Valentine’s Day into the PGA Tour. but I knew there was a link somewhere. After two weeks of contemplation, I discovered that the best way to relate the PGA Tour to such a spectacular “holiday” would be by identifying five individuals who I’m buying in on this year, aka those who have struck my interest as young (less than 2 years PGA experience) players on Tour to win a tournament in the 2018-19 season.
Without further adieu, here are the 5 rising stars I predict will emerge victorious in one, if not more, of the remaining 28 tournaments on the schedule for this season. Three players are defined as rookies and the others are players who have been on tour less than 2 years.
Disclaimer: A player’s rookie season (“Rookie Year”) is defined as the season in which he becomes a PGA TOUR member (including Special Temporary Members) and plays in 10 or more events as a member or finishes in the Top 125 on the Official FedExCup Points List or qualifies as a Top 125 – Nonmember, whichever occurs first.
Players listed in descending order by youngest-oldest.
1. Sungjae Im (Rookie)
Birthday: March 30th, 1998
Alma Mater: Korea National Sport University
Fed Ex Cup Rank: 39th
Reasoning for tour victory in 2019: This past weekend at the Honda Classic, Sungjae Im looked un=phased through two rounds of golf. Sharing the 36 hole lead with Keith Mitchell (eventual winner) at -6. He displayed composure on the golf course that you see only from players in their thirties. A significant portion of his success last week was due to his short game, in particular his putting. In the second round he was able to stroke 25 shots on the greens. For reference, Justin Rose leads in Putts per Round on tour at 26.67 so 25 is a crazy number, especially on Bermuda grass.
Sadly, with Im being in this position for the first time in his young career, collapsed on the weekend and fired off consecutive over par rounds of 77 and 71. A lesson learned for Im, no doubt. The future is bright for this young star. Appearing in 7/9 possible events in 2019, Im’s average position when he makes the cut is 28th. Of the seven events he has cashed in five, with his best finish at the WMPO in early February (T7). From January to March, Im has gained 30 spots in the Ball Striking category, previously 78th, now 48th. In that same span he has dropped from 93rd to 88th in the OWGR. If he had finished in the top 10 at the Honda he may have been able to slide into top 70 range. A T7 will not be Im’s best finish this year and although his odd backswing may through some people off, I believe he will learn from his mistakes at the Honda and get a win on tour this season.
Fed Ex Cup Finish: 21st
Tournament Win: Charles Schwab Challenge (Previously Fort Worth Invitational)
2. Joaquim Niemann
Birthday: November 7th, 1998
Alma Mater: N/A (would have attended South Florida but decided to turn pro)
Fed Ex Cup Rank: 165th
Reasoning for tour victory in 2019: Arguably the best player in this list of rising stars, Joaquim Niemann only needed eight starts to earn his tour card for the 17-18 season. Last year, Niemann was the “Golden Boy,” similar to Cameron Champ this year. Prior to his 2018 debut at The Masters, Niemann was the #1 ranked amateur golfer from May 2017-April 2018.
In the 2017-18 season, Niemann outperformed all other rookies, but did not win the ROY partly because he had not racked up enough Fed Ex cup events to qualify (Aaron Wise earned ROY honors). Over 12 events, Niemann notched 4 Top 10s, 6 Top 25s and earned over $1.2M. A win is just around the corner for Niemann, although he hasn’t had the hot start to the season as he most likely hoped. In five events, he has made three cuts and his best finish was a T44 at the Genesis Open in mid-February. Competing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational this week, I am anticipating Niemann to gather some momentum, notching a top 25 and giving him some confidence as we head into the middle of March.
Fed Ex Cup Finish: 65th
Tournament Win: John Deere Classic
3. Aaron Wise
Birthday: June 21st, 1996
Alma Mater: University of Oregon (2017)
Fed Ex Cup Rank: 87th
Reasoning for tour victory in 2019: Notoriously known for getting rejected by his girlfriend after his first PGA Tour win, the South Africa native proved that he could hang with the best last year and earned Rookie of the Year honors at the end of the season. Ranking 5th in birdie average in 17-18, I am expecting more big results to come for Wise.
Similar to Niemann, Wise has experienced a rocky start to the 18-19 season and has only made one of four cuts (played in Sentry Tournament which is a no cut event). However, a T19 at the WGC Mexico will serve as momentum heading into the API this week. Anticipating a top 30 finish for Wise this week. Firm greens will play to his advantage and lots of birdie opportunities for those who are willing to take the risk.
Given that Wise has already won on the PGA Tour (AT&T Byron Nelson 2018), I believe finding his second victory will not be an issue for the 22 year old.
Fed Ex Cup Finish: 24th
Tournament Win: Travelers Championship
4. Cameron Champ (Rookie)
Birthday: June 15th, 1995
Alma Mater: Texas A&M (2017)
Fed Ex Cup Rank: 19th
Reasoning for tour victory in 2019: After winning on a PGA tour event at the end of the 2017-18 season (Sanderson Farms Championship), there were many supporters for the young A&M grad. So many, in fact, that numerous sportsbooks had 20-1 odds for Cameron Champ in the first tournament of the year! There were only 8 players ahead of him that were champions from the prior year that received better odds. The hype was real, and rightly so.
With a guy that clocks 190 ball speed off the tee, he is destined to lead the tour in driving distance for years to come. Often carrying the ball over 315 yards, one would picture a shotlink trajectory similar to that of Dustin Johnson. Surprisingly enough, Champ’s flight is much lower, in fact the lowest on tour, so he is able to pierce the air with his shots at tremendous speed.
After switching to different irons, I am expecting some regression from the 23 year old slugger, but I think he will turn things around prior to the Valero Texas Open. Champ will find his groove later in the year and settle on his first win in 2019 following the US Open.
Fed Ex Cup Finish: 14th
Tournament Win: AT&T Byron Nelson
5. Kramer Hickock (Rookie)
Birthday: April 14th, 1995
Alma Mater: University of Texas (2015)
Fed Ex Cup Rank: 140th
Reasoning for tour victory in 2019: Order of Merit winner in 2017 on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, Kramer Hickock is well on his way to becoming a successful PGA Tour member heading into the second third of the 18-19 season. During his Web.com stint in 2018, he finished with four top-10 finishes and 23rd on the season ending money list. His last Web.com event was the DAP Championship which he won after leading all four rounds.
A rookie that has flown on the radar up to this point in the season, I believe this UT grad will be turning things around soon. His best finish in six events was last week at the Honda Classic (T30). Kramer has played a total of 12 PGA events in his career and has only finished in the Top 25 once. This trend is destined to end in the near future as he becomes more comfortable swinging with the big boys.
Fed Ex Cup Finish: 101st
Tournament Win: RBC Heritage
Of the 21 rookies on Tour for the 2018-19 season I chose Im, Hickock, and Champ because I believe they have the best chance to win on Tour this season. Each possesses a different skill set, but I believe these three players have the experience to notch a win with the 25+ tournaments remaining on this year’s schedule. In my opinion, these five individuals are destined to reach new heights as they attack the game against the best over the next 5 months.
Arnold Palmer Award 2019 Prediction: Sungjae Im