At the beginning of each NBA season, basketball fans identify “League Pass teams” for the upcoming year. A “League Pass” team is a dynamic group of players who keep viewers glued to the television. Often these teams aren’t championship contenders, but win or lose, they provide excitement.
Likewise, professional golf has what I like to call “PGA Tour Live players.” These golfers have unique attributes and skill sets that may not be immediately obvious to fans. When one of them shows up on PGA Tour Live or standard TV coverage, I suggest paying close attention; you’ll probably see something interesting.
Here are my nominees for this year’s PGA Tour Live all-stars:
Si Woo Kim
In addition to having a colorful personality, Si Woo Kim boasts an intriguing skill set. He hits tee shots straight and pulls driver at every opportunity. On holes where most players are between driver and a shorter club, Si Woo Kim rips driver nearly every time. He even hits the big stick off the deck (or, as the case may be, the cart path) on many long approach shots.
Pulling out driver for a shot from the fairway seems like a risky play …
Si Woo Kim has entered the chat. 😂pic.twitter.com/i0TRLMF95U
— Callaway Golf (@CallawayGolf) January 26, 2021
But there are compelling reasons to watch Kim beyond his aggression. He is also one of the best players on tour around the green. By Strokes Gained: Around the Green per round, Kim has ranked inside the top 25 each of the past four seasons. Only Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed can say the same. Impressive company!
Finally, Si Woo is a volatile player. The peaks are high and the valleys are low. Last PGA Tour season, he missed the cut (eight) or withdrew (three) in about a third of his tournaments played (31). He also won the American Express and finished runner-up at the Wyndham Championship. In the 2016-17 season, Kim missed the cut (11) or withdrew (six) more times than he made the cut (14). One of those made cuts led to a victory at the Players Championship.
With the Presidents Cup on the horizon, I am eager to keep track of Si Woo Kim’s performance throughout this season. His rounds are a roller coaster, and I highly recommend the ride.
Ranked No. 7 in the world, Schauffele has become a household name among golf fans. His drives are long and straight, his iron play stacks up against almost any player in the world, and he putts better than the average PGA Tour player. But I am not sure people appreciate his short game enough, especially from the sand:
.@XSchauffele ranks 2nd this season in sand save percentage. 🏖
Here’s a couple reasons why. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/QBcJ4nC73t
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 18, 2021
In the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, Schauffele ranked No. 2 in sand save percentage, getting up and down on 65% of his bunker shots. On holes where a significant number of approach shots find a green-side bunker, Schauffele ranked No. 1 in our database by Strokes Gained per hole in 2021.
Driver-heavy courses with a plethora of green-side bunkers should suit Xander’s game. I would not be surprised to watch him hoist a trophy at Torrey Pines sometime soon.
Xander Schauffele has a wealth of talent, and he has knocked on the door of winning major championships. He is a promising candidate to win a major over the next five years, and elite bunker play could be his… X-factor. (Sorry.)
When golf enthusiasts discuss the most promising young talents in the world, Sungjae Im should be a bigger part of the conversation. At age 23, Im has already established himself as a model of consistency on the PGA Tour.
Since the beginning of the 2020-21 PGA Tour season, Im has made 34 cuts in 40 starts, and he won this past October at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Sungjae is among golf’s most accurate drivers, and he is adept with the flatstick. I looked at where players on the PGA Tour rank in both our driving accuracy statistic and in putting make percentage between five and ten feet. Three players are in the Top 20 in both statistics: Billy Horschel, Abraham Ancer, and Sungjae Im
Oh, and he throws darts with his irons. Im has never seen a pin he did not want to attack:
Happy birthday, Sungjae Im! 🎉
The 23-year-old is just getting started. pic.twitter.com/YO32jlYQPP
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 30, 2021
When watching Sungjae play this season, I would encourage you to watch how straight he hits the ball. If your life depended on a golfer hitting a fairway, you would feel pretty comfortable with Im teeing it up.
Sungjae Im is nearly a lock to represent the International team in the Presidents Cup this year. He posted a winning record in the 2019 Presidents Cup against stiff competition, and he should be a staple of that event for the next decade.
Currently No. 24 in the world, Im could ascend the rankings with a bit of extra distance off the tee and minor improvements to his short game. Someday he may find a home in the top 10.
Joseph LaMagna is the founder of Optimal Approach Golf, a golf intelligence company working with tour players to improve their performance.