4/30/20

Top 25 Pro Golfers Under 25: 2020 Edition

The most promising young players on tour today

by

Forecasting an athlete’s career is nearly impossible, especially in golf. Luckily, my job allows me to make wild predictions without facing any consequences.

Below I’ve picked the 25 sub-25-year-old golfers who I believe have the brightest futures in the game. This is just my opinion, and I may be proven wrong. Andy tried his own top 25 in 2017, and a few of his picks ended up being colossal busts. Turns out the founder of this website is a hack!

Let’s see if I can do any better…

Note: Only professionals were eligible for this ranking. In the words of Michael Scott, “Why would you date an amateur when you can date a professional?” 

1. Sungjae Im

22 years old

He’s currently No. 1 in the FedEx Cup, ever heard of it? The only gray area in Sungjae’s future has to do with mandatory military service, which South Korean men must begin before their 29th birthday. If Sungjae wins an Olympic medal, however, he would get an exemption. So I’d recommend he do that.

2. Collin Morikawa

23 years old

Kid’s a star, no two ways about it. His ball-striking and Strokes Gained: Approach stats are among the best we’ve seen from a first-year player in a while, and Morikawa still hasn’t missed a cut. Hard to lose your job if you’re always working weekends.

Collin Morikawa: crisp

3. Viktor Hovland

22 years old

Aside from his chipping, which the self-effacing Norwegian has admitted he sucks at, Hovland is a phenomenally skilled player. He is probably a top-five driver of the ball right now, and once Pete Cowen tightens up his short game, Hovland will be tough to beat. He also has a black belt in Taekwondo, which, in our secret fan fiction, he is not afraid to use on an unsuspecting Bryson DeChambeau.

4. Scottie Scheffler

23 years old

Scheffler took a more traditional route to the PGA Tour than some other players on this list. He stayed all four years at Texas, spent a season on the Korn Ferry Tour, won the points race, and has emerged as a consistent threat on the big tour in 2020. His only weakness is that he’s not active on social media, so if you want to chastise him for hurting your DraftKings lineups, you’re out of luck.

5. Matthew Wolff

20 years old

Wild backswing. Gankas. Speed. You’re familiar with the word cloud around the 2019 NCAA individual champion. He’s dominant off the tee but needs to fine-tune other parts of his game. With his unique move and engaging personality, Wolff is a marketer’s dream on the level of fellow OSU product Rickie Fowler. But if he puts the pieces together on the course, he could be much more. Plus, Wolff is a solid name for newsletter headlines, which I always appreciate.

Matthew Wolff: you see an unusual swing, marketing departments see piles of cash

6. Robby Shelton

23 years old

Robby Shelton has three of the four best statistical seasons in University of Alabama history, and he didn’t play a fourth year. In an interview with Adam Schupak, Walker Cup teammate Lee McCoy said, “We called him ‘Xbox’ because it’s like watching a video game.” Shelton wrecked the Korn Ferry Tour alongside Scottie Scheffler last season, and he’s a good bet for sustained success on the PGA Tour.

7. Joaquín Niemann

21 years old

“Wolff” is good for newsletter headlines, but “Joaquín” is fantastic. He’s not a bad player either. Niemann burst onto the scene at the age of 19 when he earned his PGA Tour card on the back of sponsor exemptions. He’s really strong off the tee and into greens, which should allow the young Chilean to contend regularly.

8. Sam Burns

23 years old

Nothing like an old-fashioned snub to light a fire under your ass. After winning Jack Nicklaus Player of the Year in his sophomore season at LSU, Burns was primed to turn pro. But he skipped out on a summer of sponsor exemptions in hopes of playing the Walker Cup. Mysteriously, he was left off the team. Since then, Burns hasn’t quite found his footing on the PGA Tour, but he’s due for a breakout season.

9. Cameron Champ

24 years old

You may ask why the player with the most PGA Tour wins on this list is No. 9. First, it’s my top 25, so na-na-na-na-boo-boo. Second, Champ has been a one-trick pony so far. Here are his Strokes Gained rankings for the 2019 season: 2nd (driving), 161st (approach), 188th (around the green), 123rd (putting). Yes, he’s a freak off the tee. No denying that. And he will run into the occasional win when his putter gets hot, but that says more about the state of professional golf than it does about Champ.

10. Robert MacIntyre

23 years old

Bobby Mac is a strapping Scottish lad. He’s bad at the 14-club challenge, prefers that you yell fore, likes gin, and looks goofy in shorts. But the young Scot notched seven top 10s in his rookie season on the European Tour in 2019, earning him the Sir Henry Cotton Award Rookie of the Year award. Look for Bobby Mac to become a familiar name in the near future, and for plenty of mac n’ cheese and Mac and Me puns from yours truly.

Robert MacIntyre: in addition to correct opinions on spectator safety, Bobby Mac has a well-developed aesthetic

11. Maverick McNealy

24 years old

McNealy has played at least one PGA Tour event every year since 2014, but he didn’t have membership until last fall. After qualifying for the U.S. Open at 18 years old, McNealy went on to have the best statistical career in Stanford history. Yes, better than Tiger Woods. Since turning professional, McNealy spent two years on the Korn Ferry Tour before breaking through to earn his PGA Tour card for the 2019-20 season. Mav is more polished and well-rounded than many on this list, and modest improvements in his iron game will lead to an excellent career.

[Editorial note: The original version of this article left off Maverick McNealy. Our mistake. He’s really good.]

12. Davis Riley

23 years old

I first saw Davis Riley play the summer before his senior year, and I just knew he was going to make it as a pro. He walks with the quiet confidence of a guy who’s bound for success. Another Alabama product, Riley turned pro a semester early and has gotten off to a solid start on the Korn Ferry Tour. He won the Panama Championship this spring and had two other top-15 finishes before the pandemic halted the season.

13. Braden Thornberry

22 years old

The expectations for Mr. Thornberry were enormous in 2017. At just 20 years old, he won the NCAA Individual Championship and finished T-4 at the FedEx St. Jude. Since turning pro last year, he hasn’t had the immediate success many expected. But let’s give the kid a break; he can barely drink legally. His swing makes me gag a little, but it’s powerful, and he seems to own it. He also plays with a refreshing quickness. I trust that Lord Thornberry (shoutout @BunkiePerkins) will figure it out soon.

14. Min Woo Lee

21 years old

I’m tremendously excited about this young Australian, who won the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur and the Vic Open on the European Tour this past February. Despite weighing in at 160 pounds soaking wet, Lee absolutely bombs it. In 2019, he led the European Tour in driving distance, averaging over 320 yards. With sister Minjee already a top-10 player on the ladies’ side, the Lees could be a brother-sister duo like the golf world has never seen. That means we’ll probably never hear the end of it on telecasts (did you know that Jordan and JT are friends?), but the prospect of Min Woo and Minjee ruling their respective domains is pretty cool.

Min Woo Lee: little doubt this ball was murdered

15. Marcus Kinhult

23 years old

Unless you’re a Swede or a Shotgun Start sicko, you may not know of Marcus “The Muscat” Kinhult (pronounced shin-hult). The young Viking won his first Euro Tour event in 2019 and has already broken into the top 100 in the OWGR. Frankly, there isn’t much more to say about Kinhult right now. Seems like a stud, but time will tell.

16. Dylan Wu

23 years old

While Matthew Fitzpatrick comes to mind first when you think about Northwestern University golf, Dylan Wu is ready to become the new favorite of every Medill grad in the media center. In 2018, Wu left Northwestern with the second lowest scoring average in program history. He struggled in his first season as a pro but stepped on the gas this spring on the Korn Ferry Tour. Wu runs hot and cold, but he has a high ceiling, and he’s on the verge of a PGA Tour card.

(Fun fact: Dylan and his twin brothers Josh and Jeremy won four straight Oregon high school 3A/2A/1A individual state titles. Dylan won in 2013 and ’14 before the twins got one apiece in ’15 and ’16.)

17. Aaron Wise

23 years old

Not sure what it is about Wise, but his vibe doesn’t really excite me. I wish he’d give me a reason to like him more. Still, he won an NCAA team title, an NCAA individual title, and a PGA Tour event before he turned 22, and he obviously has immense talent. Over the past 18 months, he has faded back in the pack. Like Champ, Wise is still looking to pair his elite driving with a second big skill.

18. Brandon Wu

23 years old

I first saw Brandon Wu play at the 2018 Western Amateur when he faced off against Cole Hammer in the semifinal match. Before the match, I could not have picked him out of a Wu/Wu/Min Woo lineup, but his talent and competitiveness stuck with me.

Wu had a year to remember in 2019. He won the NCAA Championship with Stanford, was stroke-play medalist at the U.S. Amateur, qualified for both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship, and played on a victorious U.S. Walker Cup team. He has yet to earn PGA Tour status, but Brandon Wu is a gamer. He’ll get there.

19. Steven Fisk

23 years old

Steven Fisk’s golf swing reminds me of the wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube guys you see outside used-car dealerships. Yet the guy is an absolute hoss. He won six events and finished with the sixth lowest single-season stroke average in NCAA history (69.03) in his senior year at Georgia Southern. He also made the Walker Cup team and was a first-team All-American. You could read this whole paragraph before he starts his backswing, but Fisk has a ton of talent and could become a big-time player.

20. Sean Crocker

23 years old

Crocker has taken what we can now call the Brooks Koepka route. After turning pro early, he took his talents to the Challenge Tour. Now he’s on the European Tour, and he already has five top 10s. Crocker may look like a minor-league hockey player who just saw a ghost, but don’t be fooled: he has serious game.

Sean Crocker: "Did you guys hear that? No, seriously, it was like a soft rustling..."

21. Will Zalatoris

23 years old

Zalatoris has accomplished a lot despite being dreadful on the greens. Since going full-time on the Korn Ferry Tour last year, he has had some modest success, including a T-4 and a T-9 in 2020. While the California native is very good tee to green, he could become far more dangerous if he figured out the flatstick.

22. Jazz Janewattananond

24 years old

At No. 39 in the world, you could definitely argue for Jazzy J to be higher on this list. But I’m trying to look into the future here, and I think Jazz more or less reached his ceiling somewhere between rounds 3 and 4 of last year’s PGA Championship. Still, he’s an interesting cat and an easy guy to root for. He turned pro at 14 (!), spent time living as a monk, and loooooves American fast food. If nothing else, Jazz Janewattananond is a name you’ll not soon forget.

23. Hayden Buckley

23 years old

An unfortunate injury during his freshman year at Mizzou forced Buckley to incorporate the hover motion that now begins his golf swing. Let’s just say it’s working. He won four events as a senior in 2018, leading the SEC with a 69.53 scoring average. He then finished sixth on the Mackenzie Tour Order of Merit, one spot out of full Korn Ferry Tour status. While he’s still battling for starts, Buckley and his fun swing seem ready to break out.

24. Will Gordon

23 years old

My research on Will Gordon led me to a page that read, “Will Gordon lives with his wife and cat in Cambridge, MA, where he mostly just eats, drinks, and writes about it.” Yep, wrong Will Gordon.

The one we’re looking for is the first of two Vanderbilt Commodores at the 23 and 24 spots. After making first-team All-American his senior year, Gordon had eight top-25 finishes on the Mackenzie Tour last fall. He went on to use some sponsor exemptions on the PGA Tour, recording four made cuts, three top 25s, and one top 10 in six events. Seems like this golf thing will work out for him, but if it doesn’t, he can always move to Cambridge and try the other Will Gordon’s approach to life.

25. Akshay Bhatia

18 years old

If you haven’t heard of Akshay Bhatia, subscribe to our newsletter because come on. You should know about this kid. After a dominant junior career, Bhatia skipped college to go pro before his 18th birthday, and he’s still searching for status. To be honest, I think college golf would have served him well. The level of competition would have been challenging but manageable, and he could have worked on his game in a more relaxed environment. But who knows? Maybe he’ll suddenly start dominating the men like he did the boys. Realistically, though, I’m not expecting great results from him for another couple of years.

Akshay Bhatia: talented, but ready for prime time?

Honorable mentions

  • Guido Migliozzi (23 years old)
  • Theo Humphrey (24)
  • Doc Redman (22)
  • Doug Ghim (24)
  • Zach Bauchou (23)
  • Austin Eckroat (21)
  • Doug Ghim (24)
  • Nick Hardy (24)
  • Dawson Armstrong (24)
  • Bryson Nimmer (23)
  • Isaiah Salinda (23)
  • Stephen Franken (22)
  • Norman Xiong (21)