SIX TO FOLLOW FOR 2021
With the return of the PGA Tour upon us after its brief winter break I thought I would highlight six players who I feel it will reap dividends to follow this year.
For clarification I have avoided the games biggest names and those ranked in the top thirty or so. After all no one needs me to tell them that Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas etc will pick up a win or two this year or that Viktor Hovland will make further progress in the game...
For each player I have also highlighted some events that I consider they are most likely to taste success in.
So in no particular order other than alphabetical here we go.
1 – CAMERON CHAMP
Currently ranked 72nd in the world I see this as the year that Cameron Champ will push on and solidify a place in the worlds top 50.
One of the biggest hitters on tour Champ had everyone talking about his prodigious length when he first joined the big league, however over the past twelve months the focus on this has shifted away from him to Dechambeau and this cant but help.
Already a two time winner on tour Champ was hugely inconsistent in his first twelve months or so out here after an initial flourish, but improved approach play of late has seen him look more solid week in week out.
Since the tour’s return in June Champ has only missed four weekends in fourteen starts posting five top twenty finishes, with the highlight coming at TPC Harding Park where he was in the hunt for the PGA Championship before ultimately finishing tenth.
Champ’s main weakness is on and around the greens however he will surely be fully aware of this and working hard in these areas, and it is only a matter of time before he puts the whole package together.
I expect Cameron to win again this year and make an impact in several big events.
Events Most Likely To.....
As a native of California Champ is clearly at home on the West Coast and one of his two tour wins to date was posted in California. Ally this to the fact that he finished 2020 strongly and I can see him taking this momentum and performing well early in 2021 out West.
Champ performed nicely at Torrey Pines last year to finish 16th and on a venue where his length is a big help I would expect another strong showing this year at the Farmers Insurance Open. In addition lets not forget this years US Open is being held at Torrey Pines and with him already having a top ten to his name in a West Coast Major he could well upset the odds when the tour returns to San Diego in June.
2 – BRANDEN GRACE
The form of South African Grace has been something of a puzzle over the past couple of years as after seemingly having the golfing world at his feet and it being only a matter of time before he elevated himself to the highest level and became a Major Champion, he has fallen off the radar and now languishes outside of the world’s top 100.
While its hard to put your finger exactly on where things went wrong Grace’s form on the PGA Tour started to dip pretty much straight after the joys of fatherhood came to him in 2018 and it may just be that as his priorities quite understandably shifted at that time he took his eye off his golf game and things spiralled from there.
Looking at Grace’s stats over the past couple of seasons and he has regressed in basically all key areas and he has particularly struggled on the greens.
Despite all of this though Branden did still post a win on the European Tour at the South African Open in January of 2020 and there is no doubt in my mind that at still only 32 the best is yet to come from him.
The end of 2020 saw some promising signs from Branden as he played solidly at the RSM Classic and Mayakoba Classic events before finishing off with a top ten in Dubai and my belief is that after a couple of years largely in the wilderness he can build on this and get back to where he belongs in 2021.
Events Most Likely To....
Branden has shown on several occasions both on the European Tour and the PGA Tour that he loves desert golf. The last two years have seen him finish second and ninth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and I would expect another strong showing from him there again this year. In addition Branden was right in the mix at the Barracuda last summer before having to withdraw at the halfway stage after a positive covid test, so if he does still find himself on the ‘outside looking in’ later this year and teeing it up in this opposite field event look out for him.
Away from the desert and Branden clearly loves the RBC Heritage, which gave him his lone PGA Tour success to date so he is a man to have onside at Hilton Head or indeed the other shorter coastal tracks he tees it up on.
Finally on the Major Championship front it may just be that away from Augusta where he has never performed well this years Major venues suit him well. I would expect Brandon to feel at home on the coast in South Carolina at the PGA Championship in May at Kiawah Island, another wind exposed course Torrey Pines, host of this years US Open could also be to his liking, and of course he should always be on the radar for The Open Championship.
Hopefully Grace can get his game to the level it needs to be to qualify for these events and if so he could well be a factor in at least one of them.
3 – SI WOO KIM
Regular readers of mine will know I have had a close eye on Si Woo Kim for a while now and he so nearly rewarded us with a win last year at the Wyndham Championship.
A prodigious talent who memorably landed the Players Championship out of nowhere in 2017 to become the events youngest ever winner Kim has been plagued by both back problems and wild inconsistency in his time on tour.
Since starting to work with Claude Harmon III though some twelve months ago the South Korean has pieced his game back together and after an 11th place finish at the Travelers in June he made the weekend on his remaining nine starts of the 19/20 season and on five of his first seven of the new campaign.
The key to Kim’s improved form was great strides in his tee to green game and when you add this to his good touch around the greens the only thing holding him back from adding to his two PGA Tour titles to date is his weakness with the putter.
As is the case with all poorer putters watching Si Woo can be hugely frustrating at times however I expect him to have enough good weeks with the flat stick this year to allow him to hit the winners enclosure again.
Events Most Likely To....
In keeping with Kim’s inconsistency it is hard to rule him out anywhere as if his game is on song he can pop up out of the blue. Having said this it is clear from his time on tour so far that he is at his best on shorter tracks and he is a warm order at the Wyndham Championship, where he got his first tour win, regardless of his form coming in.
In addition Si Woo has come close at the RBC Heritage before and with his clear affinity to Pete Dye tracks he should be on the shortlist when the tour hits Hilton Head in April or when it hits TPC River Highlands in the summer for the Travelers.
Finally as someone who has played some of his best golf in The Carolina’s don’t forget Si Woo when the PGA Championship hits Kiawah Island in May.
4 – JOAQUIN NIEMANN
Over twelve months younger than Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland one of my pet gripes when watching PGA Tour golf coverage is that for some reason Niemann’s name doesn’t get mentioned when the inevitable Wolff, Hovland, Morikawa conversations take place [Wolff is even younger than Niemann it should be noted], as in my mind Niemann has just as much long term potential.
A one time winner on tour at the Greenbrier the former world amateur number one finished 2020 really strongly missing only three cuts in 17 starts after the tour resumed in June and he has begun the 20/21 campaign by posting three top 20s in six outings.
The young Chilean has been really strong from tee to green for a while now and finished the 19/20 season in the top thirty in all three key long game stats.
Encouragingly though 20/21 has seen Niemann perform better so far on the greens, the area, which is normally his weak link and if he can continue this improvement a second win can’t be far away.
Events Most Likely To....
Destined for the very top in my eyes the 22 year old has the game to perform well pretty much anywhere when on song so and he is certainly a player to follow when his confidence is up, particularly on bentgrass surfaces on, which he tends to putt the best.
Niemann is known for a low ball flight though and he has stated on several occasions he enjoys playing in the wind. From this point of view it is not surprising that Joaquin posted two of his three top five finishes of 2020 at a blustery Kapalua at the Sentry ToC last January and at Hilton Head in the RBC Heritage later in the year and he could easily go well in both of these events again. Furthermore With his one win on tour so far coming at the Seth Raynor designed Old White you would have to think Niemann would enjoy Raynor’s other design used on tour, Waialae CC, home of the Sony Open..
5 – DOC REDMAN
Another former standout amateur player who is now making waves on the PGA Tour is Doc Redman and I would be very surprised if the young man from North Carolina doesn’t bag his first tour title in 2021.
Redman came to prominence on the tour in 2019 when a second place at the Rocket Mortgage Classic gained him Special Temporary Membership and he hasn’t looked back since finishing 71st in the Fedex Cup rankings in his first full season last year.
Redman’s strengths are undoubtedly from tee to green and he finished last season ranked 11th on tour in approach play and 12th in old fashioned GIR. Basically in keeping it would seem with most of the players in this piece watch out if the putter hots up!
Doc had his first legitimate chance of a win on tour when he held the 54 hole lead at the Bermuda Championship in the fall, however, perhaps understandably as it was his first time in that situation he was found wanting. I expect Redman to have learnt from that experience and next time he has a chance to be much stronger on Sunday. Look for him to get the job done during the course of this year.
Events Most Likely To....
As a shorter, straighter hitter we again come back to events, which favour his strengths such as the Bermuda Championship, The Wyndham, and The RBC Heritage. In addition Redman backed up his second place at the Rocket Mortgage Classic in 2019 with a solid 21st place last year and I would expect him to perform well there again.
6 – AARON WISE
Wherever you turn these days the tour is littered with young 20 somethings who can make a splash on there day and on that basis the likes of Sam Burns, Cameron Davis, Maverick McNealy, Brandon Wu and Kristoffer Ventura to name but a few could easily made this piece, however I shall finish off with another youngster who has already tasted success on tour, Arron Wise.
Wise made it to the PGA Tour at the first time of asking after finishing 18th on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2017 and he wasted no time in landing his first title when closing out the Byron Nelson in great fashion in May 2018 before making it all the way to the Tour Championship courtesy of a couple more big finishes.
Like many youngsters though Aaron was very hit or miss through the rest of the 17/18 season after his win and after a solid start the 18/19 season was a struggle for him.
19/20 got worse for Wise and were it not for the rules put in to place around Covid 19 he would have been looking at an end of season trip back to the Korn Ferry finals to salvage his card.
The back of the 19/20 season did at least see Wise post a top ten finish at the Barracuda and the start of the 20/21 campaign has seen more encouragement with three top twenty finishes including his best result since his win, a second place last time out at the Mayakoba.
In summary Aaron clearly seems to be on the way back and I expect this hugely talented player to notch another win on tour this year.
Events Most Likely To....
Aaron has missed the cut on both if his previous visits to Waialae CC for the Sony Open however with the history of late of players who delivered the goods at the Mayakoba going well here he may just use that second place finish in Mexico as a springboard to a fast start to 2021.
Before his slump Wise showed a liking for tougher tree lined tracks like Quail Hollow and Firestone CC and I can see him going well at the Wells Fargo again this year.
Aaron also played well in 2018 at the Northern Trust at Ridgewood CC where he finished fifth in an event won by Bryson Dechambeau. Throw in that connection with Bryson along with the fact that Quail Hollow links well to other par 72 tracks on tour and my belief is that Wise has the game to perform well at Bay Hill in the API and at Muirfield Village at the Memorial [both events which Dechambeau has a strong record at.] and if he is in any kind of form going to these events he is one to keep an eye on. He also showed when he opened with a 65 in 2018 that Bay Hill fits his eye.
Finally Aaron has shown with his performances in Bermuda and Mexico over the past couple of years that he is not averse to a shorter coastal track so lets not forget that Wise, who was raised in California, finished 15th at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am on his first start there in 2018 and also made his first cut of 2020 in the same event when he was horribly out of form.
So there we have it, six players I expect good improvements and good things from in 2021, hopefully they can bag some wins for us between them!