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5-Year Projections for All of Golf's Young Stars

James McMahonContributor IMay 3, 2013

5-Year Projections for All of Golf's Young Stars

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    Ahh, the promise of youth. Ughh, the frustration of potential.

    The only thing we love more than identifying promising young golfers is predicting what their short- and long-term futures are going to look like. There's really no science to the process. We see where they are, we envision where they are going and then sit back and watch it happen for better or worse. Some predictions are nailed; others are forgotten like a bad prom date.

    There are many golfers currently 25 and under that have significant skill and promise that make them players to follow five years down the road. Here are the top 10 from that group that will either rise to great expectations or struggle in falling short of them. 

10. Ryo Ishikawa

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    Two years ago, Ryo Ishikawa wouldn't just have been on this list—he would have led it. Yet progress has slowed for the young Japanese star, at least when it comes to breaking through on U.S. soil and challenging in major championships.

    That said, Ryo is a mere 21 years old and possesses a world of talent when his game, and his mind, is right. Yet thus far in 2013, neither has been as Ishikawa has missed the cut in six of his 11 starts. So the nagging doubt seeping in around Ryo is whether the promise of his game was hype or perhaps it’s just taking a little longer than expected to see it blossom.

    It might be too soon to give up on Ishikawa, but as players of the same age or slightly older sprint past, time and expectations are running thin.

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Wins: 0; Five Years From Now: 1

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years From Now: 0

9. Harris English

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    One of a handful of talented youngsters ready to lead the next wave of American golfers, Harris English has the complete game to compete on the PGA Tour now and well into the future.

    It's true English lacks the breakthrough first PGA Tour victory that other under-25 golfers own, but as his starts accumulate during his second full season on the circuit, it's only a matter of time until that win comes. The former Georgia Bulldog has posted three top-10 finishes this season, including a tie for sixth in last week's Zurich Classic, to build off three others in his rookie 2012 season.

    Long off the tee, accurate with irons and solid around the greens, Harris has all the bases covered. He is more substance than pop, but that's an approach that can win consistently on Tour, as we expect him to do as he makes his way toward his mid-to-late 20s. 

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Victories: 0; Five Years From Now: 3

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years From Now: 0

8. Rickie Fowler

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    To be fair, it’s possible too much was expected too soon from Rickie Fowler. It’s also fair to suggest that the former Oklahoma State star has fallen short of even the most conservative of expectations since he turned professional several years ago.

    With only one PGA Tour victory to his credit, which he defends this weekend at Quail Hallow, Fowler has watched popular American players such as Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley win majors before him and others such as Dustin Johnson compete more consistently in them.

    The question is whether the same story will be playing five years from now as Fowler goes from young star to established professional. Unfortunately, the answer appears more likely yes than no.

    With all due respect to his talent, Fowler seems to have more Sergio Garcia in him than Tiger Woods. He enjoys the style of his game perhaps more than the substance of it, and history tells us that is not the path to significant victory.

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Victories: 1; Five Years From Now: 4

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years from Now: 0

7. Bud Cauley

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    This former University of Alabama star may lack the name recognition of others on this list, but he has the same potential to be winning big time tournaments and topping money lists five years from now.

    Both as a collegiate and an amateur golfer, Cauley has seen his full measure of success, and last year as a professional, he notched six top-10 finishes.

    He has power off the tee that belies his relatively small frame and an iron game that is steadily improving. If his short game can eventually match those attributes, Cauley will begin avoiding missed cuts and turning top-10 finishes into victories in the not too distant future.

    The ultimate breakthrough will take some time, but five years from now, Cauley will be a threat to win any major he enters.

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Victories: 0; Five Years From Now: 4

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years from Now: 1

6. Tianlang Guan

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    Yes he’s a mere 14 years old and simple math says he will only be 19 five years from now, but overlooking this smooth customer as a young player to watch in the very near future would be a rather large mistake.

    Certainly there is a danger to a golfer being exposed to too much too soon, but by all accounts this Chinese teenager has his head screwed on right and owns the correct appreciation for the opportunity in front of him. 

    Guan’s physique has a ways to go to catch up with the talent of his swing and golf acumen, but as long as his head stays straight and people around him have pure intentions, there really is no ceiling for this kid. Early returns from Augusta National and TPC Louisiana back that up in spades.

    How far along Tianlang will be five years from now is up for debate, but what is certain is he will be among the most influential golfers in the world as the game maintains its Asian explosion and the continent continues delivering talented golfers each one likely younger than the next. 

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Wins: 0; Five Years From Now: 2

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years From Now: 0 (but coming soon)

5. Kyle Stanley

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    At the “advanced” age of 25, Kyle Stanley just barely qualified for this list, but based on potential he more than deserves to be here. In fact, at the age of 30, don’t be surprised if he is among the more successful golfers on this list.

    Stanley turned pro in 2009 and finally captured his first PGA Tour title in early 2012. Given his length off the tee and accuracy hitting greens from the fairways, Stanley has the skill to win majors but to date has been held back by his weak putting, which currently ranks 184th on the PGA Tour.

    Therein lies Stanley’s challenge in elevating from “almost too old to be considered young and promising” to “primed and ready to win consistently and significantly.” Tighten up the short game and Stanley will not only challenge for major championships in the shadow of 30 years old, but he will continue to do it long beyond that five-year threshold.

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Victories: 1; Five Years From Now: 4

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years From Now: 1 

4. Rusell Henley

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    Russell Henley wasted little time emphatically announcing his arrival on the PGA Tour by winning his first-ever start back in January at the Sony Open.

    The 24-year-old former Georgia Bulldog backed up that performance with a second top-10 showing at the RBC Heritage a couple weeks ago to complement two other top-20 showings. Not a bad rookie showing and one that promises great things ahead.

    The Charleston, S.C. resident has the short game to hold up against the type of pressure-packed moments he endured at the Sony in Hawaii, and although he did not make the cut at his first Masters a month ago, his all-around game is steady enough to survive the toughest tests on Tour as demonstrated last month at Harbour Town Golf Links.

    It’s too early to predict too much for Henley based on a limited track record, but there’s little question he will be among a strong group of young Americans challenging for majors as his experience and confidence grows over the next five years.

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Victories: 1; Five Years From Now: 6

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years from Now: 1

3. Jordan Spieth

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    There’s something about this Texas teenager that screams greatness, and it won’t take long for the noise to be heard.

    In fact, we’re expecting Spieth to quickly mature into the best young American golfer in the game and to begin challenging for major championships sooner rather than later.

    Playing on a special temporary membership the past couple months, Spieth, who burst on the scene as a 16-year-old making the cut at the Byron Nelson Classic in 2010, has already collected a trio of top-10 finishes in just eight starts as a professional heading into this week. As he gains strength, acclimates to the grind of professional golf and improves his short game, Spieth will be poised to challenge the game’s established stars in major championships in just a few short years.

    In fact, the former Texas Longhorn will have his first major before his 24th birthday, likely a U.S. Open, and will establish himself as the top American threat to McIlroy in very short order.

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Victories: 0; Five Years From Now: 7

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years from Now: 1

2. Jason Day

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    Twice in the past three years, Jason Day has been in the mix for a Masters victory, but both times he fell short when the pressure of winning time ratcheted up.

    Whether this is a learning process that will eventually produce a major championship or a competitive flaw that will ultimately prevent one will show itself over the next five years.

    There’s no doubt Day has the game to win major championships and a bunch of other PGA Tour events for that matter. Yet to date, the Aussie has only one PGA Tour victory – the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship—and only a handful of near-misses to hang his hat on. That said, this year Day already has posted four top-10 finishes, including the challenge at Augusta National.

    It takes several years for some golfers even with significant talent to see it all come together. Expect that to be the case for Day who will win a Masters and  PGA Championship during the next several years as he challenges McIlroy for the most recognized golf star in the world this side of Tiger Woods. 

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Victories: 1; Five Years From Now: 5

    Current Major Championships: 0; Five Years from Now: 2

1. Rory McIlroy

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    Considering just how good Rory McIlroy is at the age of 23 and all that he has already accomplished, it’s scary to consider how dominant this Irishman might be at age 28; but count on him to be just that—dominant.

    Still a pup in golf years, Rory already owns two major championships, has spent time as the world’s top-ranked player and has a personality that simply screams international superstar. The instability of McIlroy’s equipment change will eventually fade to comfort and confidence, and the upward run of Rory’s career will begin anew.

    Like Tiger Woods before him, McIlroy will come to measure success in terms of major championships, and given his youth and early adaptation to the pressure of majors, he is likely to significantly increase his haul between now and 2018.

    PREDICTIONS

    Current PGA Tour Victories: 6; Five Years From Now: 16

    Current Major Championships: 2; Five Years from Now: 6

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