Ranking the PGA Tour Golfers Ready for Breakouts in 2016-17
Emiliano Grillo didn't wait long to secure a breakthrough win in the 2015-16 season. Grillo, a Web.com Tour grad, captured the first event on the PGA Tour calendar, the (then-called) Frys.com Open.
A week later, Justin Thomas, who mounted a stellar rookie campaign during the 2013-14 season, took home the trophy at the CIMB Classic for his breakthrough win.
In other words, breakthrough wins came early in the 2015-16 season. And if the recent past has set a precedent, we'll see more emerging talents raising trophies soon.
In looking at eight PGA Tour golfers poised for breakthrough wins, we took a look at overall performance last season, including top-10 finishes, performances in key statistical categories and Golfweek's Sagarin rankings.
Who's most likely to be the next Grillo? Read on to find out.
Top-10 finishes: 3
Sagarin ranking: 168
In his second year on tour, the Stanford alum had some rough patches, missing two or three cuts in a row at times. He also tied for third at the Travelers Championship and tied for ninth at the Frys.com Open. He improved from 97th to 73rd in total strokes gained, even amid inferior work off the tee.
With plenty of firepower and swing speed in the upper ranges, Rodgers worked to refine his approach play and effort around the green. His toil paid off, as he improved in both areas. If he dedicates himself similarly to improving his putting this season, he could have a breakthrough season.
Harold Varner III
Top-10 finishes: 4
Sagarin ranking: 98
In his first season on the PGA Tour, Harold Varner III did some of his most impressive work at the Quicken Loans National, where he finished seventh. With top-25 finishes in a quarter of his starts, the Akron, Ohio, native cobbled together a respectable inaugural campaign on tour despite a few rough patches.
Varner is an excellent player off the tee—he placed 15th in strokes gained off the tee last season. Like Rodgers, though, Varner struggles with his putting. He was 166th on tour in strokes gained from putting in 2015-16. That's abysmal, and it makes both consistency and winning difficult. If he's able to improve on the greens, Varner will take the next step.
Top-10 finishes: 5
Sagarin ranking: 90
With a higher percentage of made cuts and more top-10 finishes than Rodgers and Varner, Kyle Reifers lands in our No. 6 spot. Reifers finished fifth at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational and tied for seventh at the Shell Houston Open.
Reifers isn't flashy, and he's been a pro since 2006. He doesn't excel in any statistical category, but he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, either, only losing strokes to the field around the green. After improving on his 2014-15 PGA Tour totals last season, look for him to continue to do the same in the 2016-17 campaign.
Top-10 finishes: 2
Sagarin ranking: 68
Canadian Adam Hadwin notched top-10 finishes at the CareerBuilder Challenge and John Deere Classic. He was in good position at the Memorial Tournament before falling into a tie for 11th with a final-round 74.
Hadwin is also among the best putters on tour (12th in strokes gained from putting), and he's 17th in birdie average. Hadwin's ability to hole birdie putts is tops on this list, making him a strong candidate to nab a win in 2016-17.
Top-10 finishes: 1
Sagarin ranking: 85
Wesley Bryan earns a spot on this list because of his dominant, three-win Web.com Tour season, as well as some respectable work in three of his four PGA Tour starts last season. Most notably, Bryan finished tied for eighth at the John Deere Classic.
Top-10 finishes: 8
Sagarin ranking: 50
Unless you believe Kevin Chappell, who led multiple tournaments after 56 holes last year, is cursed by the golf gods and will never win, it's clear the Californian has to win soon. With eight top-10 finishes, a third-place finish and four second-place finishes, Chappell came closer to winning more often than anyone on this list last year.
Rafa Cabrera Bello
Top-10 finishes: 3
Sagarin ranking: 7
The seventh-best golfer in the world over the past year, according to the Sagarin metric, Rafa Cabrera Bello splits his time between the European and PGA Tours. In just 10 starts on the PGA Tour, however, the Spaniard totaled three top-10 finishes and made the cut in all four majors. At 32 and twice a winner on the European Tour, Cabrera Bello picked up an incredible 1.327 total strokes on the field average in his 10 PGA Tour starts. He's a big-time talent.
Top-10 finishes: 3
Sagarin ranking: 1
Forget everything else for a moment, and consider this: Across the nine starts he's made on the PGA Tour as an amateur and a professional, Jon Rahm has been the best golfer in the world, according to Golfweek's Sagarin ranking, which you can read more about here.
So while we could discuss the Arizona State alum's brilliant showings as an amateur last season, mature and calm under pressure, it's fitting to say that, not only is Rahm the most poised to nab a breakthrough win, but he has to be among the favorites to win the next time he tees it up.