Golfers You Know and Some You Don't: 10 Up-and-Coming Players To Watch in 2011

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistNovember 17, 2010

Golfers You Know and Some You Don't: 10 Up-and-Coming Players To Watch in 2011

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    KINGSBARNS, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 07:  Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays off the second tee during the first round of The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns Golf Links on October 7, 2010 in Kingsbarns, Scotland.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Get
    Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

    A year ago, Tiger Woods fell from grace and an ominous, dark cloud formed and hovered over the 2010 golf season.

    But as the media frenzy ensued, it was, surprisingly, the young players who revitalized the golf world with their vigor and abundance of talent.

    More than ever before, young professional golfers, typically under the age of 30, consistently contended and captured victories (10) on the PGA Tour in 2010. They established an unmistakable presence on Tour.

    At the forefront of this youth uprising was Rory McIlroy, the 21-year-old Northern Irishman, who enjoyed the most success among his peers. McIlroy was simply sensational, carding two top threes at major championships, performing exceptionally for the European Ryder Cup team, and notching his first PGA victory in a dramatic, come-from-behind bout in the form of a course-record 62 to claim the Wells Fargo Championship.

    Make no mistake, the under-30 generation laid the groundwork in 2010 for what will be their official coming out party in the 2011 season. Here are 10 of the most promising players from the 2010—five you know and five you probably don’t—who have the capacity and potential to breakthrough next season.

A 'Major' Contender: Charl Schwartzel

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    Write this guy’s name on a Post-It, on the magnetic pad on your refrigerator, on some fresh app for your iPhone, or at least some place where you can remember it, because this guy is the real deal.

    Just 26 years old, Schwartzel won twice last season on the European Tour, notching his fifth Euro victory since 2004. The South African competed in 11 events on the PGA Tour in 2010, successfully made nine cuts and finished in the top 10 three times, including a runner-up finish to Ernie Els at the WGC-CA Championship last March.

    What distinguished Schwartzel from his peers was his tenacity and consistency in this season’s major championships. Not only did he breeze through the cut-line at all four majors, but he finished in the top 20 in three of the four.

    Finally, there’s no doubt that his nearly flawless swing has played an integral role in his success. His golf swing is as fluid and mechanically sound as Ray Allen’s free-throw stroke or Agassi’s forehand. If he can develop his mental game to deal with the distinct pressure of major championships, then hopefully his swing can do the rest.

The Next Big Thing? Jamie Lovemark

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    From Phil Mickelson back in the day to Rickie Fowler today, Southern California has become a breeding ground for phenomenal golfers. The next big name spawned from the land of sunshine and blue skies who is sure to be in the running for Rookie of the Year in 2011—Jamie Lovemark.

    His illustrious amateur career includes triumphs at the junior golf level and in the collegiate golf world as a two-time first-team All-American at the University of Southern California. In just his sophomore year, he made an indelible mark, winning the NCAA's individual title and receiving the Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson awards for being the individual medalist and NCAA National Player of the Year.

    In 2009, Lovemark made the most of his sponsor’s exemption at the Open, shooting 69-64-65-64 and earning top two honors. Then in 2010, after competing primarily on the Nationwide Tour, he won his first event at the Mexican Open Bicentenary. Only time will tell how Lovemark will perform with his recently acquired PGA Tour status for 2011.

Making a Name For Himself: Matteo Manassero

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    Matteo Manassero was born in 1993.

    Yes, that means he’s 17.

    He’s the youngest player ever to win a European Tour event, a feat he captured this past October at the Castello Masters Costa Azahar. But Manassero’s brilliance was not completely out of the next fairway.

    In 2009, at just 16 years old, the Italian phenom finished in the top 13 at the Open Championship, which earned him the silver medal for leading amateur. Manassero appeared once more on American soil in 2010, at the Masters, where he made the cut and went on to finish in the top 36.

    Today Manassero has officially turned professional, a sign of his ambition and forward-minded thinking. He has a patient-but-powerful swing. He is slow and deliberate on the up-take and quiet with the lower body, which makes a solid downswing with a ton of extension that fuels his length and accuracy.

Powerful Potential: Ryo Ishikawa

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    For 19-year-old Ryo Ishikawa, his 10 events on the PGA Tour in 2010 were about learning and progress. Other than a terrific top nine at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Ishikawa performed somewhat erratically, never truly displaying four days of consistent, solid golf.

    But there were glimpses of his potential, and it was those moments that proved the threat he can become in 2011.

    For example, at this year’s US Open, Ishikawa was tied for second on Day 2 after shooting 71-70. His next two rounds of 75-80 were what ruined his chances of contending, but he gained absolutely invaluable experience competing in the pressure of a major championship.

    He’s already a proven winner, which means he’s not just capable, but no doubt yearning, to enter the winner’s circle once more. This kid has dominated the Japanese Tour, winning four times in 2009 and three times in 2010. But Ishikawa is aware, just as European players are, that a victory on the PGA Tour solidifies your presence in the golf world.

    Fun Fact: On May 2, 2010, Ryo Ishikawa turned in a scorecard with 12 birdies and six pars. That’s a 58, the lowest score ever recorded on a major professional tour. That is up there with Wilt’s 100 points in a game, Halladay’s perfect game and no hitter in a single season, and any other major sports record.

Cool, Calm and Collected: Jin Jeong

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    CRANS, SWITZERLAND - SEPTEMBER 02:  Amateur,  Jin Jeong of Australia plays his second shot into the 10th green during the first round of The Omega European Masters at Crans-Sur-Sierre Golf Club on September 2, 2010 in Crans Montana, Switzerland.  (Photo b
    Warren Little/Getty Images

    Jin Jeong became the first Asian player to win a British Championship after his successful bout at the 2010 British Amateur Championship.

    His victory at Muirfield undoubtedly supplied him with crucial knowledge of links courses, because he excelled at the Open Championship. Each day, Jeong crept up the leaderboard, ultimately finishing top 14, one ahead of a notable figure—Tiger Woods.

    Jeong impressed because of his ability to bounce back. He never let a poor putt or errant drive get the best of him, but instead pushed himself to remedy his initial error. He’s just 20 years old, but he looked as composed and confident as Tom Watson.

    He earned entrance into the 2011 Masters and he is definitely a young player to watch for in the 2011 season.

Winner in 2011: Rickie Fowler

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    LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - NOVEMBER 13:  Rickie Fowler hits a shot on the 1st hole during the third round of the Children's Miracle Network Classic at the Disney Palm and Magnolia course on November 13, 2010 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenw
    Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

    Rickie Fowler has earned the respect of veteran players, incited shock in golf fans and imposed a threat to any one who dares cross him on the golf course. 

    In just his first full season on Tour, Fowler finished in the top 10 eight times, runner-up twice and earned a captain’s pick on the US Ryder Cup squad.  All of this from a 21-year-old Southern Cali kid who sports long hair and vibrant—bordering on obnoxious—colored golf apparel.

    Similar to a guy like Anthony Kim, Fowler not only wears his emotions on his sleeve, but he emits his dogged effort to win on Tour. Whether behind the ropes or on the couch, viewers can recognize how Fowler strategizes and visualizes each and every shot, chip and putt, as if the whole tournament were riding on the outcome. He’s precise off the tee, ranked in the top 20 in greens-in-regulation on Tour, and improved his putting abilities throughout the season.

    Though he didn’t win this season, he came extraordinarily close and he has the momentum of a stellar rookie year propelling him.

Rule The Day: Jason Day

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    ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 23:  Jason Day of Australia hits his tee shot on the fifth hole during the first round of THE TOUR Championship presented by Coca-Cola at East Lake Golf Club on September 23, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Im
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    In addition to Greg Norman, Adam Scott and Geoff Ogilvy, Australians can add another native to their list of exceptional golfers—Jason Day.

    The 2010 PGA Tour season was a breakthrough for Day, who finished in the top 10 five times and shined in the latter half of the season. He won his first PGA Tour event at the HP Byron Nelson Championship after four brilliant rounds of 66-65-67-72.

    Since his victory in May, Day didn’t miss a single cut in 12 events—quite telling about Day’s character. In fact, in that time he earned four of his five top 10s, which include a top 10 at the PGA Championship and a top five and  top two in the Fed-Ex Cup Playoffs.

    Also, Day is a guy to watch for because he’s constantly improving. The key, distinctive difference in his game from the beginning of the season to the latter portion was vast improvement in his putting. Whether it was reading greens or judging speed, Day found his groove with the putter and it paid off big time.

Regaining Dominant Form: Adam Scott

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    SINGAPORE - NOVEMBER 12:  Adam Scott of Australia plays his 2nd shot on the 5th hole during the second round of the Barclays Singapore Open held at the Sentosa Golf Club on November 12, 2010 in Singapore, Singapore.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)
    Stanley Chou/Getty Images

    Similar to Kobe Bryant in the NBA, Albert Pujols in the MLB, and Tom Brady in the NFL, Adam Scott is one of those players who,when he’s on, is just unbeatable.

    After a few arduous seasons of rebuilding his game, Scott seems to be regaining his form with a vengeance. Scott found his rhythm after this year’s US Open, making nine cuts in a row and finishing in the top 10 three times. 

    In addition to winning the Valero Texas Open early on the season, Scott continued to excel with a victory this past weekend at the Barclay’s Singapore Open, an event he’s now won three separate times (2005, 2007, 2010).

    Scott is just a dynamic player who exudes ambition and mental strength.  Considering he endured intense struggles over the last few years, it’s a positive sign to see him entering the winner’s circle again.

Constant Contender: Anthony Kim

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Anthony Kim hits his tee shot on the sixth hole during the first round of the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship at the Quail Hollow Club on April 29, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    AK is the most promising of the bunch because he’s already proven he’s got the skills to compete with the best in the world.

    Brash and anything-but-bashful, Kim wasn't, and never will be, the poster-child of the PGA Tour. He’s a wild thing, practicing his sky-high wedges by day and partying through the night and into the morning before he does it all over again.

    While some have attacked his antics, he’s broken through the traditional mold for the professional golfer, and done it while contending for victories. He began the 2010 season arguably stronger than other player, making eight cuts in a row and carding four top 10s. Kim got gritty at the Masters, attacking pins, never leaving putts short, pulling the driver anytime he could, and it earned him his best-ever major championship finish, top three.

    But his hot streak came to a sudden halt when an injury left him sidelined for two months. In hopes of being eligible for the Ryder Cup, Kim clearly attempted to compete before he was fully healed, or at least prepared, and bombed in his brief return.

    The fact is, this kid has a Tiger-esque mentality about golf. Beyond love of the game, he plays to win, goes for broke, refuses to take the conservative route and will hopefully return in 2011 with that same deadly attitude.

Leader of The Pack: Rory McIlroy

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    NEWPORT, WALES - OCTOBER 04:  Rory McIlroy of Europe hits a shot on the second hole in the singles matches during the 2010 Ryder Cup at the Celtic Manor Resort on October 4, 2010 in Newport, Wales.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Rory McIlroy is the leader of this youthful, talented pack.

    Though he had a luminous amateur career, McIlroy truly entered the spotlight when he finished top 42 at the British Open in 2007, earning the silver medal for highest-finishing amateur. He primarily pursues the European Tour, but when he’s played on American soil, he’s been marvelous.

    In 2009, he earned a slew of top 20 finishes, three top 10s, and a stellar top three at the PGA Championship. But who knew he’d soar to new heights in 2010?

    Not only did he take home his first PGA Tour victory at the Wells Fargo Championship (highlighted by a final round 62—a new course record), but he finished top three at both the British Open and PGA Championship.

    One of McIlroy’s most advantageous strengths has been his extreme length, averaging 300 yards off the tee this past season. Considering McIlroy is known as one of the best ball-strikers on Tour, when his drives grant him shorter yardages, he’s able to play a much more aggressive game.