Golfers to follow in 2019: Ben Coley's second batch of players to watch

Cameron Davis
Cameron Davis

Two Australians stand out among those to have earned their cards through the Web.com Tour Finals as Ben Coley provides another guide to some new names on the PGA Tour.

Curtis Luck

Arguably the most promising of those to have earned a card through the Web.com Tour Finals, this Australian has already contended for PGA Tour honours having finished fifth in the Quicken Loans National last summer, leading during the final round. The following week he carded four rounds in the sixties for 20th in the Greenbrier Classic and with that sort of form in the bank, it's a surprise it took him so long to find his feet at a lower level.

Luck began the 2018 season with some promising enough efforts, culminating in fifth place in Georgia, but it would take a further 15 starts for anything resembling a title challenge as he took sixth in Oregon before fifth place the following week got him close to the promised land.

That Luck completed the job with eighth in the Tour Championship says much about one of the brightest lights to emerge from Down Under in recent years: he's tough, tenacious, what some would call a typical Perth golfer. It can be traced back to turning up to junior tournaments with inferior equipment and defying setbacks such as shooting 116 in his very first event.

A former US Amateur champion who won eight straight holes en route to an imperious victory, one which took him to Augusta and the top of the rankings, Luck has serious pedigree despite his lowly beginnings and, having just turned 22, the feeling is that he has the world at his feet.

A dynamite short-game looks set to make him a player capable of scoring even when not at his absolute best and while he's made a slow start to the campaign and will likely miss his share of weekends, expect him to contend at some point. If he does keep his card, it may well be through two or three huge weeks than 11 or 12 solid ones, but there's every hope that at some stage he'll establish himself as a world-class talent.

They say...

"Really, really, really impressive player. Real simple golf swing… just kind of understands where he’s at. And how to play different shots and then around the greens he was spectacular, which is something that you certainly need to take with you up to the next level. So he’s certainly got all the tools. (Jordan Spieth after playing alongside Luck, then an amateur, at the Australian Open)

He says...

"My parents have done a really good job of giving me a good vision of where I sit in the grand scheme of things right now,.

"Technically I’m doing an apprenticeship; I’ve just clicked over my first year as a pro, so I’m learning a lot. Most people that get to high-paying jobs in regular industries, it takes them years, if not decades, to get there.

"So I think my parents have done a good job, and people around me as well, of just giving me a more realistic view on how long things can take, and not to rush things … because I think that just putting that added pressure on myself isn’t going to (serve me well)."

"Justin Rose, I really like his technical attributes, I think he's a great ball-striker and probably I would like to think that he's got a perfect swing almost."

Curtis Luck is the standout name in our latest feature

Cameron Davis

Another Aussie star in the making, one who wasn't quite as impressive as Luck as amateur - despite a starring performance at the Eisenhower Trophy - but has already made great waves as a professional, stunning some world-class opponents to land the Australian Open late last year. During that event, Jason Day asked who he was and whether he was a pro or an amateur; he wasn't alone in being caught by surprise.

That remarkable success came a year after he'd left the unpaid ranks and his start had been inauspicious in the main. There were toils on the Canadian Tour, including a disqualification after sleeping through an alarm and a round of 82 in Ontario, and his form prior to winning the Stonehaven Cup had been decidedly low-key. But there was also great promise, including a top-20 finish on his PGA Tour debut in Mexico, and he's since added another piece of Silverware in the Nashville Golf Open to underline his capabilities.

Davis has so far been hard to predict - he played only three rounds prior to his Web.com Tour breakthrough and was missing cuts before winning in Australia - but this big-hitter, previously famed for a YouTube video in which he demonstrates an ability to play either right- or left-handed, is deadly when on-song.

A top-20 finish to start his first season on the PGA Tour offered great encouragement and he'll have eyes on a return to Mexico next week, where he both made his PGA Tour debut and, back in 2016, dominated for an Eisenhower Trophy team which included Luck. Along with Min Woo Lee, Ryan Ruffels, Lucas Herbert, and the more established Cameron Davis, they look to be among the most likely to follow the path laid out by Adam Scott, Jason Day and Marc Leishman over the coming years.

Amazing golf shot - Cam Davis hits it equally well both sides

Denny McCarthy

Dynamite putter who finally lived up to market expectations when landing the Web.com Tour Championship. It had been coming, as he'd opened 65, 66, 66, 66, 70, 67 in his previous six events, but this time he stayed the distance with a final-round 65 for a first professional win.

At 25 years old and having bagged an early top-10 finish this season, McCarthy is obviously one to keep an eye on as he'd been a star amateur and looks like the sort of player who just knows how to score, an invaluable ability at the top level. Watch for him in the John Deere Classic, where former Junior Ryder Cup team-mate Jordan Spieth broke through.

McCarthy will in all likelihood prove to be a little way short of that kind of level, but he's nonetheless among the more promising players to have graduated and has boundless scope - particularly if he can sharpen up a little from the tee.


Seth Reeves

Left-hander from Georgia who didn't look to be going anywhere for most of last season despite a bright start when 10th in the Bahamas. That all changed with fourth place at TPC Stonebrae, a performance which triggered a strong run of form and earned him a card despite a low-key end to the campaign.

Having previously looked short of the standard required on the Web.com Tour, it's been some turnaround and seventh place at the Sanderson Farms Championship saw him climb into the world's top 500 for the first time. It came courtesy of an exceptional tee-to-green display and that bodes well as he looks to establish himself at this level.

A bright start in Las Vegas further confirms that he's in the form of his life right now but the suspicion is he'll need to make hay while the sun shines as things will get much tougher after Christmas. Still, the way he's playing he could well have taken care of business by then as he and close friend Anders Albertson are among those to have made the biggest impression so far.


Hunter Mahan

One-time Ryder Cup feature and regular major contender whose game went AWOL towards the end of 2015, one year after a high-class success in The Barclays. At his best, Mahan is an outstanding driver who is equally metronomic in the quality of his approach play and there are grounds for optimism after he came through the Web Finals with little drama.

Now 36, it's questionable whether he'll return to the level which earned him WGCs in 2010 and 2012 but there are enough opportunities for a Californian who is now exiled in Texas to remind us all of his class. Indeed even if things don't go to plan over the first half of the season he'd be exactly the type to pull something out of the fire - perhaps in Canada where he has some unfinished business.

Piece by piece, he's put his game back together and a renaissance of some description is coming, I feel sure of that.


Lucas Glover

Former US Open champion who went through some off-course struggles last year but ended the season on a high with second place in the Web.com Tour Championship. That came in Florida, where he now resides, and among his best form over the last couple of years is sixth at the PLAYERS and seventh at Bay Hill. In other words, watch for him in those events and the Honda Classic, especially if the wind were to blow.

Putting woes continue to hold back a player who is truly world-class from tee-to-green but perseverance should eventually pay off if he can stay fit. Turns 39 soon but with his iron play back on-song and hints of a putting revival, it's fair to expect a couple of top-10 finishes at least and perhaps a first victory since 2011. Not a player who has finished contending for titles at the highest level.


Sang-moon Bae

Back from military service in his native South Korea, having signed off with a gut-wrenching end to the Presidents Cup there in 2015. It took him a little while to reacquaint himself with the flow of a touring professional, despite having been allowed to down weapons for some range time, and most of 2018 was a write-off - indeed there'd have been concerns as to whether he'd every get back to the level he'd achieved four or five years ago.

However, like so many class acts who drop down to the Web.com Tour, Bae stood up and made it count in a quickfire T6-1 double to re-establish his PGA Tour playing rights and it's hoped that he can return to his absolute best having once reached 26 in the world. To do so he'll need to find consistency again but watch for him on the west coast at the start of the year on the various, largely difficult golf courses which have often brought out his best.


Robert Streb

Confined Brendon de Jonge to yet another near-miss when bravely winning a play-off for the 2014 McGladrey Classic before losing a play-off for the Greenbrier the following summer, despite putting with his wedge for much of the final round.

Since then, he's become a dad and struggled a little to strike a balance, but there was still room for another runner-up finish at the Greenbrier in 2017 and he was 11th there earlier this year. Clearly, then, that traditional layout suits this old-fashioned golfer and it's definitely his sort of level.

Looks the type to jump between tours but when he does drop down, either to Web.com level or a low-grade PGA Tour event, he's very dangerous. That was in evidence as he won the Nationwise Children's Hospital Championship in August and so far he's looked good on those rare occasions he finds himself in the conversation on Sunday evening.


Peter Malnati

Introspective, glass-half-full blogger who relies on holing putts to remain competitive. On courses where his ball-striking issues aren't overly punished, such as Country Club of Jackson where he won in 2015, he can be a danger - but in the main this is a player who struggles to compete for much of the year.

Watch for Malnati on short courses in the south, where he's found his home. Indeed the loss of Southwind from the regular schedule is a blow but there are still enough layouts on the schedule to provide the opportunity to keep hold of his playing rights with that exemption for winning the SFC having run out.

Encouragingly, Malnati has started making cuts on a fairly consistent basis and there have been plenty of low-sixties rounds thrown in, but all three of his PGA Tour top-10s came in that glorious four-event run three years ago and his inability to bag a big cheque when he does make the weekend is problematic.


Adam Schenk

Came through the LatinoAmerica Tour, a very modern route to the top, and quickly hinted that he can keep on climbing by securing a Web.com Tour win. Didn't happen for him in his debut campaign at the top level but dropping down a rung appears to have worked the oracle, as he started this season with 14th in the Safeway Open and seventh in the Sanderson Farms Championship.

With 97 FedEx Cup points in the bag already he's almost halfway to last year's total and around 25 per cent of the number needed to keep his card. With the power he boasts off the tee and as he gets increasingly comfortable, expect him to do it. Nice player in the making.


Matt Jones

Still not sure how he won the Houston Open back in 2014 and it seemed to catch him off guard, as it took a good ninth months for his next top-10 finish. From there, Jones went on to contend for the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits and having signed off the year with victory back home in the Australian Open, everything looked in place for this talented type to kick on and win again.

Golf thought otherwise, though, and Jones went the whole of 2016 without a top-10, struggled again throughout 2017 and needed to drop down a level for fifth place in the Web.com Tour Championship before again contending back home. That's very much been the pattern again, a run of 10-2 in the Web Finals earning him another reprieve, but for all the flashes of brilliance his last PGA Tour top-10 came over three years ago. Ending that run ought to be his first goal.

Matt Jones wins Shell Houston Open with incredible hole out

Roger Sloan

Canadian who is no relation to Mark Sloan, crack detective in the TV series Diagnosis Murder. Roger won in Nova Scotia back in 2014, that Web.com Tour success earning him a crack at the big-time, but his form on the PGA Tour reads poorly. So far in 25 events he's managed just one top-20 finish and that came up in Illinois in the sort of event he could just make an impression in. Still, he's odds-on to finish outside the 125 - probably by a margin.


Shawn Stefani

Texan slugger who, like a few of these, suffered a loss of both form and fitness before turning things around in the Web Finals. A run of 4-25-13-31 there came on the back of some small steps in the right direction in the league above and he's since produced his first PGA Tour top-10 of the year, precisely 12 months on from the last one. Clearly, he can't rely on the Sanderson Farms Championship and he now needs to build on seventh place there at the end of October.

Next week's OHL Classic offers a nice opportunity as he's been runner-up there before and his best form has tended to come around tight-ish, tree-lined courses when his long-game clicks despite not looking at all pretty on camera. The archetypal journeyman now and one who will probably end his career without a win at the top level for all that he's threatened, most notably when losing a play-off to Justin Rose at Congressional.


Max Homa

Five years now since he held his own on a strong US Walker Cup side but this Californian is slowly moving back in the right direction, highlighted a couple of timely top-10 finishes to earn a third crack at the PGA Tour. For a player whose very first PGA Tour start resulted in a top-10 finish, so far he's really struggled with 2017 in particular a nightmare as he missed 13 cuts in 14 starts.

At 27, there's still scope for Homa to improve and he has he required blend of power and control to find his feet at some stage. That will require a consistent run of events and the building of confidence with so far has been distinctly lacking. May have been better off spending another year on the Web.com Tour.


Roberto Diaz

Mexican who has had a crack at a WGC back home as a consequence, finishing down the field to underline the gap he has to bridge. Went close to winning on the Web.com Tour at the start of the 2017 season but earned his card through striking form at just the right time and may just be found out by the quick rise in grade.

That's certainly been the case so far and in 31 attempts in PGA Tour events, his best finish is 25th place. That came on home soil in the OHL Classic and he'll have earmarked next week's event as an opportunity to secure some precious points. Without them, a long season of struggle beckons.


Stephan Jager

Still-improving German who made headlines back in 2016 with an opening-round 58 at the Ellie Mae Classic, which he impressively followed with 65-64-63 for 30-under and a seven-stroke success. He's since added three more wins at Web.com Tour level and is quite clearly comfortable under the gun, his latest success arguably the pick as he held off Sungjae Im to win in Tennessee, his adopted home.

Has some college friends who've enjoyed PGA Tour success and looks capable of taking the next step himself, particularly when scoring is low. Weekends like that which he produced in the Sanderson Farms, where he closed 67-67 for 14th, may come along with a degree more frequency and he's one to keep an eye on in the right grade when birdies are on the agenda.


Nicholas Lindheim

Prolific collector of titles at a lower level, winning at least once in every one of his first four years as a cardholder on a recognised tour. That sequence is set to end in 2018 unless he breaks through early on the PGA Tour, but anyone who can pick up silverware as frequently as he has deserves plenty of respect.

Lost his card after a quiet summer but had started well and that was again the case as he played nicely for 26th in the Sanderson Farms Championship, so with his 34th birthday just around the corner there's mounting evidence that this Californian is capable of establishing himself at this level after years on minor tours. No world-beater but doesn't mean he can't produce his best season yet.


Dylan Frittelli

A familiar name to European Tour viewers having broken his duck on that circuit last year, ultimately winning twice, following on from an up-and-down but ultimately successful graduation from the Challenge Tour where his waywardness at the time had looked destructive. Gladly, he's resolved that and then some, making driver a weapon.

None of this is to say ardent US observers won't know who he is. Far from it. Frittelli played on the same college team as Jordan Spieth and led the Texas Longhorns to the NCAA Championship in 2012, enough to ensure he certainly won't be forgotten around those parts but also to guarantee a degree of comfort as he seeks to complete the journey from South Africa.

Solid through the bag, Frittelli has made a perfectly acceptable start since securing his card with a top-10 finish in Boise and his ability to make the weekend and stick around towards the top 10 will see him earn plenty of decent cheques. He's one who can edge towards being a regular contender at this level and will doubtless be popular if turning up in the Lone Star State with his game in good shape.

Dylan Frittelli won a play-off in Mauritius
Dylan Frittelli won a play-off in Mauritius late last year

Wes Roach

A classic yo-yo player, graduating from the Web.com Tour in 2013 and 2015 but struggling on the PGA Tour in 2014 and 2016. He has managed a top-five finish at this level but it came in Puerto Rico and still wasn't enough to keep his playing rights, so we very much know where we stand by now.

So far this season, Roach hasn't broken 70 and while he continues to find fairways with a degree of ease, the rest of his game looks a little way short. It'd be a big surprise were he to win and the mission will be to scrape together enough points to at least get close to the top 125.


Sepp Straka

Capable young Austrian who finished a brave third at the Web.com Tour Championship, having earlier won the low-scoring KC Golf Classic which had developed into a head-to-head with Kyle Jones.

Straka is distinctly lacking in PGA Tour experience but must've thought he'd cracked the game when opening with a round of 63 in the Safeway Open. Since then, he's failed to break 70 and the suspicion is he'll miss a heck of a lot of cuts, meaning he must capitalise on rare opportunities to contend.


Cameron Tringale

Friend of Rickie Fowler and once promised to be almost as good, with an accurate game which occasionally caught fire. Second place in The Barclays in 2014 was a high-class effort and followed on from a contending performance in Houston earlier that year, while his list of PGA Tour top-10s stretches out to his native California coast and all the way to Asia courtesy of the CIMB Classic.

Can lay claim to victory in the Franklin Templeton Shootout alongside Jason Day but remains a maiden otherwise as he approaches the decade anniversary of his decision to join the professional ranks. That's disappointing but he's not the only member of the US Walker Cup team from 2009 to flatter to deceive and, at 31, hope isn't lost.

Hard to pin down expectations but short, wayward hitting will continue to be a problem and so far, his sharp short-game hasn't quite been able to cope. If, however, he can start to find fairways then he's definitely capable of re-establishing himself at this level.


Ben Silverman

Accurate type who putts well but while that formula was once money on the PGA Tour, these days it tends to be a little lacking. Still, the Canadian showed flashes last year and at 136th in FedEx Cup points, he was very close to keeping his full playing rights and making the Playoffs.

Another who says he improved after becoming a dad back in 2017, Silverman is a player who has had to grind for every dollar he's earned. Indeed, the Toronto Star makes a nice comparison: when he was 16, he shot 118 in a junior event. When Jordan Spieth was 16, he held his own in a PGA Tour event.

There are many examples of players cutting their teeth on the minor tours and learning the value of every cheque before going on to enjoy success at the highest level. Silverman surely won't make it all the way to the top, but he seems certain to learn from 2018 and can scrap his way to the Playoffs this time.


Fabian Gomez

Two-time PGA Tour winner, first with a really impressive Sunday effort in Tennessee back in 2015 before beating Brandt Snedeker in a play-off for the Sony Open the following January. Closed with a round of 62 there - the second time he's done so for silverware - so rates one to keep a close eye on when he does have a sniff on Sunday.

More recently he's struggled to get competitive on the PGA Tour but when he does it's typically on a short, scoreable layout, so watch for him again going well in the Sony as an indication of what to expect for 2019. Chances are he peaked a couple of years ago.


Jim Knous

Secured the 50th and final card via the Web Finals and that fits the narrative of a player whose path to the top table has been rather different to most - largely because he grew up in the Rocky Mountains.

Described as a "stud" by his college coach, Knous nevertheless might have thought he'd need his civil engineering degree if things didn't work out, but the birth of his first child this summer prompted a turnaround in form which was just enough to earn his place on the PGA Tour.

Typical of the man, it seems, he gobbled up his first opportunity with 10th place in the Safeway and this sweet swinger probably isn't one to underestimate, especially on rare opportunities to put his experience at altitude to use.

Others in this series...

The Grads

Ben Coley's first batch of players to watch included Cameron Champ, who went on to win later that week.

The Graduates

Like The Grads, but European. Here we'll take a look at the Challenge Tour graduates in an attempt to uncover which are best equipped for the rise in grade.

The Schoolboys

A detailed look at those to earn their European Tour cards at Final Stage Qualifying School, which concludes on November 15.

Back On Track

Which players might be set to get their careers moving back in the right direction during the next 12 or so months? Find out here.

At The Top

Finally, we'll grade the world's top 50 players on their achievements in 2018 and profile the world's top 10, plus one or two more besides.

Sources

Various sources were used including the work of Adam Stanley, Will Gray, Jason Sobel and others. All can be found on twitter.

Click here to read about Jim Knous in more detail.

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