PGA TOUR Fall 2021 Recap: 6 Winners from Autumn Stretch, Featuring Sam Burns & Viktor Hovland
Getty Images. Pictured: Sam Burns (left) and Viktor Hovland.
You may be excused if you haven’t paid much attention to golf over the first few months of the 2021-22 PGA TOUR schedule.
I get it. There was football, both NFL and CFB; the basketball season started; hockey, soccer, MMA — you name it.
As a sports fan, you can only handle just so much.
For those who have missed the first nine events on the fall portion of the calendar, let’s get you up to speed with six players who have taken advantage of getting off to a hot start — and what it could mean for them moving forward.
Look, we all knew the career trajectory for Burns was going to keep ascending, but based on what he showed us over the past few months, the 2022 campaign could be an absolute monster for him.
Following his win at the Valspar Championship earlier in the year, the LSU product became a two-time champion by claiming the Sanderson Farms Championship title in the second tournament of this new season.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Burns’ performance has been his ability to keep the momentum going when he’s playing well. In his next start after that victory in Tampa, he finished runner-up; in four starts since winning in Jackson, Miss., he hasn’t finished worse than T-14, with three results of seventh or better.
After starting the year at 154th on the world ranking, Burns is now up to 13th. He’s a legitimate threat to start contending in major championships and play on his first U.S. team this coming year in the Presidents Cup.
Perhaps no player asserted himself as one to reckon with this past fall than Gooch, whose six starts included five finishes of 11th or better and his first PGA TOUR victory at the RSM Classic.
Known as one of the game’s emerging ball-striking talents over the past few years, Gooch will now be able to play a bit more freely, knowing that at 33rd in the world ranking he’ll be able to set his schedule with any events he wants to play this coming year.
In fact, the Oklahoma State product has competed in just four previous majors — never finishing better than T-33 — but he’ll double that number soon enough.
Prior to recently, Brooks Koepka was the last player to successfully defend a PGA TOUR title, winning both the 2018 and ’19 editions of the PGA Championship. That changed when Hovland went back-to-back at the Worldwide Technology Championship at Mayakoba, this time cruising to a four-stroke victory.
From there, he stepped on the gas pedal, winning the Hero World Challenge in his very next start.
The scariest part is that Hovland is prevailing at venues that don’t necessarily set up for his game.
“Frankly, the grass here, the Paspalum and the Bermuda, is not something that I’m very used to, so I don’t know,” he said. “For some reason, I just play well here.”
At some point, the Norwegian is going to get to a course that has grass he’s comfortable with. When that happens, watch out.
For the most part, 2021 was a forgettable year for Wolff, who was DQ’d for signing an incorrect scorecard at the Masters, took some time away from the game and was vocal in his insistence that golf wasn’t fun and he hadn’t been enjoying himself.
Not that long ago, there was reason to believe he might become a player with loads of unfulfilled potential. If the past few months are any indication, he’s ready to play at a very high level.
Armed with a smile that has ubiquitously returned, Wolff posted results of 17th or better in each of his four starts to begin the 2021-22 season. At 31st in the world ranking after nearly being outside the top 50 not long ago, he could be in the top 15 by the time the PGA TOUR leaves the West Coast in February.
Too often, we judge professional golfers on wins alone, rather than things so many of them strive for, such as consistency and longevity.
Tringale is a modern-day Briny Baird, a player who racks up paychecks without winning, but he proved during the fall part of the schedule that the elusive “W” might be coming.
A guy who plays a lot of golf, Tringale was 11th or better in three of seven starts to start this season, including a share of second place at the ZOZO Championship.
I’ve always been a firm believer that close calls and near misses can only be positive experiences for golfers, who can learn from them and use ‘em to their advantage in the future. It’s tough to believe that at some point, Tringale won’t finally find the winner’s circle — perhaps within the next few months.
Speaking of consistency, I’ve often compared McNealy so far in the early part of his career to Charles Howell III — and I mean that as a compliment.
McNealy might not own the same ceiling as some of his twenty-something peers, but his floor is nearly as high as anyone. From May-August, he never finished better than T-16, but never finished worse than T-30 in seven starts.
This fall, though, he started to show a bit more of that ceiling, with a runner-up at the Fortinet Championship and a share of 11th at Mayakoba.
Expect that floor to remain throughout the 2022 campaign, while his ceiling could continue getting higher, as well.