USA Today Sports. Pictured: Cameron Smith, Emiliano Grillo, Patrick Rodgers
- Tony Finau and Bryson DeChambeau were golf's breakout stars of 2018. Who will follow in their footsteps?
- We break down three candidates who could make a leap on the 2019 PGA Tour: Cameron Smith, Emiliano Grillo and Patrick Rodgers.
We witness a selection of golfers take huge steps forward in their careers every year.
Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau were well outside the top 20 in the world at this time last year. Now they’re among the favorites to win every single week.
DeChambeau entered 2018 with only one career win, but racked up four more, including two FedEx Cup playoff events. And while Finau surprisingly didn’t win, he did manage four second-place finishes while missing only three cuts.
The value on those guys is probably gone forever. We’re not going to see either at worse than +3300 for a while, which means it’s time to look for the next players who could see similar rises in their careers.
What I look for when trying to target the “next guy up” on Tour is consistent week-to-week results.
In 2015 and 2016, Finau played 59 events and had five top-10 finishes while missing 18 cuts. In 2017, we saw a different Finau — nine top 10s and only three missed cuts in 28 tournaments, planting the seeds for his 12 top 10s in 2018.
DeChambeau’s rise didn’t take the same amount of time as Finau’s did. DeChambeau missed 13 cuts in 2017, but the changes in his game were apparent early in 2018. He missed only two cuts and had four top-five finishes in his first 13 tournaments. He also missed only two cuts in his final 13 tournaments of 2017 after a slow start to the year.
So prior to DeChambeau’s run, we had basically a full year in which he played 26 tournaments and missed only four cuts and was in the top 10 six times.
There’s a learning curve involved for a lot of players. One of the biggest challenges for Tour pros is setting a schedule, and early on, many pros are simply playing every tournament they’re eligible for in order to establish full status. Once that status is secure, they’re able to pick and choose the spots that are better suited to their games and gear up for specific events.
So who is primed for a 2019 breakout? Here are three players who could see jumps similar to the ones we saw from Finau and DeChambeau this past year.
Smith’s career has a similar look to what we’ve seen from Finau.
In 2016 and 2017, the young Australian missed 20 cuts in 54 events worldwide with only nine top 10s. But we’ve seen Smith take that first step toward that level of consistent champion in 2018.
Smith had eight top 10s in 27 starts with just five missed cuts. He has a couple wins in Australia and owns an official PGA Tour victory in the team event with Jonas Blixt. Smith also has a pair of top fives in majors, including at Augusta.
He’s not the best driver, but the short game and putter are strong, so I’ll be looking for him on courses that cater more to his inaccuracy on the tee.
If he does make noise in a major, I’d took toward Pebble Beach and the U.S. Open. His other top five in a major was at the U.S. Open in 2015 at Chambers Bay on the West coast. He’s been a good wind player and poa putter throughout his early career.
His results at Pebble Beach have been mixed with an 11th and a missed cut, but the annual pro-am event in which they play three courses over four days isn’t going to have much correlation to what they’ll see at Pebble Beach during the U.S. Open. Knowing he’s had a decent result on that course before is comforting.
Grillo has been a solid player for three years on Tour. He won to start the swing season in 2015 and made it through the Web.com playoffs, but we haven’t seen him find that next gear since.
In 2016 and 2017, Grillo was usually playing the weekend, but never really was in contention. In 56 events, he missed just eight cuts, but had only seven top 10s.
This year, we’ve seen things head in the right direction for Grillo. He had eight top 10s in 27 events and missed just two cuts.
Grillo is pretty solid tee-to-green, but his putting is much better on bentgrass vs. bermuda, so until we see more consistent results across the board, I’ll keep my focus on the bentgrass greens.
His best results this season were in Houston and Dallas on that grass type at the Shell and Colonial, so it’s probably worth keeping watch on him even more so in Texas.
Rodgers is probably a notch behind Smith and Grillo in the career progression, but for a player ranked outside the top 100 in the world, he also appears to be on the right track.
He missed 28 cuts in 55 events with just four top 10s in 2016 and 2017, but he’s starting to reach the weekend on a more consistent basis. He was able to get in the top 10 four times with just nine missed cuts in 29 events this year.
When his game is on, it’s good enough to win on Tour.
We’ve seen the inconsistency, but his top-notch performances have resulted in three second-place finishes in three years. One of those runner-up finishes was just a couple weeks ago when he lost in a playoff in the final PGA Tour event of 2018 at the RSM Classic, so he should be confident in his game when the calendar turns to 2019.
The approach game will be the key for Rodgers. When he’s cold, the irons vanish from his game, but he gained strokes in his last five events of 2018. If the putter is really good, he’s rarely going to lose strokes there, so he just needs to keep the irons in check to give his putter enough chances to hole birdie putts.
The winner circle might still be another year away, but Rodgers is going to be a longshot in a lot of 2019 events.
He was +8000 in one of the weakest fields at the RSM, so he’ll be available at good numbers. When he’s in the triple digits, there will probably be some +1000 opportunities to get him to finish in the top 10. Those will be the value spots I’ll be targeting from time-to-time.