Sobel: Im, Morikawa and the Rest of the PGA TOUR’s Young Guns Have Staying Power
Getty Images. Pictured: Sungjae Im, Collin Morikawa
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – They don’t have some pseudo-convivial nickname like the Fab Five or the Young and Restless or the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse or anything else that wouldn’t really make much sense a month from now when they add a sixth or even seventh name to their list.
No, there’s no collaborative catchphrase for golf’s newest group of burgeoning phenoms, but I suppose they could be called the Trophy Hunters or something like that. All five of ‘em – Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa, Joaquin Niemann, Viktor Hovland and Sungjae Im – won tournaments before their 23rd birthday.
Each one is in this week’s PLAYERS Championship field – Wolff, Morikawa and Hovland are grouped together for the first two rounds — and it wouldn’t be a stretch to see any of them contending for the title this Sunday. Before we get into the long-term prospects for each player, let’s take a look at their odds this week.
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Im (+2700): Fresh off a victory and a solo third in his last two starts, the super sophomore seems impervious to fatigue, as his ball-striking skills should be a perfect fit at TPC Sawgrass.
Morikawa (+3700): The PGA TOUR’s current made-cut streak leader, Morikawa still hasn’t missed a weekend round since turning professional last summer, impressive consistency for any player, let alone one just out of college.
Hovland (+9500): Just a few weeks removed from his initial PGA TOUR victory in Puerto Rico, after which he admitted, “I suck at chipping,” the Norwegian at least drives it well enough to make some noise.
Niemann (+17000): Running hot late last year when he won at the Greenbrier, the Chilean has cooled off recently, with three consecutive missed cuts in his last three starts.
Wolff (+21000): The biggest longshot to make noise this week was the first of this bunch to win, but Wolff hasn’t even finished top-10 since that victory 15 starts ago.
OK, that’s the easy part.
Handicapping this quintet on a one-week basis, we can take recent form and potential course fit into account, using their current odds to determine whether they have some value in this tournament.
Now for the hard part.
Let me try to predict which of these five will have the best career – and even the term “best” is entirely subjective. Majors? Wins? Consistency? Longevity?
We’ll call it some undefined combination of everything above. If you really need a tie-breaker in a few decades, tweet me and we’ll debate it.
For now, here’s my attempt to handicap the Fab Five – at least until another young upstart joins ‘em.
Hovland (+155): Maybe I’m just being stubborn, since last year I picked him to have the best career of the three recent collegiate products, but I think Hovland might be more of a big-game hunter than some of the others.
He’ll never be as consistent, but his moments of brilliance could outshine the rest – or in other words, his A-game might eventually be better than everyone else’s A-game on this list.
Morikawa (+170): As I’ve written elsewhere this week, Morikawa is already a poor man’s Matt Kuchar – and he’ll probably be a rich man’s Matt Kuchar by the time his career is over.
I think he’s the most mature – both on and off the course – and has the most staying power and consistency.
Im (+185): After these last two weeks, it might seem foolish to list Im third here, but that’s hardly a knock on his game.
He’ll be around for a long time and has the potential to climb to No. 1 in the world at some point.
Niemann (+220): If there’s one negative against Niemann right now, it’s that he twists his body into such a juxtapositioned state – his back nearly parallel to the ground at impact – that it’s easy to see how he could endure physical issues at some point not too far down the road in his career.
Wolff (+300): Just eight months ago, when he became the first of this bunch to win, Wolff’s number would’ve been a lot lower, but a mixed bag of recent results have us questioning just how high his ceiling might be.