By now, you’re familiar with golf’s young guns—the Jordan Spieths, Justin Thomases and Lydia Kos of the world. We’re here to tell you there’s an entirely new crop of younger guns ready to become household names. Move over, Jordan and Lydia. You’ve got company.
Once every some odd years, a player comes around and re-sets the distance standard. Twenty-five years ago that player was John Daly. Then came Trip Kuehne. Then Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy did their part. Now we have Cameron Champ, a 23-year-old PGA Tour rookie who averaged 343 yards off the tee last year on the Web.com Tour. For those keeping score, that’s 25 yards longer than Rory McIlroy’s PGA Tour-leading 318 average in 2017-18. Watching Champ hit driver is one of those athletic things that defies written description—like Stephen Curry’s jumper, you just have to see it. His swing is not the least bit violent and he never looks out-of-balance. Still, the Sacramento native routinely uncorks a 130 mph swing that produces a low, piercing fade that is equal parts beautiful and mesmerizing. And he’s not just all brawn—Champ already has three top 10’s in five events this season, highlighted by a win at the Sanderson Farms Classic. Champ, who also has one of those perfect sports names, might be the most talented player to break through on Tour since…well, let’s just say for quite a while.
Does that last name sound familiar? If you’re a tennis fan, perhaps former world No. 2 and 1998 Australian Open men’s singles champion Petr Korda comes to mind. Or maybe it’s Sebastian Korda, the 18-year-old who won the 2018 Australian Open juniors title. Maybe it’s older sister Jessica, a five-time winner on the LPGA Tour with top 10s in all five majors at the age of 25. Next up in this familial dynasty is Nelly, 20, who picked up her first LPGA Tour win in October and notched seven top-10s in her rookie season to break into the top 25 in the world rankings. There’s hardly a weakness in Korda’s game—she ranks in the top 75 in every major statistical category—and everything about her screams star.
Wallace, a 28-year-old Englishman who went to college stateside (Jacksonville State), probably had, at least at the time, the strongest gripe with Thomas Bjorn for not getting one of four Ryder Cup captain’s picks. Wallace won three times on the European Tour in 2018 and showed a propensity for final-round heroics, but Bjorn opted instead for experience, a choice that was validated by Europe’s 17.5-10.5 shellacking of Team USA. Wallace will surely use that slight as motivation in 2019, and it wouldn’t be the least bit surprising to see him follow compatriot Tommy Fleetwood’s 2018 trajectory. That is: post great finishes in the biggest tournaments in the world, and make the jump from a well-known player in Europe to a world-class player capable of winning any event. Wallace’s ranking is now good enough to get into all the majors and the World Golf Championships; the only thing left for him to do is perform.
Finishing in “The 25” is the ultimate goal of every Web.com Tour player, as the top 25 golfers on the regular-season money list are guaranteed PGA Tour status for the next year. Players typically float in and out of The 25 throughout the season as their games peak and falter…unless your name is Sungjae Im. Then you don’t falter one bit. Im won the first and last event of the regular season and never relinquished the top spot on the moneylist, making his season on the Web as stress-free as it gets. Did we mention that he’s only 20 years old? The South Korean figures to be a President’s Cup stalwart for the foreseeable future, perhaps beginning with December’s competition in Australia. Which brings us to another guy who is too young to drink (in this country) but could make this year’s International team….
These days, with Q-School no longer offering PGA Tour cards, nearly every PGA Tour player has spent some time playing on the Web.com Tour. However, there remains a way to completely bypass the Web—accumulate enough FedEx Cup points in seven sponsor’s exemptions to equal or better the 125th place finisher in the prior year’s points standings. Jordan Spieth did it in 2013, then Jon Rahm did it again in 2016. This year, a third player accomplished the feat: then-teenager Joaquin Niemann, whose final-round 64 at the Greenbrier clinched it. “Maybe the best day of my life,” Niemann appropriately tweeted afterwards. Just eight months ago, the Chilean phenom was the world’s top-ranked amateur. Now a seasoned veteran at 20, and with a half-PGA Tour season in his pocket, there’s no reason to believe Niemann won’t become a household name in the very near future.
How’s this for clutch: Liu, 20, entered the home stretch of the Symetra Tour season—the developmental circuit for the LPGA Tour, similar to the Web.com Tour for the men—on the bubble of finishing in the top 10 on the moneylist, which would earn her a LPGA Tour card. Finish inside the top 10 and fulfill a lifelong dream. Finish outside it, and you’re relegated to another season on the Symetra, where money is…sparse. Still a teenager at the time, Liu finished the season T3-T2-1-1 to finish atop said moneylist, earning promotion to the LPGA Tour with an exclamation point. After playing that well with her back against the wall, you’d be foolish to doubt her potential on the next level.
You might remember Burns from when he was paired with Tiger Woods in the final round of February’s Honda Classic. All eyes were on Tiger, who was in semi-contention for the first time in his latest comeback; Burns, then a 21-year-old who had just left LSU, was an afterthought thrust into the spotlight. Then something funny happened: Burns outplayed Tiger. Beat him by two shots (68 vs. 70). He showed something special that day, but he still had to earn his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour. He did exactly that, finishing well inside The 25 to earn full playing privileges on the big boy Tour for this season. The 2017 winner of the Nicklaus Award, given to the best player in Division I, Burns has the quiet confidence of a cold-blooded killer in the clutch.