Each year on the PGA TOUR, talented young players emerge to the top of the leaderboards because, while the top FedExCup point earners are an elite club, the emerging stars’ qualities have been unmistakable.
With an abundance of talent throughout the men’s and women’s games, 2022 is shaping up to be a thriller, with players wanting to improve or return to the very top to be known as the best young golfers.
Joaquin Niemann seems to have been around for a while, yet he is just 23 years old. He has enormous skill and a competitive spirit. His victory last month at Riviera, shooting 63-63 in the first two rounds, was one of the best performances ever at that fabled club and shattered previous scoring records.
Aaron Rai, an Englishman who has excelled at every professional level, has the game to become a household name. His strength has been his approach play, with five seasons in a row ranking in the top twenty-five on the DP World Tour in terms of greens in regulation.
He won three Challenge Tour events in five months in 2017, and his two DP World Tour victories came against some of the world’s greatest players — Matt Fitzpatrick in the 2018 season of the Hong Kong Open and Tommy Fleetwood in a playoff at the 2020 Scottish Open, a Rolex Series event. Last year, he rounded up his fall run with three consecutive top-20 performances on the PGA TOUR.
Mito Pereira earned the Three Victory Promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour the first time in five years last June. Since then, the Chilean has made the most of his Tour chances, making 10 of 13 cuts and finishing in the top ten three times. With his card in hand, he will compete in his first entire season on the PGA Tour in 2021-22. The statistics indicate that he will perform well.
Since July, 132 players have completed at least 20 Tour rounds, as indicated by ShotLink. Pereira is 10th in Strokes Gained: Total within that group, just ahead of Webb Simpson. During the same time period, he ranks sixth in Strokes Gained: Ball Striking (measures strokes off the tees and approaching the green), gaining 1.16 shots per round on average.
Cameron Young came dangerously close to strapping a rocket to his first season last autumn at Sanderson Farms. Young concluded with a 67-68 to finish one shot behind tournament winner Sam Burns. Speaking of rockets, if you have a chance, watch out for Young with the driver in his hands — he’s hitting it 323 yards off the tee, which, although early, now leads the Tour’s driving distance metric.
Young began the final round in Mississippi one shot behind Sahith Theegala, who had led or shared the lead after each of the previous three games before finishing tied for eighth. Theegala enters the Tour with justifiable fanfare; he swept the leading player of the year honors during his last college season at Pepperdine (Nicklaus, Hogan, and Haskins).
Theegala made over 82 percent of his greens in regulation at last year’s Korn Ferry Tour Finals, which matched him for second place in the field. And in 2021’s limited PGA Tour activity, he has averaged 0.72 Strokes Gained: Putting per round – a number that would have placed him second on the Tour throughout the season.
A University of Missouri graduate, Hayden Buckley was one of the most consistent players on the Korn Ferry Tour last season. He finished third in ball striking, fourth in total driving, and ninth in greens during the season. He maintained his excellent performance in the autumn, placing T4 at the Sanderson Farms Championship and T8 at the Shriners Children’s Open after earning his PGA Tour card through the Korn Ferry Tour finals (two of top-10 finishes).
Buckley has maintained an excellent tee-to-green game on the PGA Tour thus far, placing in the top 20 in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, Tee-to-Green, and Total Strokes Gained.
How’s that for lack of consistency? Chad Ramey has 11 top-10 finishes, five top-three finishes, and only one missed cut in his previous 39 outings on the Korn Ferry Tour. His current streak of 26 consecutive cuts is by and away from the longest on the circuit. Ramey was third on the KFT in greens in regulation (74.8 percent) during the 2020-21 extended season, second in scoring average (68.81) and ninth in the overall ranking. Last autumn, Ramey finished in the top-20 in two of his six PGA Tour outings.
Few players on the Korn Ferry Tour have a statistics profile as well-balanced as this 30-year-old Canadian. He smashes it off the tee (an average of 323.3 yards) and hits well over 70% of his greens in regulation (72.8 percent, ranked 18th). Pendrith was fifth in birdie average and placed in the top twenty in total driving, ball striking, and overall rating. You’re looking for a quick game, aren’t you? He was ninth in scrambling (64.2 percent) and a respectable T-36 in regulation putts per green (1.75).
Pendrith has already shown promise this season, as he had a three-shot lead into the final round of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in October after rounds of 70-61-65. He eventually tied for fifth place with a final-round 76.