Everyone (or almost everyone) knows the Matthew Wolffs, Scottie Schefflers and Collin Morikawas of the world. Those 20-somethings would be difficult to miss after they burned through the PGA Tour world in 2019 and 2020, setting themselves up for what should be a really intriguing 2021 in which they will no longer be the plucky upstarts but rather the heavyweight favorites at the biggest events in the world.
However, as 2021 creeps up on us, we should look beyond the obvious young studs at some lesser-known names that could make noise next year and beyond. Some of these golfers have already found success at the PGA Tour level, while others are barely pros. Not all of them will become stars, but they are names that only the most hardcore golf fans will know that you should become familiar with before they hit the mainstream.
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1. Will Zalatoris
From Sept. 1 to the end of 2020, Zalatoris was better than Scheffler, Wolff and Morikawa, not to mention also Daniel Berger, Sungjae Im, Tommy Fleetwood, Adam Scott and Lee Westwood. Data Golf has him ranked as the 30th-best player in the world, and you’ve probably barely ever heard his name — if you’ve heard it at all. He’s almost certainly next in line to jump from leading the Korn Ferry Tour (where he started 2020) to becoming PGA Tour Rookie of the Year in 2021.
2. Brandon Wu
The former Stanford stud finished the year with four top 10s in his last seven events, including a win on the Korn Ferry Tour. He went from No. 862 in the world to No. 164 (and Data Golf has him even higher). He famously skipped graduation because he made the cut at the 2019 U.S. Open. Things seemed to click into place for him at the end of his first year as a pro, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a Zalatoris-like leap in 2021.
3. Taylor Pendrith
Averaged 322 yards off the tee on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020, which is pretty crazy and also the most important skill in professional golf right now. At age 29, he’s the oldest player on this list, but his career has been an intriguing series of ups and downs that has included myriad injuries. He finished runner-up four times on the KFT after golf restarted in June.
4. Austin Eckroat
Let’s talk about how Oklahoma State had Wolff, Hovland and Eckroat (as well as world No. 176 on the same team). They went 183-6-1 and won the national championship on their home course. Now, Eckroat is looking to join his former teammates on the PGA Tour. He recently finished T12 at the Mayakoba Golf Classic and is ranked No. 3 on the PGA Tour University Rankings. He’s a little older than I would normally prefer for somebody coming out of college, but some of that was unavoidable because of the pandemic. He should thrive immediately in the professional ranks.
5. Kevin Yu
Only Jon Rahm had a better scoring average as a freshman at Arizona State than Yu back when he was a freshman in 2017. Now a senior, Yu is the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, according to Data Golf. The pandemic has also worked a bit in his favor as he now has a pretty strong path forward to getting his card on the Korn Ferry Tour.
6. Rasmus Hojgaard
The 19-year-old has already won twice on the European Tour and is into the top 100 in the OWGR. Again, he’s 19. He also has a twin brother who plays professionally, and their dream is to some day play in the Ryder Cup together.
7. Justin Suh
Remember him? The fourth member of the Hovland-Wolff-Morikawa press conference at the Travelers Championship in 2019 has taken a bit longer to develop as a pro, but he came on strong at the end of the year with a pair of top-15 finishes on the PGA Tour that bumped him to inside the top 500 in the OWGR. His pedigree is undeniable, and when in doubt in golf, you should always bet on pedigrees. He performed like a top-100 player in the world for most of his college career, and while turning pro can often break you down a bit, he’s poised for a big 2021.
8. Davis Thompson
Former Georgia Bulldog Keith Mitchell recently mentioned Thompson on the “No Laying Up” podcast as somebody who is a professional golfer currently playing amateur golf. He became the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world in November shortly after contending (and briefly leading) in Round 1 of the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. Still looks impossibly young (he was not alive for Tiger Woods’ first Masters win), but his game will fit nicely on the Korn Ferry Tour (or PGA Tour?) next year.
9. Takumi Kanaya
The former No. 1 amateur in the world finally turned pro in 2020, and his game continues to improve. He absolutely destroys on the Japan circuits — he recently won the Dunlop Phoenix for his second worldwide win — and though he’s a bit older than you might think (he’ll turn 23 in May), he has yet to play a truly robust schedule worldwide. I’m intrigued to see what happens when he does.
10. Akshay Bhatia
Another name you probably got to know this fall as Bhatia turned pro in late 2019 at the tender age of 17 and rose 1,000 spots in the Official World Golf Rankings in 2020 after a top 10 at the Safeway Open. He obviously has a long way to go to fulfill some of the hype around him, but making cuts and grabbing top 10s at the age of 18 on the PGA Tour is a massive (and underrated) deal. We often lump all the young guys together, but there is a chasm between being 18 and on the PGA Tour and being 23 or 24 out there. I’m excited for his future.