With the 25 PGA TOUR cards for the 2013 season handed out following Justin Bolli’s win at the Web.com Tour Championship, we can begin to look ahead at how this year’s graduating class will fare on the PGA TOUR. It’s a group with some potential star power, highlighted by Luke Guthrie in the second spot. There are also the familiar names of veterans who have graduated multiple times over the years, and have once again conquered the junior circuit.
This year’s graduates face challenges that those in the past have not. Namely, with the elimination of the Fall Series, this will be the shortest PGA TOUR season in any of their professional careers to date.
The ramifications are widespread. The obvious impact is that these 25 men won’t have the luxury of the Fall Series, with historically weaker fields, to earn cash down the stretch. It won’t be just the absence of those events that harm them. Many TOUR mainstays will opt to play an extra event or two more than normal since they don’t have the Fall Series as a safety net. Any current TOUR player that doesn’t have a 2013-14 card locked up is a threat to take starts that normally trickle down to Web.com Tour and Q School grads.
All that known, there is extreme pressure on the West Coast Swing to make cuts and constantly improve their reshuffle number, starting with the first full-field event in Hawaii. Only Casey Wittenberg is exempt from the reshuffle. The other 24 grads must take advantage of each opportunity, especially early in the season, to ensure they continue to get starts as the season unfolds.
I’ve broken down each of the graduates, highlighting several relevant areas. A look at their record will allow insight as to how consistently a player has been with making cuts and converting those into top 10s.
I’ve listed notable past winners of events won by The 25 on current courses used because it could give a glimpse as to which events a grad will find comfortable on the PGA TOUR, as well as shine light on those events that frequently produce successful TOUR players.
The Summary and 2013 Expectations are fairly self-explanatory, and I’ve projected if a guy will finish inside the top 125 to maintain his card, in the 126-150 range for conditional status, or outside the top 150. Those who finish 126 to 200 will be part of a four-tournament playoff for PGA TOUR cards in 2013-14.
I mention a current or recent PGA TOUR player of which the graduate reminds me. It could be that his stats line up similarly; the events he excels in are a fit or other more arbitrary reasons. I also mention a few tournaments that could lend themselves well to the player. Keep in mind, that’s subject to them gaining entry.
Name: Casey Wittenberg
Age (as of Jan. 1, 2013): 28
Record: 24 events; 17 cuts made; eight top 10s
Wins: 2 (Chitimacha Louisiana Open; Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open)
Notable Louisiana Open past winners: Brett Wetterich (twice), Jimmy Walker, Johnson Wagner
Notable Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open past winners: Jason Dufner, Scott Piercy, Jhonattan Vegas
Money List Rank: 1
Summary: Posted a victory in his third event of the year in the Bayou and never floated far from the top spot on the money list. He added a second victory in June at the Wichita Open to lock up his 2013 TOUR card and improved his number even more with a runner-up at the Neediest Kids Championship later in the season, before eventually landing in the top spot.
2013 Expectations: Veteran of 53 PGA TOUR events with 23 cuts made and three top 10s, the most recent of which a T10 at the 2012 U.S. Open. His two wins on the 2012 Web.com Tour came with 24-under-par and 18-under final scores, showing he is comfortable taking it low. Expect him to show up in 2013 with a real chance to contend in events requiring low scores, with a premium on making birdies without requiring a ton of length. I like him to finish inside the top 125 due to the number of starts he will receive early and the momentum he takes from the 2012 Web.com Tour.
Reminds me of: Chez Reavie
Impact tournaments: Humana Challenge, John Deere Classic, Travelers Championship
Name: Luke Guthrie
Record: 10 events; eight cuts made; seven top 10s
Wins: 2 (Albertsons Boise Open Presented by Kraft; WNB Golf Classic)
Notable Albertsons Boise Open Presented by Kraft past winners: Tim Clark, Greg Chalmers, Kevin Stadler
Notable WNB Golf Classic past winners: Charley Hoffman, Brandt Snedeker, Marc Leishman
Money List Rank: 2
Summary: Burst onto the professional scene out of the college ranks with guns a blazing, not only lighting up the Web.com Tour but also cashing in three of four PGA TOUR events, including three top 20s. His wins came in back-to-back weeks in the middle of September when the Web.com Tour was overrun by PGA TOUR players looking for starts after being eliminated from the FedExCup Playoffs, proving his triumphs were against quality fields. He took it 17-under-par or deeper in four of his 10 Web.com Tour starts and amassed a putting average higher than 1.70 for a tournament only three times. Since the beginning of October, he has missed a cut on both the Web.com and the PGA TOUR, possibly pointing to some late-season fatigue.
2013 Expectations: Not only will he have very little trouble keeping his TOUR card, he is a favorite for Rookie of the Year honors and will challenge for wins. Tying for fifth at the John Deere Classic with a 16-under total gives us an idea as to what type of event will fit his style, as does his 13-under T18 at the True South Classic. Both are on courses that traditionally spark low-scoring affairs, and he had little trouble finding red numbers. That doesn’t automatically eliminate him from consideration on tougher tracks, but there is insufficient evidence to project how he will fare in those events.
Reminds me of: Jamie Lovemark
Impact Tournaments: Waste Management Phoenix Open, John Deere Classic, True South Classic
Name: Russell Henley
Record: 26 events; 17 cuts made; seven top 10s
Wins: 2 (Chiquita Classic; Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open)
Notable Chiquita Classic past winner: none (new site in 2012)
Notable Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open past winner: David Mathis
Money List Rank: 3
Summary: The University of Georgia product proved to be a streaky player in his first full season on the Web.com Tour, waiting until the Utah Championship in mid-July to crack his first top 10. Once he got going, there was no stopping him. He rolled off seven top 10s in his final 13 events including a Win-3rd-Win-T6 in his last four starts. Both wins came in playoffs, with the first a 22-under final tally and the second a modest 10-under on a tough TPC track.
2013 Expectations: After posting his first Web.com Tour win as an amateur in 2011 and adding two more in a three tournament span in 2012, it’s clear that when he gets the hot hand you have to ride him. That is the biggest thing to watch with Henley on the PGA TOUR. If he posts a top 10 one week, take a very close look at burning him the following tournament because he surfs waves of momentum. Winning in Jacksonville with a 10-under total after a third-place finish in Miami the week prior could make him a candidate to make some noise on the Florida swing, so pay particular attention to how he fares in his first tournament in the Sunshine State. As quickly as he acquainted himself to life on the Web.com Tour, it leaves me to expect nothing less than a top-125 finish on the money list.
Reminds me of: John Rollins
Impact Tournaments: Farmers Insurance Open, Zurich Classic of New Orleans, True South Classic
Name: Luke List
Record: 24 events; 16 cuts made; six top 10s
Wins: 1 (South Georgia Classic)
Notable South Georgia Classic past winner: Ted Potter Jr.
Money List Rank: 4
Summary: After a tie for second in his second event of the season in Panama, the Vanderbilt product never strayed far from the top of the money list. He followed up his lone win at the end of April with his second of three runners-up the very next week in Athens, Georgia. The bomber led the Web.com Tour in driving distance, birdie average and birdies or better on par 5s.
2013 Expectations: I worry that his win came at a course where the past champions don’t boast a very strong PGA TOUR résumé. Further, the same can be said of each of his runners-up with the lone exception of Martin Laird having captured a win in Athens. List has made just two of 11 cuts on the PGA TOUR, with his T33 at the Masters as an amateur in 2005 the best. The perfect course for the soon-to-be TOUR rookie is one that is long, with forgiving fairways and scorable par 5s. Following the courses that a guy like Laird has performed well on would actually be a good guide. Much like Ted Potter Jr. did at The Greenbrier Classic, List will have to take advantage of what will likely be a precious few chances to earn big money. I’ll take him in the 126-150 slot.
Reminds me of: Martin Laird
Impact Tournaments: Waste Management Phoenix Open, Tampa Bay Championship, John Deere Classic
Name: James Hahn
Record: 24 events; 14 cuts made; five top 10s
Wins: 1 (The Rex Hospital Open)
Notable The Rex Hospital Open Past Winners: Eric Axley, Kyle Thompson (twice)
Money List Rank: 5
Summary: Wrapped up a sporadic but successful year with a runner-up in the Web.com Tour Championship. He opened the year almost as strong, with a tie for fourth in Colombia before missing his next three cuts. His win in June was the end of a three-tournament run that began with a tie for seventh in the Stadion Classic at UGA and continued with a tie for 12th at the BMW Charity Pro-Am. He also had a tie for second in Utah in mid-July. He finished the year 11th in putting average, but 98th in driving accuracy.
2013 Expectations: It has taken him three years of consecutive Web.com Tour play to earn a PGA TOUR card. In many ways, he reminds me of 2011 Web.com Tour money leader, J.J. Killeen. He advanced after having become very familiar with the courses of the junior circuit. I worry that it will take him too long to acquaint to the PGA TOUR. Not in his favor, the past champions of the event he won are weak in terms of success on the PGA TOUR. His putter will help him in certain events, but I’m not sure he’ll find the fairway enough on tighter courses to duplicate his 2012 success on courses he’s never played before. His lone PGA TOUR start was a missed cut at this year’s U.S. Open. I expect him to finish outside the top 150, and fight for a 2014 card in the four-tournament qualifier.
Reminds me of: J.J. Killeen
Impact Tournaments: Shell Houston Open, Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Travelers Championship