Each year a new crop of talent leaps from the Web.com Tour to the PGA TOUR.
The first set of 25 graduates comes from the regular season money list, while the second set will earn their cards after this week's Web.com Tour Championship.
In this article, I will look at The 25 who ended the regular season inside the top 25 to secure PGA TOUR playing privileges for the 2017-18 PGA TOUR season.
With the PGA TOUR resuming next week in Napa, we should expect to see at least 35 (of 50) graduates peg it at the Safeway Open. Some of the names are familiar, but others will be making their PGA TOUR debuts.
To prep for the Safeway Open (and the remainder of the fall schedule), I've determined a quick-and-easy ranking system to grade these graduates.
When looking at Web.com Tour standard stats, I noticed some major discrepancies when comparing to the PGA TOUR equivalent. For example, if you look at raw numbers on the Web.com Tour, you'd assume that everyone on the Web.com Tour is the next Dustin Johnson in terms of distance off the tee. The Web.com Tour average driving distance sits at 303.4 yards for the 2017 season. That is more than 10 yards farther than the PGA TOUR average.
However, if you compare distance versus each field they play against, then you quickly find the numbers are inflated based on course setup on the Web.com Tour and/or the type of holes chosen for the driving distance measurement. If you are trying to grade out distance then the easiest way to accomplish that is to take a golfer's Web.com Tour Driving Distance and subtract 10 yards. Most golfers should expect their distance to "drop" 10-to-15 yards as they make the leap.
That is just one example of how traditional stats can be misleading. Instead, we can skip that whole process and just look at strokes gained against the field. This is a simple metric that determines how much better a golfer is compared to the field they face, on a round-to-round basis. It is also easy to adjust for the strength of the field, so that is a big bonus.
Using this simple stat last year, we would have found the top 8 in terms of 2016 adjusted strokes gained on the Web.com Tour were Martin Flores, C.T. Pan, Ryan Blaum, J.J. Spaun, Wesley Bryan, Grayson Murray, J.T. Poston, and Xander Schauffele.
Seven of them played well enough to retain their TOUR card while the other (Poston) went 20-for-28 in cuts made. That includes four wins: Wesley Bryan, Grayson Murray, and Xander Schauffele (x2). If you played DFS last year on FanDuel or DraftKings, you likely saw these names pop up a lot.
I'm not going to guarantee a repeat of that success rate, but I will be using it as a prime factor for grading this crop of talent. The other factor is AGE. It's really that simple.
I'm going to combine Strokes Gained in 2017 (Web.com, PGA TOUR, and European Tour) with Age to rank The 25.
#1 Abraham Ancer
Strokes Gained Rank: 2nd
The University of Oklahoma product ranks second in strokes gained despite not finding the winner's circle. His season includes a trio of runner-up finishes and four other top 10s. The dual citizen of U.S. and Mexico also graduated from the Web.com Tour in 2015 but didn't find much success on the big stage. He was 6-for-19 with one top 25, but he appears to have used that experience to his advantage and will try to keep it rolling in the fall. I think we could see him make some noise, early in the season.
#2 Aaron Wise
Strokes Gained Rank: 14th
The second-youngest of The 25 to punch his ticket. Playing on sponsor's invites, he went 4-for-6 on the PGA TOUR this year but couldn't burst into contention. However, he did plenty of damage on the lower circuit to secure his card. That included a win and five other top 25s in 16 starts. Given his pedigree as an amateur, we should expect Wise to receive a lot of hype this fall, and rightfully so.
#3 Austin Cook
Strokes Gained Rank: 4th
Posted five top 25s in seven PGA TOUR starts in 2015. That was definitely impressive but wasn't quite enough to secure Special Temporary Membership. Narrowly missed out on graduating from the Web last year, but made it easy this year (15th on the regular season money list). The Arkansas product brings a great mix of youth, performance, and PGA TOUR experience. Definitely, one to watch early and often when the 2017-18 PGA TOUR season kicks off.
#4 Beau Hossler
Strokes Gained Rank: 17th
Started with no status and tried his hand at the PGA TOUR with sponsor's invites. Couldn't piece it all together as he likely returned earlier than he wanted from injury. Playing just his second event on the Web.com Tour, a runner-up at the Air Capital Classic in June kicked off a run of five straight top 30s (two runner-ups) that helped lock up his status. May start the season under-the-radar due to mediocre PGA TOUR results last year, but he's proven that his injury troubles are now behind him. The best is still to come for the young phenom.
#5 Adam Schenk
Strokes Gained Rank: 11th
A less-than-ideal name for a man of his profession but the last name certainly doesn't describe the type of shots he hits. Finished 56th in the priority rank last year (regular season plus Web.com Tour Finals) to narrowly miss out on a PGA TOUR card. He kept his head down and easily secured that playing status in 2017, finishing 12th on the regular season money list. The Purdue product has posted eight top 10s in 48 career Web.com Tour starts. A tremendous ratio for a golfer who won't turn 26 until next January.
#6 Sam Ryder
Strokes Gained Rank: 7th
Unlike the man above, Ryder has a great given name for golf, sharing his name with the man who started the Ryder Cup. The Stetson alum belted out nine top 25s during the regular season to finish second on the money list. That included a win, a runner-up, and a third-place finish, completing the podium trio of finishes. He won in 2015 on the Mackenzie Tour (his second season on that circuit). His 2017 win on the Web.com Tour was also his second season on the WCT. Perhaps, we'll see him pick up a win on the PGA TOUR in 2019 then.
#7 Andrew Putnam
Strokes Gained Rank: 5th
His second time earning a PGA TOUR card (2014). Posted a 10-for-23 record in his first attempt on the big stage. Hasn't earned any PGA TOUR starts since that 2014-15 season. This year on the minor-league circuit he went 17-for-20 with four top 10s, including a win at the Panama Claro Championship. Given his win came in Panama, that might make him an appealing option at the OHL Classic, Puerto Rico Open, and/or the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship.
#8 Andrew Landry
Strokes Gained Rank: 1st
You may remember him from the 2016 U.S. Open where he flew out of the gate and eventually finished T15. That was during his PGA TOUR rookie season where he still finished just 178th in the FedExCup standings, despite that strong finish in a major. He's feasted in 2017 (ranks first in the strokes gained department) but I'm hesitant to fully get on board since he's reached his 30s but still has less than 20 starts on the big stage.
#9 Marty Dou
Strokes Gained Rank: 22nd
On the flip side of that equation, we have a youngster here with less-than-excellent results in the strokes-gained department but he's still just 20-years old. In addition to his victory at the 2017 Digital Ally Open, he also has four career wins on the PGA TOUR China circuit. Five wins at his age is mighty impressive. I'm expecting some roller-coaster results on the PGA TOUR, but he's proven to have winning upside. He becomes very valuable in fantasy leagues if you start getting into long-term formats like dynasty leagues. Also, if you are looking through old results, you may see his given name (Zecheng) on the leaderboard. How does that translate to Marty? No idea, but it is a little easier to say.
#10 Talor Gooch
Strokes Gained Rank: 13th
The Oklahoma State product is 14-for-22 this year on the Web.com Tour. That includes four top 15s in his last five events with a runner-up and a win during that stretch. He also rattled off three straight top 15s early in the season, proving to be a streaky golfer. If he opens the 2017-18 PGA TOUR season with a strong finish, gamers should jump on the train and ride out his likely hot streak.
#11 Andrew Yun
Strokes Gained Rank: 15th
Yun is a Washington native, a Stanford alum, and now calls Arizona home. That sounds like a recipe for success early in the season while the TOUR hovers over the West Coast. Of course, that is all just a guessing game for now, since he enters the 2017-18 season with ZERO PGA TOUR experience.
#12 Chesson Hadley
Strokes Gained Rank: 8th
Unlike Yun, Hadley boasts plenty of TOUR experience. That includes a win at the 2014 Puerto Rico Open. The finger-snappin' Georgia Tech product may have gotten too comfortable on the PGA TOUR, and let his game slip. However, he proved that his talent is still there, winning twice on the Web.com Tour this season. Combining his results from both circuits, he now has five wins in 140 starts (3.5% win rate). Hadley's upside is still through the roof, but he's never been a consistent cut-maker.
#13 Ted Potter, Jr.
Strokes Gained Rank: 3rd
A winner at the 2012 Greenbrier Classic, Potter Jr. broke his ankle in July of 2014 when he slipped on a curb at his hotel. The lefty failed to keep his card when he returned on a medical extension in 2016. His form looks just fine on the Web.com Tour, though, going 27-for-35 with 21 top 25s over the past two years. He's lower down this list because at this stage of his career we know what he is. TPJ has missed the cut in 41 (of 75) career starts on the PGA TOUR, making him a boom-or-bust option with winning upside in weaker-field events.
#14 Ben Silverman
Strokes Gained Rank: 12th
Gamers can consider Silverman's season a great success for Team Nappy Factor. The Canadian had his son (Jack Palmer, what a name) on July 18th. His next four events went as follows: WIN-T7-T2-T24. His lone appearance on the PGA TOUR is a missed cut at the 2014 Canadian Open.
#15 Conrad Shindler
Strokes Gained Rank: 16th
The Texas resident was steady all season, posting nine top 25s in 23 starts, one of those coming in the Web.com Tour Finals. His eight regular season top 25s were good enough to help him finish 17th on the money list. Shindler's results line up well with his strokes gained results, as he ranks 16th in the strokes gained department. At the age of 29, he's a bit of a late bloomer, with just two starts in his career at the PGA TOUR level (1-for-2).
#16 Nate Lashley
Strokes Gained Rank: 6th
From a strokes-gained view, Lashley's season is remarkable. However, the 34-year-old has just one PGA TOUR start on his resume. His run all started with a breakout 2016 on the PGA TOUR Latinoamerica circuit where he won three times. The Arizona Wildcat picked up another win this year on the Web.com Tour, proving he's not afraid of the winner's circle, by any means. I'm a little hesitant, given his age, but I am intrigued to potentially see him at the Waste Management Phoenix Open as he lists TPC Scottsdale as his home course.
#17 Stephan Jaeger
Strokes Gained Rank: 19th
Known for his remarkable round of '58' at the 2016 Ellie Mae Classic. He also had to deal with large galleries at that same event this year, when he got paired with Steph Curry. More impressively he won twice this season to finish 5th on the money list. However, he posted just one other top 15 all season. To me, that sounds a bit like Chesson Hadley. When his game is clicking, there is no stopping him, but he will likely be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.
#18 Matt Atkins
Strokes Gained Rank: 24th
South Carolina-Aiken product who calls Palmetto GC home. I would guess that means he is good friends with TOUR pros like Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner. The youngster finished 32nd on the money list in 2016 but improved 13 spots this season to earn his TOUR card. Was just 3-for-17 during his Web.com Tour rookie season but he's 26-for-48 since then. One of the younger grads, Atkins has some upside in long-term formats but he's a bit of a long shot to make a big impact in 2018.
#19 Lanto Griffin
Strokes Gained Rank: 20th
He got the seal of approval from fan favorite, Willy Wilcox who said Griffin (and Aaron Wise) would be cash machines on the PGA TOUR next season. Griffin is 0-for-2 in his career on the PGA TOUR but he hasn't pegged it since 2011 on the big stage. The 29-year-old ranks 24th in driving distance and 14th in birdie average, making him a potential sleeper in DFS formats where birdies and eagles are worth a lot.
#20 Brice Garnett
Strokes Gained Rank: 10th
This is where helps us. Garnett finished the season ranked 1st on the money list but he sits at just 10th in the strokes gained department. This tells us his bad weeks are probably pretty bad. Still, he won two times this year, so there is the upside. However, we also sort of already know who Garnett is. He's played two full seasons on the PGA TOUR and never finished inside the top 120 in the FedExCup standings. Then he went 7-for-15 the following year while playing on conditional status. With just four top 10s in 75 career starts on the big stage, he doesn't leap off the page to me.
#21 Ethan Tracy
Strokes Gained Rank: 25th
Another University of Arkansas product (Austin Cook) to make it through the gauntlet. Tracy was not the most consistent golfer this season, entering the Web.com Tour finale with a 9-for-24 record. However, an early win at the Colombia Championship earned him $126K. That was 78% of his end of season earnings, but he still slid through in 24th position on the money list.
#22 Brandon Harkins
Strokes Gained Rank: 18th
Much like Lanto Griffin, Harkins could be an appealing DFS option in weaker fields this upcoming season. He ranks 11th on the Web.com Tour in driving distance and T8th in birdie average. Like I mentioned before, that driving distance will likely translate from 316.6 yards down to the 305 range next year, but that is still plenty long. The only downside is his age. I'm always wary of golfers in their 30s who are just now getting a shot at the big stage. He might be a late bloomer, but the more likely scenario is that he picks up one or two top 25s this year before finishing outside the top 125 in the FedExCup race.
#23 Xinjun Zhang
Strokes Gained Rank: 21st
Joins Marty Dou as the first Chinese-born golfers to earn a PGA TOUR card. While Dou brings a lot of promise as a youngster, Zhang brings some controversy. He was the leading money winner on the PGA TOUR China Series, back in 2014 before he got suspended six months due to signing incorrect scorecards. By season's end he finished 2nd on the money list, behind Hao Tong Li. After his return from suspension, he won again on the China Series (Chongqing Open in October of 2015) so he clearly has the game, regardless of his scorecard signing habits. Zhang has since moved to the Jacksonville area and plays out of TPC Sawgrass. Has two career wins and eight runner-ups worldwide, but the PGA TOUR is a big step up in competition. I will take the wait-and-see approach before investing here.
#24 Roberto Diaz
Strokes Gained Rank: 23rd
Likely remember him from this year's WGC-Mexico Championship where Diaz was the only golfer in the field with any experience at the course. He went on to finish T67 (of 77) that week, against some of the best golfers in the world. The South Carolina Aiken product opened his Web career with 20 missed cuts in his first 36 starts but has since gone 28-for-44. Diaz is showing signs of improvement, but he's still near the back of this class in terms of strokes gained and also in the age department (30).
#25 Kyle Thompson
Strokes Gained Rank: 9th
The oldest of this year's talent pool. Thompson is graduating from the Web.com Tour for the third time in his career (2008, 2011). The South Carolina product has made a living at the Rex Hospital Open, proving that course history is a real thing (with three of his five wins coming at TPC Wakefield). Surprisingly, he finishes outside the top 50 at that event in 2017, but had already hoisted a trophy at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic (first start of the season). With a golfer like Thompson, we already have a 55-start sample size on the PGA TOUR (13-for-55 with just two top 25s). It would be a bit surprising to see him finally break out on the big stage, as he approaches 40.
The final event of the Web.com Tour Finals is going on as I type this, with Sam Saunders torching the course on day one. I will provide an update to the strokes gained rankings after this event, and also add another column ranking The Finals 25. Stay tuned as that will be published before the Safeway Open kicks off next Thursday.