Five to follow in 2021
The Coronavirus pandemic has made it difficult for all professional golfers to get their games back on track in 2020, but especially those young talents who are just starting out in the game. Here we pick our five best young players to make a name for themselves in 2021 as they look to make up for lost time.
Viktor Hovland (22)
The name of Viktor Hovland maybe new to you, but the 22-year-old from Norway has been making giant strides in the game since ever since he won Norway’s national amateur championships in 2014, aged just 16. After catching the eye of many of the top golf colleges in the United States, Hovland took up a place at Oklahoma State University, during which time he became the first Norwegian to the win the US Amateur in 2018. That success earned him invitations to three of last season’s four Majors – the Masters Tournament, the US Open at Pebble Beach, and the Open Championship at Royal Portrush. Hovland won the low amateur prize at Augusta, finishing on three-under-par in a tie for 32nd. He also shot the lowest amateur score at Pebble Beach en route to a 12th place finish, and in doing so became the first player to win low amateur honours at both the Masters and US Open in the same season since Matt Kuchar in 1998.
After turning professional last September, Hovland has wasted no time in making his presence felt in the paid ranks, bagging no fewer than nine top-20 finishes in first 15 starts on the PGA Tour in 2019, and an 11th place at the BMW PGA Championship in his first full start on the European Tour. After narrowly missing out on earning his PGA Tour card via non-member points, Hovland secured his card when finishing 11th in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
He got off the best possible start in 2020, shooting a final round 70 to win February’s Puerto Rico Open with a 20-under-par total and become the first Norwegian to win on the PGA Tour. Just three weeks later, the PGA Tour shut down due to the cororavirus pandemic, and like all tour pros has had to patiently wait to return to action, which he did in the middle of June at the Charles Schwab Challenge, where he finished tied 23rd. Since then, Hovland has followed up with some even more excellent results, including tied 21st at the RBC Heritage, 11th at the Travellers Championship, 12th at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, and a tied third at the 3M Open in Minnesota. Currently 23rd in the FedEx Cup and 31st in the world rankings, Hovland looks to be the real deal and exciting prospect for this year’s Major and next year’s Ryder Cup.
A strong driver of the ball and a decent putter, if he can tighten up his chipping, then he’ll be well on his way to making strides in the sport in 2021 and beyond. As a sign of how far he’s come in a short time, Hovland is 33/1 on the Betfair Casino to win this year’s US PGA Championship. Those might be short odds given the quality of the field and his lack of Major championship experience, but we expect to see him being tipped much higher by Betfair Casino and other betting sites in 2021 and beyond.
Sungjae Im (21)
The 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is the sort of title that makes people take notice – but even without that accolades, we’d consider Sungjae Im a favourite to conquer the golf world over the next few decades.
The 21-year-old South Korean, who is currently world no.25, shone as a model of consistency throughout his rookie season in 2019, racking up seven top-10 and 16 top-25 finishes from 35 starts. An attacking player, Im topped the list of most birdies for the season, chalking up 480 in 122 rounds.
Those are the kinds of numbers that pointed to an imminent tour win, and after a second-place finish at the Sanderson Farms Championship and T3 at the ZOZO Championship – both in 2019 – he secured his breakthrough win in his 50th start on the PGA Tour at The Honda Classic in March. He followed that up with a third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he finished two shots behind Tyrrell Hatton.
A hard-working player – he played in more tournaments and more rounds than anyone else in since the start of the 2018-19 season – Im looks destined to become a household before long, and certainly one of South Korea’s finest golfing exports. He will have to do national service for the South Korea army before he turns 29, but he should have established himself as a top talent before that enforced interruption in his career.
Rasmus Højgaard (19)
Denmark’s Rasmus Højgaard became the European Tour’s third youngest winner when he won the 2019 AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open last December, aged just 18 years and 271 days old.
The talented teenager came to prominence in 2018 as he won the Eisenhower Trophy for Denmark alongside identical twin Nicolai and John Axelsen, and played with his brother at the Junior Ryder Cup. Among his other amateur accolades included winning the Danish International Amateur Championship and the McGregor Trophy (UK Boys U16 Championships) in 2016.
Last year, he finished 21st on the Challenge Tour to just miss out on an automatic qualifying sport on the European Tour in 2020, but a fifth-placed finish at Final Qualifying in Spain saw him become the first player born in the 21st century to graduate to Europe’s top tour. After missing the first four cuts in 2020, the youngster finished 6th at the Oman Open just before lockdown, and came back in July to finish runner up behind Renato Paratore in the British Masters at Close House and tied sixth in the Hero Open at the Forest of Arden last week. Currently 11th in the European Tour’s money list and rising steadily up the world rankings (121st), Højgaard is definitely one to keep an eye on in the betting markets in 2021.
Scottie Scheffler (24)
The last Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year – Sungjae Im – went on to win PGA Tour Rookie of the Year the following year. Perhaps Scheffler will follow in his footsteps?
The 24-year-old Texan, who is cu
rrently 59th in the world rankings, won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour and secured fully exempt PGA Tour status by finishing top of the combined regular season and finals points list. In all, he collected a Tour-best 10 top-10s and made 16 cuts in 20 starts to make his move up to the top grade. He has had nine top-25s in 19 starts on the PGA Tour this season, putting himself in position several times heading into the weekend. He ranked seventh in first-round scoring average (66.7) and 24th in second-round scoring average (67.6) but was outside the top 125 in both third- and fourth-round scoring. He’s one good weekend away from his first win.
After missing the first three cuts following the PGA Tour’s return in June, Scheffler finished 22nd at the Memorial and tied 15th at last week’s WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational, and looks to be going very much the right way.
Atthaya Thitikul (17)
Thailand’s Atthaya Thitikul has been making waves in the women’s game since she finished runner up in the 2016 Thailand Amateur Open when she was just 13. The following year, when still a 14-year-old amateur, she became the youngest golfer to ever win a professional event, when she won the 2017 Ladies European Thailand Championship on the Ladies European Tour. She went on to become the low amateur at the ANA Inspiration and claimed the Smyth Salver as the leading amateur at the 2019 Women’s British Open.
After winning the Ladies European Thailand Championship again in 2019, and becoming the top-ranked amateur in the world, Thitikul turned professional in January this year, and was all set to make a big impact on the word’s tour before the pandemic brought a halt to all women’s professional tournaments.
The hiatus in competition may have played into her hands however, as aged just 17, she is still too young to join the LPGA Tour, so 2021, when she turns 18 in February, looks sure to be the year that Thitikul establishes herself as one of the most exciting talents seen in the women’s game.
Do you agree with our picks? Which young golfer has caught your eye on the amateur scene or when they’ve popped up at major nationals and internationals? Where will these young guns line up against the Greatest Golfers of All Time?