Which player is ready for his breakthrough moment on the PGA Tour?

Which player is ready for his breakthrough moment on the PGA Tour?

The 2021-22 PGA Tour schedule isn’t yet five months old, but it has already produced three first-time Tour winners.

Australia’s Lucas Herbert won the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in October, Talor Gooch took The RSM Classic title in November, and then Luke List won a sudden-death playoff at last week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

Get ESPN+ here | Download the app | WatchESPN

Who are the next players capable of winning on tour for the first time? Here are a handful that might do it sooner rather than later:

Will Zalatoris
The second-year phenom just missed getting his first PGA Tour victory last week when his 8-foot birdie putt slid past the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines. He lost to List in a sudden-death playoff. It was the second runner-up finish of Zalatoris’ career; he also finished solo second in his first appearance in the Masters in April.

“The emotions that I’m kind of feeling are a little bit from the Korn Ferry Tour, right before my first win … I horseshoed one from about 15 feet and then won the next week,” Zalatoris said shortly after losing in the playoff. He won’t win the next week this time around; Zalatoris had to withdraw from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am because of COVID-19. “So I know my game’s really close.

“I’ve got no regrets at all. I thought I battled like hell all day and handled myself really well. I had my chances, for sure, but that’s just the nature of this game. It’s hard to win out here; there’s no question about that.”

Zalatoris, 25, is already one of the best ball-strikers in the world. He ranks first on tour in shots gained: approach the green (1.237) and shots gained: tee to green (2.094). He added weight, swing speed and driver-shaft length in the offseason and ranks 20th in driving distance (311.4 yards). Putting is the one area of his game that can vastly improve; he ranks 141st in shots gained: putting (-.195).

“This is what I’ve played for my entire career,” Zalatoris said. “I told [caddie] Ryan [Goble] that my career goal is to win a major and this is part of the steppingstone.”

Scottie Scheffler
In his third season on tour, Scheffler, 25, already has earned nearly $9 million and finished in the top 10 in three of the four majors last year. It’s only a matter of time before he gets a victory. He was second at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Houston Open, after holding the 54-hole lead, and was also runner-up at the 2021 World Golf-Dell Technologies Match Play.

Tommy Fleetwood
The Englishman has six international victories during his career, but has never won on U.S. soil. Last season, he failed to make the FedExCup playoffs for the first time in four seasons, finished 137th in the standings and lost his PGA Tour card.

“Last year was annoying because it [poor play] went on so long,” Fleetwood told Golf Digest last month. “But it’s a fine balance. If you’re not hard on yourself you never get to where you want to be. But if you’re too hard, you can go the other way and get into bad habits.

“[Last year] wasn’t horrendous by any means but definitely forgettable. I was only rarely at a tournament where I felt confident with my game. I lacked rhythm. So the end of the year arrived at a nice time. By the end of the season I was definitely ready to put the clubs away.”

Fleetwood, 31, is ranked No. 46 in the world and says his PGA Tour schedule will remain largely unchanged thanks to sponsor exemptions.

Cameron Tringale
The former Georgia Tech star has been playing exceptionally well since the beginning of the 2021-22 season. He has three top-10s and five top-25s in nine starts, including a tie for second at the Zozo Championship and tie for third at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Despite never having won on tour in 13 seasons, Tringale, 34, has earned more than $16 million, the most in history for a player without a victory.

Maverick McNealy
McNealy, 26, loves playing in California events. He was second at the Fortinet Championship in Napa at the start of this season and was solo second at Pebble Beach in 2021. He tied for fifth in 2020.

There’s this, from the Twenty First Group’s Justin Ray: McNealy is a combined 99-under-par in PGA Tour events in California the last three seasons, tied with Patrick Cantlay for best in that span. During the last three years, McNealy is 0.85 strokes better per round in relation to par in California than when he plays anywhere else on TOUR. McNealy is hitting 68.7% of his greens in regulation in California events in that span, a significant increase over the average in that same stretch (64.6%).

The son of former Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy, he had a three-shot lead over Max Homa with seven holes to play at the season-opening Fortinet Championship. He made a double bogey on No. 17 and finished one shot behind Homa.

“I think I actually learned a lot from the way Max Homa won that tournament,” McNealy said last week. “Relentless is kind of one of his mantras. If you keep putting yourself up there, you never know what’s going to happen. You might hole a wedge shot from the rough like he did, make a couple 30-footers and all of a sudden you’re right there. You’re never out of it until you’re out of it.”

With his uncle’s help, McNealy, a management science and engineering major at Stanford, came up with a clever idea to help his putting grip. His uncle, Bob Randolph, is a dentist.

“I was wanting a way to grip my putter consistently like a grip trainer, so I was talking to him about that stuff they use for impressions,” McNealy said. “We wrapped some of that [molding] around my putter grip.”

Callaway is replicating the mold to make a putter grip for him. What else did McNealy learn from his uncle?

“Floss every day,” he said.

Tom Hoge
The last few months were feast or famine for the former TCU star. He tied for fourth at The RSM Classic in November and then missed the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii. He was solo second at The American Express last month, his first runner-up finish since 2019, and then missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open. He’s 12th in the FedEx Cup standings.

If Hoge, 32, can find some consistency, he might be a factor in quite a few tournaments this season. His lone victory came at the 2011 Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada’s Players Cub. He has been grinding on the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour ever since, which is what you would expect from someone who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota.

Hoge is seeking to become only the third player from North Dakota to win on the PGA Tour. Paul O’Leary won the 1956 Imperial Open and the 1957 Erie Open, and Mike Morley won the 1977 Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open.

Mito Pereira
The Chilean played one season of college golf at Texas Tech before turning pro. Last season, he became the first player since Wesley Bryan in 2016 to be promoted to the PGA Tour with three victories on the Korn Ferry Tour.

Pereira, 26, was solo third at the Fortinent Championship in September and had back-to-back top-10s last season, tying for fifth at the Barbasol Championship and tying for sixth at the 3M Open. He also was part of the memorable seven-man playoff for a bronze medal at the Olympics.

Daniel Berger isn’t changing clubs

Daniel Berger, the defending AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am champion, is using the same model of irons that he played with in high school, at Florida State and during his early days on the Korn Ferry Tour and PGA Tour. They’re 2011 TaylorMade MC irons.

“I’ve just done a bunch of testing and it’s the best iron for me,” Berger said Tuesday. “So I don’t see why I need to go out there and look for something else.”

Since TaylorMade isn’t producing the irons anymore, Berger has to find backup and replacement clubs in other ways — like eBay and online golf club resellers.

“There are sets available online and people have reached out to me, so I’ve got an extremely large amount of backup sets sitting at my house,” he said. “I think if I were to do it right I would have a set at home that I would use to practice and a set at home that I would play or a set on the road that I would use to play. But I have plenty of clubs right now to last me for a while. Until something else comes out that is better I’m going to stick with what I have.”

The ongoing money question

Defending FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay says he was approached about playing in this week’s $5 million Saudi International on the Asian Tour, but opted instead to play one of his favorite courses in his home state. Still, he admitted the money the Saudis are offering for appearance fees and prize money made him think it over.

“I think with the amount of money they’re talking about it’s always very tempting,” Cantlay said. “I think it’s tempting for everybody. And to deny that would be, you know, maybe not true. But I’m really glad that I’m here this week and I love Pebble Beach and so that definitely factored into my decision.”

On Tuesday, it was announced that Saudi-funded golf tournaments will be played in Britain and the Middle East as part of a new 10-event series on the Asian Tour. Former World No. 1 Greg Norman, a frontman for the International Series that is being supported by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, said future events will also take place in the U.S.

Cantlay said he’ll be a “curious observer” to how many players from the PGA Tour and Europe decide to participate in the events.

“It’s a good question,” he said. “I think definitely there’s a want of the best players in the world to play against the other best players in the world and so it’s hard to quantify exactly, because it’s also not just a numbers game of how many, top however many players in the world, but individual people. Because some move the needle more than others and some are at the top of the game more than others.

“It’s a complicated equation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if people’s tune changed quick if the best players, if a majority of the best players in the world, wanted to play anywhere. Because if they did, I think there’s a real desire of the most competitive people out here to play against the best players in the world almost no matter what.”

What’s next on PGA Tour

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Pebble Beach Golf Links/Spyglass Hill Golf Course/Monterey Peninsula Country Club, Pebble Beach, Calif.
When: Thursday-Sunday on ESPN+
Purse: $8.7 million
Defending champion: Daniel Berger

Three storylines to watch:

  • Many of the PGA Tour’s biggest stars, including Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Reed, are playing in the Saudi International this week. But Pebble Beach still boasts a strong field that includes 10 of the world’s top 50 players, including Cantlay, Jordan Spieth and Berger. There will be a 54-hole cut on Saturday after everyone has played each of the three courses. The final round will take place at Pebble Beach on Sunday.

  • Can Spieth turn things around? His track record at Pebble Beach is very good, with five top-10s in eight starts, including a victory in 2017. But his form lately hasn’t been good, including a missed cut at Torrey Pines. Since 2015, Spieth has the second-best cumulative score to par at 77-under at Pebble Beach. He also has nine rounds finished inside the top five, which is third best.

  • Jason Day had a share of the 54-hole lead at the Farmers Insurance Open and was in contention for his first victory since 2018. But a pair of late bogeys knocked him into a tie for third. Still, it was good progress after Day fell to No. 129 in the world (he’s now up to No. 83). The Australian has played very well at Pebble Beach, where he has the best cumulative score to par (89-under) and is tied with Phil Mickelson for the most rounds finished in the top five (12) since 2015. He finished tied for seventh at Pebble Beach in 2021, his eighth top-seven finish at the event.

Read more