2020 FedExCup finish: 27th
PGA TOUR wins: 1
His win at the Greenbrier made him one of just three players born outside the United States in the last 95 years who won on TOUR before turning 21. The others? McIlroy and Ballesteros.
The Chilean continues to fulfill the promise he showed as the World’s No. 1 amateur. And this year his success contributed to a good cause. He used his earnings from the final two events of 2020 to raise money for a life-saving treatment needed by his infant cousin.
Niemann’s downswing has so much lag it gives the clubhead whiplash, producing low lasers off the tee that are the envy of any amateur suffering from the balloon ball. He was especially effective in the latter half of 2020, finishing in the top 25 in seven of his last eight starts. That included a third-place finish on a demanding layout for the BMW Championship and a sixth-place finish against another strong field at THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK.
7. Will Zalatoris
2020 FedExCup finish: N/A
PGA TOUR wins: 0
What do you do when the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, the only source of PGA TOUR cards, are canceled by a pandemic.
You play your way onto the PGA TOUR the hard way, cobbling together a schedule with a series of top-10 finishes and sponsor exemptions.
That’s what Zalatoris did late in 2020.
He sat atop the KFT’s points list in September after a record-tying 11 consecutive top-20 finishes, a streak that started when the season resumed. That earned him a spot in the U.S. Open, where he confirmed that he belonged at golf’s highest tier.
Zalatoris finished T6 at Winged Foot and the world was introduced to his accurate iron play. He made a hole-in-one in the first round and hit the flagstick with another approach. Zalatoris tied Dustin Johnson over 72 holes and led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green.
That top-10 earned him a start in the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, where he finished inside the top-10 once again. A missed cut at the Sanderson Farms Championship briefly slowed his run – it was his first finish outside the top 20 in any event since Februray – but he responded by finishing fifth in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He earned special temporary membership in his next start and now can accept unlimited sponsor exemptions for the remainder of the season.
He would rank 30th in this season’s FedExCup standings if he were a full-time member. He has to win to appear in the FedExCup standings, but that doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities.
8. Aaron Wise
2020 FedExCup finish: 150th
PGA TOUR wins: 1
Wise turned pro at 20, right after winning the NCAA Championship, so it’s easy to forget how young he is. He won his first TOUR title at age 21 – two weeks after dueling Jason Day down to the wire at the Wells Fargo Championship — and qualified for the TOUR Championship later that year. Wise had four top-10s in that 2018 season. He’s had just four since, but things seem to be trending upward.
He struggled in 2019 and 2020, finishing 114th and 150th in the FedExCup, but the phrase “sophomore slump” exists for a reason. It can be a tough transition when so much success comes at a young age. Many players feel pressure to tinker, and the same may be true for Wise.
After playing with Brooks Koepka in the 2018 NORTHERN TRUST, Wise decided he needed to bulk up in order to better handle approach shots from thick rough. Wise transformed his body in 2019 but his results suffered. Things seem to be turning around. He contended at the Vivint Houston Open, then concluded the year with a runner-up at the Mayakoba Golf Classic presented by UNIFIN.
He’ll start 2021 ranked 19th in the FedExCup and back on the upswing.
9. Sam Burns
2020 FedExCup finish: 111
PGA TOUR wins: 0
He’s best known as the kid who beat Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2018 Honda Classic. Before that, he was the NCAA player of the year and finished T6 in a TOUR event while still an amateur.
One wrong step derailed his pro career, though.
He graduated from the Korn Ferry Tour in 2018, then finished third in his second TOUR event as a member, the Sanderson Farms Championship. He kept his card despite suffering a season-ending ankle injury in July. He broke his right ankle while playing pickup basketball with kids in his neighborhood.
Burns returned for the start of the new season but admits that may have been premature. He said it wasn’t until this January that the ankle stopped bothering him. Two months later, the season was paused by the coronavirus pandemic.
He is 53rd in this season’s FedExCup, however, thanks to two top-10s in five starts. He’s been gaining valuable experience atop the leaderboard, as well. He was the 36-hole leader at the Safeway Open and led after the Vivint Houston Open’s third round.
10. Doc Redman
Age: Turns 23 on Dec. 27
2020 FedExCup finish: 71st
PGA TOUR wins: 0
He has the pedigree, as a former U.S. Amateur champ and Walker Cupper. He earned his way on TOUR the hard way, by Monday qualifying for the 2019 Rocket Mortgage Classic and finishing second.
Still just 22 years old, Redman has been knocking on the door of a TOUR win. He has three top-4 finishes in his last eight starts. That includes a T3 in the season-opening Safeway Open and T4 in the Bermuda Championship. He’ll start 2021 ranked 41st in the FedExCup.
Iron play is the strength of his game. He finished 12th in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green last season. That bodes well for his future.