Our definition of the word “sleeper” has changed through the years—this year, we’re going with any golfer younger than 30 who hasn’t won a PGA Tour event or qualified for the Tour Championship—but our penchant for picking guys before they truly breakout as stars hasn’t. OK, so there have been plenty of whiffs along the way, and some of our past picks (like Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau) were no-brainers. But there also have been others like Jimmy Walker in 2013 and Aaron Wise last year who have made us look good (Thanks, guys). Anyway, here’s who we’re predicting (in no particular order) to have big seasons in 2018-’19.
It almost feels like cheating to include Beau on this list for a second consecutive year, but technically, he still meets our criteria. However, no one mentioned here came as close to a PGA Tour title as Hossler, who basically had a victory stolen from him at the Houston Open by Ian Poulter. But for a young man who putts this well (Hossler finished fourth on tour in strokes gained/putting as a rookie), there will be plenty more opportunities.
It took this 19-year-old Chilean just five starts this past summer to earn a special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. Then he needed only three more to lock up full playing privileges for this coming season. Niemann is both the youngest golfer on this list (he turns 20 in November) and the one who most screams future superstar.
Golf fans got their first good look at this former LSU star when he outplayed Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2018 Honda Classic. The resulting T-8 was one of several successful PGA Tour cameos, but he spent most of his time this past year finishing fourth on the Web.com Tour’s regular-season money list. With full PGA Tour playing privileges for the first time, expect to see the 22-year-old for college golfer of the year in more late-Sunday pairings this season.
What a name, what a talent. Able to produce ball speeds of more than 190 miles per hour, Champ arguably will be the longest hitter on the PGA Tour as a rookie. But he’s not just a bomber. While averaging 391 yards (Yes, 391 yards) off the tee during the Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship, Champ, 23, also hit two-thirds of the fairways on his way to picking up his first pro win. Previously, this Sean Foley student drew notoriety as an amateur when he was T-8 through two rounds at the 2017 U.S. Open. With his jaw-dropping power, Champ should be an instant fan favorite on the PGA Tour.
Another long-hitting Cameron, this 23-year-old Aussie was eighth on the Web.com Tour in driving distance (320.5), third in putting average and second in birdie average. His rookie season on the developmental tour also included a Nashville Open win and finishing sixth on the Web.com Tour Finals money list. But his biggest win came in his home country at the 2017 Australian Open.
The South Korean native won the opening event of the 2018 Web.com Tour season and never relinquished the top spot on the money list, capping his fantastic year with a second win at the regular-season finale. In addition to that pair of four-shot victories, Im also had three runner-ups to earn a whopping $534,326. Again, that’s on the Web.com Tour. Yeah, we’d be flashing a thumbs-up as well. Making Im’s accomplishment even more impressive is that he turned 20 in March and is the second-youngest player on this list to Joaquin Niemann.
The surprise 54-hole leader at the Dell Technologies Championship in the FedEx Cup Playoffs should become a more familiar name on the leader board following a second PGA Tour season in which he finished strong. Even with a disappointing Monday in Boston, Ancer’s T-7 was one of three top-10s over his final eight starts thanks in large part to his improved driving. The 27-year-old Mexican is only listed at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, but he has plenty of pop as evidenced by ranking 41st in strokes gained/off-the-tee.
A European Tour winner in 2017, Suri played a split schedule in 2018, but managed to make nine cuts in the 10 PGA Tour starts he made. A T-8 at the Houston Open was his best result in the U.S., but he also finished T-19 at the PGA Championship. Since Suri, 27, didn’t finish in the top 25 of Web.com Tour Finals (35th), he’ll play on multiple tours again, but that won’t keep him from capitalizing on PGA Tour opportunities. And it hasn’t kept him from earning one of the tour’s most unique partnerships, a sponsorship deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Like that franchise, Suri’s stock is on the rise.
A former Junior Ryder Cupper with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. A former Walker Cupper with Bryson DeChambeau and Beau Hossler. McCarthy, 25, will get a second full season playing against his old teammates on the PGA Tour after winning the Web.com Tour Championship in dominant fashion. Considering how well he played with his job on the line, we’re guessing his second go-round in the big leagues produces more than four top-25s and one top-10.
Just when that whole Jordan Spieth-Justin Thomas best buddy narrative was dying down, golf fans will undoubtedly get sick of hearing about Hickok, 26, being a former roommate of Spieth’s after he graduated from the University of Texas. That’s where the two also played together on the golf team before Spieth put down the books and started picking up major trophies. Now this geography major might just find his way to a PGA Tour winner’s circle as well after finishing second on the Web.com Tour’s regular-season money list in 2018.
Pan, 26, nearly made himself ineligible for this list with a win at the PGA Tour regular-season finale in Greensboro, but was undone by a disastrous double bogey on the 72nd hole that dropped him to T-2. He added a T-4 at the Dell Technologies Championship and finished 35th in the FedEx Cup standings, nearly qualifying for the Tour Championship. A former World No. 1 amateur during his time at the University of Washington, Pan certainly has the pedigree to be a star. He just might want to work on being more complimentary of his wife when she fills in as his caddie …