A new year is almost here, and that means it’s time to turn focus forward. That’s why Pga Tour compiled this list of names to watch in 2022. It doesn’t just include the stars, like FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay, World No. 1 Jon Rahm or all-around wunderkind Collin Morikawa. It also picked players from a variety of levels – PGA TOUR Champions, the Korn Ferry Tour and collegiate golf – to give you a well-rounded look at some of the players we think will have an impact on their respective circuits in 2022.
Pga Tour, Top 10
1. PATRICK CANTLAY
The greatest result out of the 2021 season for Patrick Cantlay was arguably NOT the incredible flourish to claim the FedExCup – the culmination of a four-win campaign — but instead the solidification of some popularity with fans and his new nickname, Patty Ice.
One of the greatest attributes a professional golfer can yield is the ability to close in the face of pressure. The ability to project a calmness in the storm and produce quality shots when it really counts is a feature of the truly elite. But as crisp as his ball-striking was, Cantlay hadn’t captured the attention of the fans until his Playoff campaign.
The 29-year-old has always been on the radar of the hardcore golf fan – he was a standout in college and always had the word ‘potential’ attached to him. But now, after a circuitous route, he is on the precipice of being the best player in the world and has the chance to be the first back-to-back FedExCup champ in history. If he makes either climb with the new target on his back, his evolution into Patty Ice will be complete.
“He really appreciated that the fans got behind him,” Matt Minister, Cantlay’s longtime caddie said. “Because up until last week (at the BMW), everybody else was being cheered for, and then they really started cheering for him. That’s what made the difference, that they got behind him.”
2. JON RAHM
Jon Rahm looks to continue his impressive stretch in 2022. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
It seems foolish to make predictions given the state of the world, but here’s one: Jon Rahm will contend at the 2022 Memorial Tournament presented by Workday.
This, after all, is the tournament he won in 2020 and was poised to win again in ’21 – a six-shot lead with one round to go – until he was forced to WD with a positive COVID test. Beyond his affinity for Muirfield Village, who knows? The sky is the limit for the six-time TOUR winner who turned 27 last month.
Consider: Rahm dazzled in ’21, capturing his first major with birdies on 17 and 18 at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, despite twice being torpedoed by a positive COVID test (he also missed the Tokyo Olympics). He played for a European Ryder Cup team that wound up on the wrong side of a historically lopsided score (19-9), and yet was the last guy the Americans wanted to play, going 3-1-1.
Meanwhile, Rahm was racking up top-10 finishes in 15 of his 22 starts, and with wife Kelley bringing a son, Kepa, into the world. Oh, and he also grew into his role as the game’s No. 1 and consoled friend Tony Finau upon the latter’s playoff loss at The Genesis Invitational.
Jon Rahm has become a man in full. – Cameron Morfit
3. JORDAN SPIETH
Fully fledged comeback… false dawn… or a new normal somewhere in between? The jury is somewhat out on Jordan Spieth despite the fact we all rejoiced when he snapped his near four-year win drought in 2021. What will we see in 2022?
The fact is there is something intangible around Spieth that makes it impossible for us to look away. When he struggles, we can’t avert our gaze. When he has success, we feel like we’re on the ride with him. We feel the fist pumps, revel in the ‘go get that’ moments, and generally love life more when he’s smiling. Spieth is a relatable character to most of us.
And he’ll begin 2022 with a new title: Dad. The 28-year-old joined wife Annie in welcoming baby Sammy in November, and it might just be the catalyst for the 12-time TOUR winner to get back to his best. If the perspective that generally comes with fatherhood allows Spieth to free up his mind and just play the game he loves with a free spirit, then perhaps seeing his name near the top of leaderboards will be the constant it was for the first five years or so of his career.
4. COLLIN MORIKAWA
Collin Morikawa could not be contained.
He had shot 68-66-64 to build a five-shot lead at the unofficial Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. With a win, he would seize the No. 1 world ranking in just his 61st start as a pro (only Tiger Woods got there faster). Alas, two double-bogeys in a span of three holes Sunday brought the field back in, Morikawa shot 76, and his housemate for the week, Viktor Hovland, won the trophy.
It was a rare reminder that Morikawa, 24, is human.
We are coming to the end of a year in which he captured the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession (becoming the only player other than Tiger to win a major and WGC before turning 25), Open Championship (his second major), and DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, that victory making him the first American to win the Race to Dubai.
Only a strained muscle in his lower back, which he suffered in the first round of the Olympics in Tokyo, kept him from having a better year as he scuffled to a T26 at the TOUR Championship. No matter. He bounced back with a dominant performance, largely with partner Dustin Johnson, in crushing the Europeans at the Ryder Cup, then won again in Dubai.
This looks like the start of an epic career. – Cameron Morfit
5. RORY McILROY
Rory McIlroy with his wife Erica and baby daughter Poppy after winning the Wells Fargo Championship. (Ben Jared/Getty Images)
The good: He won the Wells Fargo Championship in the spring, the first time he’d won the same TOUR event three times, and THE CJ CUP @ SUMMIT in the fall. The bad: McIlroy battled inconsistency amid a coaching change and his efforts to gain yardage. He cried at the end of a lopsided loss for Europe at the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits.
The good: McIlroy is back to his coach since boyhood, Michael Bannon. The bad: He had one hand on the trophy at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai before a bad break – his approach shot clanking off the pin and into a bunker at the 15th hole – sent him into a tailspin.
The former world No. 1 is still searching for his consistency from 2019, when his TOUR-leading 14 top-10 finishes in 19 starts, and three victories, yielded his second FedExCup .
“Just being me is good enough,” he said after winning THE CJ CUP, “and maybe the last few months I was trying – not to be someone else, but maybe trying to add things to my game or take things away from my game. I know that when I do the things that I do well … I’m capable of winning a lot of events on the PGA TOUR and being the best player in the world.”
Could this bit of self-awareness make him the first three-time winner in the FedExCup’s history? – Cameron Morfit
6. PHIL MICKELSON
Phil Mickelson is coming off a tale of two seasons.
He’s not sure what 2022 will look like.
“A lot of things are up in the air,” he said at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship at Phoenix Country Club in November, when he shot a final-round 65 to join Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win four of their first six PGA TOUR Champions starts. “I know I’m going to play a decent amount. I just don’t know when and where.”
On TOUR, Mickelson, 51, won the PGA Championship, becoming the oldest men’s major winner. It was a shocker, given his lack of form. His win at Kiawah was his only top-10 of the season. At the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, where he’d won five times, he shot a second-round 80 to miss the cut. He opened with 75s at the Masters and U.S. Open, missed the cut at The Open, finished 70th in the FedExCup. But all that matters in the history books is his performance that one week at Kiawah Island.
So, which tour will he play next year? We’ll have to wait and see.
“I’m hoping to use the opportunity to play and compete here as a way to keep my game sharp and have a few special moments on the regular TOUR like I had this year in May,” he said at the Schwab. “If I could have a couple more of those, that’s really what motivates me to work hard, to get in the gym in the offseason, put in the time and the effort to have those special moments.” – Cameron Morfit
7. SAM BURNS
A freak injury slowed his progress, but Burns is back to fulfilling the lofty expectations that came after he played alongside – and beat – Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2018 Honda Classic.
Burns, who won the Jack Nicklaus Award as college golf’s top player in 2017, broke his ankle in the summer of 2019 while playing pickup basketball with kids in his neighborhood. He admits that he came back too soon from the injury, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But Burns, 25, is back on track after two victories in 2021 (Valspar Championship, Sanderson Farms Championship).
He’ll enter 2022 ranked second in the FedExCup after finishing no worse than T14 in four fall starts. He’s also on the cusp of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. And he did it with a putter that was below his usual standard, which means that regression to the mean could mean good things for Burns in the next calendar year.
Burns, who ranked in the top 30 in Strokes Gained: Putting in each of his first three full seasons is only ranked 96th in that metric in this nascent season. His iron play continues to improve, however. He was a career-best 30th in Strokes Gained: Approach last season and is fourth this season. In other words, all signs are pointing toward a big year for Burns. – Sean Martin
8. HIDEKI MATSUYAMA
Hideki Matsuyama won the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in 2021. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)
With great power comes great responsibility.
Hideki Matsuyama’s 2021 was by most measures – probably all measures except his own lofty standards – a sensational year. He became the first Japanese man to win a major championship with his historic victory at the Masters, and then was able to push the celebration further with victory in his home country at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP. While it’s true he narrowly missed out on an Olympic medal in front of the same faithful, the fact is Matsuyama will always be able to reflect back with some warm fuzzy feelings.
But his success now raises expectations. And there is one field of battle this superstar needs to conquer – the Presidents Cup. Age and language barriers have allowed Matsuyama to get away with being a background player for the International Team on the four times he has suited up for the squad. But come Quail Hollow in 2022, he must stand up and be a leader for Trevor Immelman’s team.
It’s time for Matsuyama to take a heavy ownership load with the squad and be the catalyst behind what would be an almighty upset. His 6-7-4 record in the competition isn’t terrible considering he’s been on four losing teams but it absolutely needs to be better for him to be part of something else historic. – Ben Everill
9. PIERCESON COODY
The grandson of a Masters champion, Pierceson Coody has benefitted from both the wisdom of a man who competed against Nicklaus and Palmer and the expertise of the scientifically-minded coach who helped Bryson DeChambeau reach new heights.
Charles Coody won the 1971 Masters by two strokes over Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller. His twin grandsons, Pierceson and Parker, are seniors on this season’s strong University of Texas team. The Coody boys have been trained since they were young by Chris Como, refining their game at the same biomechanics lab in Como’s living room that DeChambeau used for his incredible distance gains.
Pierceson became the No. 1 amateur in the world in April, thanks in part to a win at the prestigious Western Amateur. “All you’ve got to do is believe in yourself,” Charles recalls telling Pierceson. Simple, but sage, advice. Pierceson is currently second in PGA TOUR University, which would earn him Korn Ferry Tour status when he (presumably) turns pro this summer. For those who enjoy following golf’s promising prospects, he’s one to watch. – Sean Martin
10. DAVIS THOMPSON
The Jones Cup has a pretty good track record of predicting PGA TOUR success. If that’s the case, then Davis Thompson has a promising future ahead of him.
Past champions of the amateur event in Sea Island, Georgia, include PGA TOUR winners Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Corey Conners, Kyle Stanley and D.J. Trahan (Jordan Spieth also lost a sudden-death playoff). The tournament’s host venue, Ocean Forest, is a demanding layout and the tournament falls in the dead of winter on the Atlantic coast, requiring players to brave cold temperatures and strong winds if they want to win the title. It takes a big-boy game to compete in the Jones Cup.
But of all the future stars who played in the event, none have performed better than Thompson at Ocean Forest. One year after losing a sudden-death playoff, he won the tournament by nine shots and set the event’s scoring record in his 2020 victory.
It’s why one observer said Thompson has the most TOUR-ready game among this year’s crop of new pros. Thompson, who finished T23 in the 2019 RSM Classic while still an amateur, also was the early leader after a hot start to the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot and shot a first-round 63 in this year’s Rocket Mortgage Classic. He made the cut in five of eight PGA TOUR starts in this calendar year.
Thompson, who turned pro after representing the United States in this year’s Walker Cup, was second in the 2021 PGA TOUR University standings and has eight guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour for 2022 after finishing in the top 40 at Q-School. –