The PGA Tour is built around guys like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but they were young up-and-comers at one time as well. Golf fans are constantly looking for the next breakout star, and luckily for most, the last year or two has provided us with quite a few. Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, and Rickie Fowler are just a few of the young guns who have stepped up in recent years and made an impact on the big stage. McIlroy and Johnson are both ranked in the top 15 in the world, while Fowler has already climbed into the top 30.
Between the Nationwide Tour and Q-School graduates, there are plenty of fresh faces joining the PGA Tour in 2011. I've followed a lot of the guys through the college ranks, while some will be returning to the bright lights after a year or two away. Who will follow in the footsteps of Fowler and be the next breakout golfer on the PGA Tour? I've picked out two guys who have what it takes to make a serious impact in 2011 and beyond. Enjoy!
Jamie Lovemark has been destined for stardom ever since his high school days, and he got things started by winning the 2005 Western Amateur. He continued his successful amateur career at the University of Southern California where he won the 2007 NCAA Individual Championship. He also won the Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Phil Mickelson awards for individual medalist, National Player of the Year, and outstanding freshman.
Lovemark might be a familiar face to some because he has already contended in a PGA Tour event. At the 2009 Frys.com Open, he lost in a playoff to Troy Matteson. Rickie Fowler, one of his rivals throughout their amateur years, also lost in that playoff. After failing to qualify for the PGA Tour last year, Lovemark headed to the Nationwide Tour in 2010. He not only earned his PGA Tour card, he dominated and ended the season first on the money list. He picked up a win, three runner-up finishes, and two more third-place finishes.
Now that Lovemark has secured his PGA Tour card, he probably won't be going back to the Nationwide Tour for a long time. I've followed the guy the last several years, and he has about as much "can't miss" potential as anyone I've seen with the exception of Tiger Woods. He has often been associated with Fowler because both have had similar success at the amateur level, and he will more than likely make the kind of impact Fowler did in 2010. Don't be surprised if you see both on this year's Presidents Cup team.
Michael Thompson didn't follow the same exact path as Jamie Lovemark, but he has also been successful at every level he has competed. He made it to the finals of the 2007 U.S. Amateur before losing to Colt Knost. Over the next year, he made a huge impact playing for the University of Alabama. In fact, he was named 2008 SEC Player of the Year and earned All-American honors as well.
The runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur earned Thompson a spot in the 2008 U.S. Open where he finished as the low amateur. He made the cut and finished in a tie for 28th. He spent the 2010 season playing on the Hooters Tour, and he had a great season to say the least. When all was said and done, he was named the Hooters Tour Player of the Year. After finishing 16th at Q-School, he earned his 2011 PGA Tour card.
Michael Thompson may not be as much of a "can't miss" prospect as Jamie Lovemark or Rickie Fowler, but the guy has proven time and time again he can make a big impact at every level he has played. He should have a very solid rookie season on the PGA Tour, and it will be surprising if he doesn't keep his tour card for a long time. He may not win in 2011, but he will have his name at the top of some leaderboards as the season rolls along.
The Final Say
It's always exciting to see new faces emerge on the PGA Tour, and it's even better when they play great and have staying power. Since Tiger Woods' run of dominance began in 1996, a number of great young golfers have been tabbed as the next big thing and have failed. That has hopefully changed with the emergence of Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler, etc. It remains to be seen whether or not Jamie Lovemark or Michael Thompson join that group of young golfers who have staying power, but my money is on both of them. Both should be in the running for 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.
It's your turn to tell me what you think. Do you think Lovemark or Thompson will have great rookie seasons in 2011? Also, do you think they will have the staying power in the future? Finally, which other golfers do you see as possible breakout stars in 2011? If you have anything to add, please comment below or discuss it in the forum. Thanks for reading!