Impossible to predict future of PGA Tour first-time winners

Other than Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, it has been relatively impossible to predict the future careers of PGA Tour first-time winners.  Take Joaquin Niemann, the 20-year-old from Chile who cruised to a 6-shot victory at The Military Tribute at the Greenbrier for instance.

Sentiment and his amateur record tell us he will probably be a frequent winner, since he won the Junior World in San Diego, the same tournament won by Nick Price, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Woods and Mickelson, to name but a few.  But there is really no sure-fire method to tell who is going to be at the pinnacle of golf and who isn’t.

Last year, there were 14 first-time winners on the PGA Tour.  It changed their lives personally, professionally and financially. However,  when you look at the list, can you predict who will go on to win majors?  Who might be the next headliner?  Who will never win again?

My guess is you can’t do it.

The first-time winners in 2018-2019 were Kevin Tway, Cameron Champ, Adam Long, Martin Trainer, Keith Mitchell, Corey Conners, C.T. Pan, Max Homa, Sung Kang, Nate Lashley, Matthew Wolff, Dylan Frittelli, Collin Morikawa, and J.T. Poston. Unless you have a cheat sheet or are a personal friend of one of the winners, it’s likely you can’t name the tournaments they won.

PGA Tour, Matthew Wolff (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

PGA Tour, Matthew Wolff (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

However, while they may not be household names today, they are important because they are the lifeblood of the PGA Tour. One or two of them may be future multiple winners, future stars, future WGC winners, future major winners and future Hall of Famers. Right now, we just don’t know.

Looking back a few seasons, in 2014, there were 10 first-time champs.  The winner of the first event, which that year was, was virtually unknown.  Then, a few months later, he won two more times and two years later won the PGA Championship.  Who was it? Jimmy Walker.  But when he won for the first time, no one would have known what he was capable of doing down the road.

In a completely opposite scenario, Rory McIlroy was a first-time winner on the PGA Tour in 2010 along with Bill Haas who would go on to win a FedEx Cup, Jason Day, who would later win the PGA and become a world No. 1, and Bubba Watson, who would go on to win two Masters.

Other so-called first-time winners that year were not really unknowns.  They had won in Europe, as McIlroy had done, and, like McIlroy, their first wins came on other tours. That list included Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, and Justin Rose.  It was a bumper crop of golf star-power that season.

The 2013 first-timer list, though, is a perfect example of not knowing who will do what in the future.  Among those with maiden wins were Billy Horschel, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.  Horschel would win a FedEx Cup. Spieth and Reed would both win majors. But also in the list was Ken Duke, then 42, whose first and only PGA Tour victory came that season at The Travelers.

PGA Tour, Jordan Spieth

PGA Tour, Jordan Spieth (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Was it more likely that likely Horschel, Spieth and Reed would go on to win more tournaments?  Yes, because they were young enough to be Duke’s sons.  But it doesn’t guarantee that Horschel, Spieth and Reed were destined for greatness. The other first-timers that season were Russell Henley, John Merrick, Michael Thompson, Scott Brown, Kevin Streelman, Derek Ernst, Sang-Moon Bae, and Harris English. They all went into 2014 with the same kind of standing.

Within five years, it was clear that Horschel, Spieth and Reed were better players than the rest on the 2014 first-time winners list. Horschel won the 2014 Tour Championship and with it, the FedExCup.  Reed won the 2018 Masters.  Spieth won the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open, Tour Championship and FedEx Cup. Two years later, he won the British Open. The last two years, he’s been winless.

So, as the PGA Tour begins the 2019-2020 year, start paying attention to the first-timers because you never really know what kind of golf greatness they may produce in years to come.  With the exception of Woods and Mickelson, and previously Jack Nicklaus, golf futures are really, really hard to predict.


Kevin Tway, Safeway Open
Cameron Champ, Sanderson Farms Championship
Adam Long, Desert Classic
Martin Trainer, Puerto Rico Open
Keith Mitchell, The Honda Classic
Corey Conners, Valero Texas Open
C.T. Pan, RBC Heritage
Max Homa, Wells Fargo Championship
Sung Kang, AT&T Byron Nelson
Nate Lashley, Rocket Mortgage Classic
Matthew Wolff, 3M Open
Dylan Frittelli, John Deere Classic
Collin Morikawa, Barracuda Championship
J.T. Poston, Wyndham Championship


Ryan Armour, Sanderson Farms Championship
Patrick Cantlay, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Patton Kizzire, OHL Classic at Mayakoba
Austin Cook, The RSM Classic
Brice Garnett, Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship
Satoshi Kodaira, RBC Heritage
Andrew Landry, Valero Texas Open
Aaron Wise, AT&T Byron Nelson
Francesco Molinari, Quicken Loans National
Michael Kim, John Deere Classic
Andrew Putnam, Barracuda Championship


PGA Tour, Cody Gribble

PGA Tour, Cody Gribble (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Cody Gribble, Sanderson Farms Championship
Mackenzie Hughes, The RSM Classic
Hudson Swafford, CareerBuilder Challenge
Jon Rahm, Farmers Insurance Open
Adam Hadwin, Valspar Championship
Wesley Bryan, RBC Heritage
Kevin Chappell, Valero Texas Open
Cameron Smith, Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Xander Schauffele, The Greenbrier Classic
Xander Schauffele, TOUR Championship
Bryson DeChambeau, John Deere Classic
Grayson Murray, Barbasol Championship
Chris Stroud, Barracuda Championship


Emiliano Grillo, Open
Smylie Kaufman, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Justin Thomas, CIMB Classic
Peter Malnati, Sanderson Farms Championship
Russell Knox, World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions
Russell Knox, Travelers Championship
Kevin Kisner, The RSM Classic
Tony Finau, Puerto Rico Open at Coco Beach
Jim Herman, Shell Houston Open
Danny Willett, Masters Tournament
Branden Grace, RBC Heritage
Brian Stuard, Zurich Classic of New Orleans
William McGirt, the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide
Daniel Berger, FedEx St. Jude Classic
Billy Hurley III, Quicken Loans National
Greg Chalmers, Barracuda Championship
Si Woo Kim, Wyndham Championship


Ben Martin, Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Robert Streb, The McGladrey Classic
Nick Taylor, Sanderson Farms Championship
Brooks Koepka, Waste Management Phoenix Open
James Hahn, Northern Trust Open
Alex Cejka, Puerto Rico Open
David Lingmerth, the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide
Fabian Gomez, FedEx St. Jude Classic
Danny Lee, The Greenbrier Classic
Troy Merritt, Quicken Loans National
Shane Lowry, World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational


Jimmy Walker, Open
Jimmy Walker, Sony Open in Hawaii
Jimmy Walker, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Kevin Stadler, Waste Management Phoenix Open
Chesson Hadley, Puerto Rico Open presented by
Matt Every, Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard
Steven Bowditch, Valero Texas Open
Matt Jones, Shell Houston Open
Seung-Yul Noh, Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Brendon Todd, HP Byron Nelson Championship
Hideki Matsuyama, the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance
Brian Harman, John Deere Classic


PGA Tour, Russell Henley

PGA Tour, Russell Henley (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Russell Henley, Sony Open in Hawaii
John Merrick, Northern Trust Open
Michael Thompson, The Honda Classic
Scott Brown, Puerto Rico Open presented by
Kevin Streelman, Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank
Billy Horschel, Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Derek Ernst, Wells Fargo Championship
Sang-Moon Bae, HP Byron Nelson Championship
Harris English, FedEx St. Jude Classic
Ken Duke, Travelers Championship
Jordan Spieth, John Deere Classic
Patrick Reed, Wyndham Championship


Kyle Stanley, Waste Management Phoenix Open
John Huh, Mayakoba Golf Classic
Jason Dufner, Zurich Classic of New Orleans
Jason Dufner, HP Byron Nelson Championship
Rickie Fowler, Wells Fargo Championship
Marc Leishman, Travelers Championship
Ted Potter, Jr., The Greenbrier Classic
Jonas Blixt, Open
Tommy Gainey, The McGladrey Classic
Charlie Beljan, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic
PGA Tour, Jhonattan Vegas

PGA Tour, Jhonattan Vegas (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Jhonattan Vegas, Bob Hope Classic
D.A. Points, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
Gary Woodland, Transitions Championship
Charl Schwartzel, Masters Tournament
Brendan Steele, Valero Texas Open
Keegan Bradley, HP Byron Nelson Championship
Keegan Bradley, PGA Championship
Harrison Frazar, FedEx St. Jude Classic
Freddie Jacobson, Travelers Championship
Chris Kirk, Viking Classic
Scott Stallings, The Greenbrier Classic
Scott Piercy, Reno-Tahoe Open
Webb Simpson, Wyndham Championship
Webb Simpson, Deutsche Bank Championship
Kevin Na, Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
Bryce Molder, Open


Bill Haas, Bob Hope Classic
Ian Poulter, World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship
Derek Lamely, Puerto Rico Open presented by Banco Popular
Rory McIlroy, Quail Hollow Championship
Tim Clark, THE PLAYERS Championship
Jason Day, HP Byron Nelson Championship
Justin Rose, the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance
Justin Rose, AT&T National
Graeme McDowell, U.S. Open Championship
Bubba Watson, Travelers Championship
Matt Bettencourt, Reno-Tahoe Open
Louis Oosthuizen, The Open Championship
Bill Lunde, Turning Stone Resort Championship
Martin Kaymer, PGA Championship
Arjun Atwal, Wyndham Championship
Robert Garrigus, Children’s Miracle Network Classic