By Flint Wheeler

How can someone say “Golf is boring”? Perhaps because there are no more super stars? I don’t think that’s a feasible statement. With the 2016 PGA Tour well on its way through the West Coast swing, the crop of young players starting to make their stamp on the game is ever more evident. The young guns of today hold the key to the future of golf. If Tiger Woods was a hurricane that took the PGA Tour by storm, then these whippersnappers are the storm season that will stay around for a very long time.

I think these 5 golfers have the ability to do it… to be the breakout golfers.

Not Tiger (unfortunately) and not Phil (not in this article, at least). The only person over the age of 30 is Justin Thomas. With his win in Malaysia, Thomas finally got the monkey off his back. I say finally loosely. At the age of 22, Thomas didn’t have to wait long, although his college resume and early success on Tour indicated a win would come. His age was eerily representative of how much money he won in 2015–$2.2 million.


Thomas’ game will take another jump forward in 2016, where he’ll likely exceed 10 top-10 finishes and a trip to East Lake and the Tour Championship. Ahh, let’s not burden the kid. Let him play and just watch… the results will come.

Let’s ignore the obvious for a moment. We’re all eager to see how Jordan Spieth follows up his monstrous 2015, which included five victories, two majors, the Tour Championship, four runner-up finishes and more prize money than any golfer in history. The fact that he did it all at age 21-22 made it more impressive. But the more I think about Spieth in 2016, especially through the lens of last year, the more I consider alternate paths.

There are no guarantees in golf just as there are no guarantees in life. What I mean is that 2015 could very well be the best season Spieth will ever have. Are we prepared to accept that? At this young age Spieth has earned patience to go with the expectations. Still, how he performs in 2016 and beyond shouldn’t change the legacy he’s already left.

A group of rising young stars decided to take their golfing talents to Europe when they turned pro a few years ago now. Among them was Brooks Koepka. It became an attractive place to learn how to become a professional. It was the theory of getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Koepka, with others, did just that. And for the Koepka camp, it’s paying its dividends.

The 2015 season was Brooks’ first full season on the PGA Tour. With a win that February in Phoenix and great play all summer, including great finishes in the majors, he vaulted his name to inside the world’s top-20 players. Regardless of how you feel about the official world golf rankings, Koepka’s play has been among the best in the world. With his distance (4th on the PGA Tour in 2015), he has the talent to be elite. If his iron play and his putting can match that of his peers, he’ll be a household name by next year this time.

Each of the past two years, 2014 and 2015, could be classified as Rickie Fowler’s “career year.” In fact, ever since bursting on the scene as a loudly-dressed, flamboyant motor star on the Tour in 2009, Fowler has continued to improve. Now the 5th-ranked golfer in the world, the only thing missing from his resume is a major championship–aside from a Ryder Cup. He famously notched top-5s in every single one of those pesky majors in 2014. In 2015, he won thrice (three times) worldwide.

As for 2016, Fowler sits just outside today’s “Big 3” of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. He’s proven he can compete on any venue, in any conditions and under any amount of pressure. It’s the adrenaline junkie in him.

I think Fowler’s the guy to watch for a couple different reasons: 1- He’s going to win a major this year… and 2- if he doesn’t, the microscope will get bigger and bigger. Both are reasons to watch Rickie in 2016.

After narrowly missing out on qualifying for the Playoffs last season, which would have given him a chance to earn a PGA Tour card for 2016, Ollie Schniederjans now faces a more difficult path to obtain tour status. Like Spieth before him, he’ll rely on sponsor exemptions to play in a select number of PGA events. It’ll be worth watching how the former Georgia Tech star, and hatless-wonder, reacts.

Spieth was able to earn his place thanks a stunning run of early results that included a win at the Quad Cities. We now know that his maturity and poise under pressure drives his game as much as his physical talent. Like Spieth, Schniederjans is a 22-year-old Texan. We don’t know, however, if Schniederjans carries the same traits.

As for Rory McIlroy, who did not make my list… sorry Rory… money and fame sometimes takes its toll on athletes (See the entire NBA).