Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka among the top eight American golfers under 30
The Tournament of Champions got me thinking about how loaded American golf is right now
Xander Schauffele won thewith a shocking 62 that doubled as one of the all-time great final rounds in non-major PGA Tour history. Really, it did. His 11-under score was tied for second best to par in the final round by a winner, and he did it by making birdie on four of the final five holes and chasing down somebody he trailed by five coming in (who shot a 5-under 68 of his own!)
With the victory, Schauffele now has four of them in his first 61 events, and most of those have come at big boy-only tournaments. He won Greenbrier, the Tour Championship, WGC-HSBC Champions and the Tournament of Champions. These are not full field tournaments, no, but they are filled with the best players in the world (remember, the Masters isn't a full field tournament either).
Those four victories are more than Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas had in their first 61 events combined and they put Schauffele, age 25, squarely in the middle of the eternal conversation about which young American golfers are the best young American golfers. For the sake of today's argument, we're going to define "young" as "under 30" and limit the field to stars and stripes only (please save your Matt Fitzpatrick takes for another time).
So where does Schauffele currently stand? This is how I rank them.
1. Justin Thomas: Yes, I know the two guys below him have two more majors than Thomas, but Thomas seems like he currently exists in a space where nothing else in his life matters besides winning golf tournaments. It's hard to stay there forever, and few players are currently in it, but he's one of them and that's the primary reason why he's on top of this list.
2. Brooks Koepka: I don't really have a great reason for putting Koepka here other than I simply think Thomas was, is and will be better at golf than him. Koepka has more majors on him, sure, but he hasn't been in Thomas' league when it comes to strokes gained overall in the past two seasons. Majors are important, but when career sample sizes are small, they aren't everything.
3. Jordan Spieth: To be fair to Spieth, all I need is one good round of out him to flip-flop the three-time major winner with the No. 1 player in the world (who's right above him). This time last year I would have had Spieth No. 1 or No. 2 without question, and really the only thing that could have trumped him is a two major season from somebody below him, which Koepka delivered.
This is where it gets tough. The top three is pretty inarguable between Spieth, Koepka and Thomas, but you could talk me into anybody at No. 4.
4. Bryson DeChambeau: He has to win a major to crack the top three, but if you're going to make a list, making the "best American under 30 not named Spieth, Thomas or Koepka" is a pretty great list to make. I will not be swayed by the Schauffele Express even after his historic Sunday performance at Kapalua because A) DeChambeau has only played 10 more tournaments than Schauffele and B) I believe a top-10 finish in strokes gained for a season matters (Schauffele finished 46th).
5. Xander Schauffele: I don't know what to do here. I don't know how to reconcile the reality that he's never been inside the top 40 at the end of the year in strokes gained but he's also on pace for about 30 wins in his career. I think, like many of the younger guys, he plays super aggressively and it's worked out for him, but I don't believe he's a 2-3 wins a year guy.
6. Patrick Reed: Tough spot for Reed here. If we're talking more accomplished then he vaults to No. 4, but he's taken more than twice as many events as DeChambeau and almost three times as many as Schauffele to basically add one major to what they've done. Granted, it was a big one, and neither of them may ever join that club, but pound for pound right now, I'll take DeChambeau and Schauffele over Reed.
7. Patrick Cantlay: He has the extreme misfortune, like the guy below him (but with less experience), of finishing in the top 10 and top five a lot but not winning very often. For example, he has more top-five finishes than Reed through their first 68 events, but Reed clipped him in wins three to one. That's significant enough for me to bump him here.
8. Tony Finau: No. 10 in the world and No. 8 on this list. He's a stud, but to me he's clearly part of the third tier. I would take submissions for the top three in any order, the next three in any order and the bottom two in any order. Finau has been better of late, but I think Cantlay is probably the better golfer overall, even if he doesn't have two wheelbarrows' full of top 10s to prove it.
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