This time last year, Scottie Scheffler had never won a PGA Tour event, was outside the top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings, not in Hawaii for the Tournament of Champions and had only earned $7.5 million. Now? He's a four-time winner, the reigning Masters champion, has the second shortest odds of anyone to win the 2023 Tournament of Champions and has tripled his career earnings to just over $22M. Oh, and if he finishes near the top of this week's event, he'll return to No. 1 in the world for what would be his 31st week.
Needless to say, things have changed.
It begs the question, though, of who we're overlooking right now. More specifically: Who is the Scottie Scheffler of 2023? The player who will be sitting here this time next year, perhaps not with the same bona fides Scheffler put together in 2022, but with a resume that's far more complete than it is currently constituted and a name that is far more familiar in golf households than it is currently.
Perhaps there are several candidates to fill this role in 2023, but none are as blatantly obvious as the golfer who mostly fits the Scheffler statistical profile, nearly won multiple majors in 2022 and is coming off his first American team event just like Scheffler was a year ago.
The most likely candidate to replicate Scottie Scheffler's 2022 in 2023 is, of course, Cam Young.
Young has yet to win on the PGA Tour, but he's an elite ball-striker (13th over the last 12 months), and he's in contention a lot. In 2022 alone he finished second or third in the following events.
- Open Championship
- Genesis Invitational
- Rocket Mortgage Classic
- Wells Fargo Championship
- PGA Championship
- RBC Heritage
This is easy to say now, but if, say, 10 strokes go differently, we're talking about Cam Young having Scottie Scheffler's 2022 in 2022 and not in 2023.
Young fits the modern mold, too. He's mega long off the tee -- statistician Joseph LaMagna has called him the best driver in the world -- and good enough elsewhere to be extraordinarily dangerous. His finish dispersion is great, too, in that he doesn't finish T11 very often. In 25 starts last season, he finished in the top three seven times and missed the cut seven times.
That's a perfect ratio, and it has led Data Golf to the following conclusion, which it put forth in a recent newsletter.
Young is one of the best active players without a PGA Tour win: our models estimate that his PGA Tour performances have been good enough to expect 1.6 PGA Tour wins and 0.4 major wins. The only winless player with higher values in those two metrics is Tommy Fleetwood.
In other words, Cam Young is coming in 2023.
To drive home the point, consider that of the top 150 players in the world right now, Young is the 18th-best career ball-striker. The names ahead of him include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson. They are players who win a lot. Young has played so few rounds compared to the rest of those guys (for example: Young has played 87 measured ShotLink rounds compared to Xander Schauffele's 405) that it's easier to envision his win total catching up with everyone else than it is to envision him falling off the planet when it comes to his ball-striking numbers.
That's not something rooted in statistical certainty -- not that anything in golf truly is -- but Young's skillset doesn't evaporate. Great short games, great putters, they come and go. The pop and then they disappear. Elite driving, being a top-five (perhaps top-three) driver in the world? That's a sticky statistic.
Young seems to want the ball, too. He hit the lost shot of the year in 2022 when he made a two on the 72nd hole at St. Andrews during the Open Championship. It got sandwiched between Cam Smith's victory and McIlroy's defeat, but when he had to have a two, he stepped up and made it in a moment when he had to have it. He talked after that round about how he's still learning to win at the highest level, and his Open success was part of that.
"I think I stuck to my plan and the process of what had gotten me there really well," said Young. "And not necessarily that I didn't at the PGA Championship, but I don't know if I let it come to me as much as I did today. I tried as much as I could -- watching [Cam Smith] make a million birdies in a row is in one sense good because it pushes you, and in another sense it's hard to watch because you see him making putts, knowing that he's kind of beating you.
"But, yeah, I think I was a little bit more patient today and I obviously was rewarded on 18, but just came up a little bit short."
Coming up short was a theme for Young in 2022, which is not dissimilar to Scheffler's 2021. Scheffler finished in the top eight seven times -- including at three of the major championships -- in 2021 without winning a single event. He had the highest expected win rate in 2021 (1.27 wins) of anyone who didn't win a PGA Tour event. Young took that honor in 2022 at 1.20 (and 0.38 in majors, which is extremely high).
Add it all up, and Young is the obvious choice to have a Scheffler-like year in 2023. He's not being talked about like he perhaps should be -- this was true of Scheffler last year as well -- but after he hits on one, two or even three big-time PGA Tour victories. All of that will change. Just like it did for the guy he's now chasing.