The PGA Tour's fall swing is unlike any other part of its schedule. While there are a handful of top-tier events, most of the slate is an opportunity for either youngsters to make a name for themselves ahead of the meat of the schedule next spring or for flailing veterans to rediscover the groove that once made them great.
While we don't know what the next few falls are going to look like -- the Tour will likely move to a completely revamped fall swing in 2023 and beyond -- the current fall slate will follow the last few and offer a few opportunities to some players that might go otherwise unnoticed if all the stars were in full swing.
Breakouts can manifest themselves in a number of different ways. Last year, Talor Gooch foreshadowed his leap into the top 40 in the world when he got off to a hot start during the fall swing and eventually won the RSM Classic to close out the schedule. That went a little sideways in 2022 when he disqualified himself from the PGA Tour after joining LIV Golf, but he's a good example of how the Tour's fall tournaments can be a springboard into a terrific following year.
The RSM Classic in 2019 provided a different kind of breakout for a fellow Oklahoma State player as Charles Howell III won the third tournament of his career and the first in 11 years. He represented the type of veteran who could take advantage of more inexperienced fields and get a long season on track early with some big performances.
Here's a look at who could fit into this category as the fall swing in 2022 arrives.
Davis Riley (OWGR: No. 70): Perhaps I'm crazy for believing that Riley could be on the 2023 U.S. Ryder Cup team, but his fall could (could, not will) go like Sam Burns' did last year when he won the Sanderson and it catapulted him all the way to the U.S. Presidents Cup team the following September. Riley is probably not as talented as Burns, but the U.S. team is not necessarily that deep between the top 12-14, and Riley could absolutely get hot and find his way to Rome for the Ryder Cup 12 months from now. He had nine top 13s last season (including the Memorial and PGA Championship), and if he gets momentum going the right way, he could be a force in 2023.
Sahith Theegala (No. 53): Speaking of golfers who could be on the 2023 Ryder Cup team in Rome, Theegala is on the short list of players who could jump into one of the final 3-4 spots that could be vacated from this year's Presidents Cup team because of injuries, poor performance ... or LIV. In November 2021, Data Golf ranked him as the 175th-best player in the world. Now he's all the way up to 56th. If he can make a similar leap in 2023 (which could start with a win this fall that so eluded him throughout the year), then he's a legitimate Ryder Cup threat.
Rickie Fowler (No. 157): The five-time PGA Tour champion is now ranked behind Kaito Onishi, Ewen Ferguson and Phachara Khongwatmai in the Official World Golf Rankings and needs something -- anything -- good to go his way this fall. He's split with both his caddie and his coach, and will try to regain the form that once made him a Players champion as well as a perennial top-10 player in the world. Coincidentally, I thought Fowler found a springboard last fall when he narrowly lost the CJ Cup to Rory McIlroy; instead, that was his only top 20 of the season. If you're looking for hope here, Fowler actually improved statistically from 2021 to 2022 after declining in each of the previous three seasons.
Justin Suh (No. 132): He's probably the player from last year's Korn Ferry Tour with the most upside. The pedigree is great, he had 10 top 10s on the Korn Ferry Tour last year and is normally a strokes gained menace -- though the first two PGA Tour events of his season haven't gone all that well. Most casual golf fans probably haven't heart of (or don't remember) the name, but it's not difficult to see Suh catching heat over the final two months of play while jumping toward the top 50 in the world and into all the majors in 2022.
Tommy Fleetwood (No. 30): Fleetwood quietly finished the summer on a heater (T4 at the Scottish Open and Open Championship), and while his game is not in disarray like Fowler's, he hasn't had the last few years he probably envisioned and hasn't won a big-time event since the Abu Dhabi Championship in 2018. It would be awesome to see Fleetwood grab a win or two this fall going into a Ryder Cup year and trying to build on what was his first-ever two-top-10 season in majors in 2022 (he added the PGA Championship as well).
Thomas Pieters (No. 33): As I was writing the Fleetwood paragraph, I thought to myself, "I think almost all of these same things about Pieters, too." I don't know that he needs to win this fall- -- he won the Abu Dhabi Championship earlier in 2022 -- but it would make for a hyped lead-in to 2023 for somebody with silly talent. It would be fabulous to see a swaggering Pieters roll into the four majors in 2023 and then reunite with former Ryder Cup bomb-launching partner Rory McIlroy in Rome.