PGA Championship 2019: 10 players who were supposed to be better than Brooks Koepka

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FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The prediction business in golf is tricky stuff. Any number of “can’t-miss” pro prospects have gone the way of humbled journeyman as their careers have played out. Conversely, there are plenty of PGA Tour veterans with millions in the bank whose college or amateur credentials left much to be desired. And the guys in the middle? Yeah, good luck figuring out who’ll make it and who won’t.

This is where Brooks Koepka found himself when he turned pro in the summer of 2012. Koepka had just finished his college career at Florida State, where he was a two-time ACC player of the year and a second-team All-American as a senior. Yet he never got higher than No. 13 in the Golfstat college rankings, and he was looked past for the U.S. Walker Cup team the previous fall. And when he decided to go overseas to begin his pro career, it turned heads for those more accustomed to seeing Americans stay home and try to earn their keep on the Web.com Tour.

Suffice it to say, things have worked out quite well for Koepka, who claimed his fourth major championship on Sunday after capping an impressive week at the PGA Championship. The 29-year-old became the quickest golfer to win four majors after grabbing the first victory, getting to four in just eight starts.

Should we be surprised at Koepka’s performance? Perhaps if you consider this group of his contemporaries—guys who turned pro within a year or two of Koepka—all of whom, at the time they turned pro were considered more likely to have produced the results we’ve seen from Brooks. Many on this list have gone on to prosperous pro careers, but few might have guessed that Koepka would have been the one to have had more major success at this point.

Patrick Cantlay

PGA Championship - Final Round
Christian Petersen/PGA of America

He turned pro in the summer of 2012 after two years at UCLA, having claimed college player-of-the-year honors as a freshman in 2011 and holding the No. 1 spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for more than a year. Was low amateur at the U.S. Open in 2011, and the next week shot the lowest round by an amateur in a PGA Tour event (60 at the Travelers Championship).

Status: Needed two years to get to the PGA Tour, but back issues hampered his early success. Has been playing regularly on tour since 2017 and has one victory, five top-three finishes and 19 top-10s.


Bud Cauley

The PLAYERS Championship - Round Two
Gregory Shamus

A three-time All-American at Alabama, who also went 3-0-1 for the victorious U.S. Walker Cup team in 2009. Qualified for the U.S. Open in 2011 and decided to turn pro, forgoing his senior season.

Status: Managed to earn a PGA Tour card in 2011 without having to go to Q school, earning enough money in sponsor’s exemptions to qualify. Has jumped back and forth between the PGA Tour and Web.com Tour.


Russell Henley

Sony Open In Hawaii - Round One
Kevin C. Cox

Was an All-American at Georgia who earned low amateur honors at the 2010 U.S. Open. In 2011, he won the Web.com Tour’s Stadion Classic at UGa on the Bulldogs’ home course. Turned pro in September 2011 after playing on the U.S. Walker Cup team.

Status: Became the first PGA Tour rookie to win in his tour debut with a victory at the 2013 Sony Open. Has won two more titles and earned more than $13 million on tour.


Tom Lewis

Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship - Day Four
Matthew Lewis/WME IMG

The Englishman shined at the 2011 Open Championship at Royal St. George’s, grabbing a share of the lead in the first round, the first amateur to do so in a major since 1976. He eventually earned low-amateur honors with a T-30 finish. After playing on the victorious Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team, Lewis turned pro rather than come to the U.S. to play college golf.

Status: Won on the European Tour in just his third pro start in the fall of 2011, then won rookie of the year honors. Eventually lost his European Tour card, but regained it and won for a second time at the 2018 Portugal Masters.


Hideki Matsuyama

PGA Championship - Preview Day 2
Warren Little

Won back-to-back Asia-Pacific Amateur titles in 2010 and 2011, earning spots into the Masters. At Augusta, he made the cut both years, earning low-amateur honors in 2011. Played college golf in Japan at Tohoku Fukushi University and was a two-time Japan collegiate champion. Before turning pro in 2013, he was No. 1 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

Status: Has played on the PGA Tour since 2014, winning five times, and has gotten as high as No. 2 on the Official World Golf Ranking.


Patrick Reed

PGA Championship - Preview Day 3
Stuart Franklin

Reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur in 2008 as a high schooler. In college at Augusta State, he helped the Jaguars claim NCAA titles in 2010 and 2011, going 6-0 in match play, before turning pro that summer.

Status: Earned full-time status on the PGA Tour in 2013 and has claimed six tour titles, including the 2018 Masters. Has played on three U.S. Ryder Cup teams, earning eight points.


Patrick Rodgers

Genesis Open - Round Three
Yong Teck Lim

Tied Tiger Woods’ school record for individual victories during a standout college career at Stanford. Was the top-ranked amateur in the world for 16 weeks in 2014 before turning pro.

Status: Earned special temporary member status on the PGA Tour in 2015 and has been playing on tour ever since. Has three runner-up finishes, including a playoff loss last fall.


Jordan Spieth

PGA Championship - Round Three
Patrick Smith

Was the only teenager, along with Tiger Woods, to win the U.S. Junior Amateur title on multiple occasions (2009 and 2011). Helped the University of Texas win the 2012 NCAA title. Turned pro in fall of 2012 in the middle of his sophomore season with the Longhorns.

Status: Played in several PGA Tour events on sponsor’s exemptions in 2013, eventually earning status on tour. Then won the 2013 John Deere Classic, the first of 11 PGA Tour wins that also include three major championships (2015 Masters, 2015 U.S. Open and 2017 Open Championship).


Peter Uihlein

Puerto Rico Open - Round Three
Kevin C. Cox

A two-time AJGA boys’ player of the year as a junior golfer before enrolling at Oklahoma State. Went on to win the U.S. Amateur in 2010 and played for the U.S. in the 2009 and 2011 Walker Cups. Left school early to turn professional in the fall of 2011.

Status: Like Koepka, he played on the European Tour for a handful of years before earning PGA Tour status in the fall of 2017. Has yet to win a tour event, but has nine top-10 finishes.


Chris Williams

Travelers Championship - Round One
Jared Wickerham

Held the No. 1 spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking for 46 weeks, while becoming a three-time first-team All-American at the University of Washington. Twice qualified for the U.S. Open before turning pro in the summer of 2013.

Status: Played five seasons on the Canadian Tour, his best finish being a runner-up showing in 2018. Has been unable to earn full-time status on the PGA Tour or Web.com Tour.

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