After six long months, the time has finally come for 92 of the best players in the world to take on a slightly chillier and emptier Augusta National for a tradition unlike any other: the Masters. Golf fans around the world are undoubtedly yearning for a Tiger Woods back-to-back Masters victory, as am I. However, in my opinion, it would be almost equally as exciting for an Augusta rookie to be in the mix come Sunday afternoon.
Throughout Masters history, the only player to come home with a green jacket after their very first Augusta appearance was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. However, without the energy of Augusta’s patrons this year, there have been rumblings about the potential for a rookie’s success. Although the golf mecca is intimidating and nerve-racking even without the reverberating roars of the crowd, this year’s unprecedented circumstances could help those making their Master’s debut this week.
If this is the year for a rookie Masters champion, or a rookie-filled top-20, here are six young up and coming stars to keep an eye out for.
The 23-year-old 2020 PGA Champion is confident going into his Masters debut, and we can all see why. In his outstanding performance at his second ever major championship appearance at TPC Harding Park earlier this summer, Morikawa proved both his innate skill and his mental toughness. During this week’s pre-tournament press conference, Morikawa explained that he “has never been intimidated by courses” and it makes this week “a little more comfortable” for him. It will surely be interesting to watch how Morikawa navigates the infamously tricky Augusta greens and pine-straw lined fairways with this level of confidence.
Wolff is another obvious rookie favorite going into this week. The 21-year-old former Oklahoma State Cowboy has a serious competitive spirit, as well as considerable and often underrated distance off the tee. After finishing 2nd at the U.S. Open, it is clear that Wolff possesses the ability to succeed in majors. George Gankas, his Instagram-famous swing coach, is out at Augusta with him this week, and I foresee the instructor’s charismatic presence amping Wolff up, if he isn’t excited enough already for his third major championship appearance.
Ancer is no stranger to high-pressure play: he made a lot of noise after his impressive 2019 Presidents Cup performance and his high-profile match against Tiger Woods. His 2020 season has been strong, with two runner-ups and two top-10s. At the RBC Heritage, Ancer hit 90% of the greens in regulation – some of the smallest targets on the PGA Tour – showing an astonishing level of precision with his irons. This accuracy will surely benefit him this week, but if it doesn’t, the Mexico native will have his own tequila brand to fall back on for consolation.
Besides having perhaps the best name in golf right now, Janewattananond has a lot going for him in his first Master’s appearance. The 24-year-old Thai rising star is the 70th ranked player in the world and has performed solidly in major championships before. He first made a name for himself for a larger swath of golf fans during the 2019 PGA Championship, where he finished in 14th place.
While I was at first surprised to see Champ among the list of players making their Masters debut this year, the 25-year-old has a striking air of grit and competitive maturity that makes him well deserving of the opportunity. Additionally, Champ is one of the longest hitters on tour. With all of the never ending talk surrounding Bryson DeChambeau’s superhuman length off the tee, it is easy, but unwise, to overlook Champ.
The 22-year-old Korean star is yet another young player with incredible potential for a strong finish this Masters week. The 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year has one of the most tempered and meticulously on-plane swings that I have ever seen. Like Ancer, Im’s dialed-in iron-game will be a huge advantage for him this week, and I am looking forward to seeing more of his mind-blowing pureness when the tournament officially commences Thursday morning.