The NCAA Menâ€™s Division I-A Golf Championships are right around the corner (May 30-June 2 at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Clubâ€™s Gold Course in Williamsburg, Va.), marking for many players the end of their collegiate golfing careers. While some of these guys will remain amateurs for the duration of the summer, in order to compete for the final time in the summer circuit of prestigious amateur-only tournaments, culminating with the United States Amateur (Aug. 20-26 at the famed Olympic Club in San Francisco), and also the Walker Cup (Sept. 8-9 at Royal County Down Golf Club in Ireland), others will opt to turn professional sooner rather than later, in the hopes of spurning the year-end golfing purgatory known as Q-School (for the rights to play either on the PGA or Nationwide Tour on a full or even part-time basis next season).
This latter group is likely to seek management immediately (per Jim Lehman at SFX Golf, most golf agents prefer to be called player ‘managers,â€™ by the way, not â€˜agentsâ€™) while hoping to secure at least a few sponsor exemptions to PGA tournaments this year (I believe the limit is eight/season) and ultimately winning enough money to secure their playing cards for next season and bypass the rigors and risks of Q-School. So with this in mind, I thought Iâ€™d run through my own quick list of soon-to-be professionals (reportedly) to watch. And given the recent success on Tour of such young phenoms as Sean Oâ€™Hair, 24 years old, and Anthony Kim, 21 (Hambric Sports Management can feel free to include or even mention Kim on their web site any day now; he currently sits at 32nd on this yearâ€™s PGA money list!), you could be hearing from some of these players sooner rather than later:
Pablo Martin, Oklahoma St.: This past April, the two-time first-team All-American and 2006 Jack Nicklaus Award recipient (college golfâ€™s player of the year award) became the first amateur ever to win a European Tour event when he shot a 7-under 277 to beat Raphael Jacquelin by one stroke at the Estoril Open de Portugal. Although the victory earned Martin exempt status on the European Tour through 2009 (starting next season), he isnâ€™t yet sure where heâ€™ll predominantly play for the rest of this season (aside from trying to qualify for the U.S. and British Opens). That said, ultimately expect Martin to play a heavy schedule on the PGA Tour. And as I wrote not too long ago, donâ€™t be surprised if IMG inks him.
Dawie Van Der Walt, Lamar: SFX is reportedly hot on the heels of the imposing 24 year old, 6-4 South African (Paarl in the Cape) junior, whose rugby build and laid-back demeanor naturally draw comparisons to fellow countryman Ernie Els. Van Der Walt leads the Southland Conference with eight top ten finishes and a league leading 70.44 stroke average through 34 rounds of play.
Rhys Davies, East Tennessee State: The Bridgend, Wales native became a name when he beat Martin, above, in the 2003 British Boys Amateur Championship at Royal Liverpool. Since then, Davies has enjoyed continued success both in college play, and on the national scene (2005 Walker Cupper and Sweet 16 of the 2005 U.S. Am). He entered this spring with a 69.4 stroke average, and flirted with the No. 1 position in Golfweek’s national rankings after winning his ninth and tenth career events in March.
Chris Kirk, Georgia: Kirk represented the United States at both the Palmer Cup (the Ryder Cup for college players) and the World Amateur Team Championship last year, and will compete in the Palmer Cup again this June. Kirk was a Ping First-Team All-American last year, and has won three events in his final season with the Bulldogs, raising his career total to six. Kirk finished second in last year’s NCAA Championships, and no one would be surprised if he finished the deal this time around.
Zack Miller, Stanford: Miller had a torrid fall, finishing first in three events. His stroke average has also dropped 1.5 strokes since last season. Miller is flying under most people’s radar, and may not have the pedigree and resume (say of his teammate, Rob Grube) to garner sponsorship exemption this year. But Miller has a quiet calm to him and an unassuming game that will serve him well on the next level. I’ll be shocked if he’s not on the PGA Tour within 1-2 years.
Luke List, Vanderbilt: Ever since his runner-up finish at the 2004 U.S. Am, it seems that List has been somewhat forgotten. He was left off the 2005 Walker Cup team, and spent much of the 2006 summer circuit off the course. But List has finished in the Top 20 in nearly every event he’s played this season, and in February he won the Jones Cup at Sea Island, Ga., an event that featured many of the top amateurs from the U.S. and Great Britain and Ireland. List hopes to make the Walker Cup team this time around, after which time he’ll turn pro and gear up for Q-School.
–Jason G. Wulterkens