Who's got next in professional golf?
A year ago, we tabbed a few names as the next big things in the men's game. Sure, there were some misses – a pesky left-shoulder injury stalled Ryan Ruffels' strong start to the Korn Ferry Tour's super season; uber-long Wilco Nienaber won a Sunshine Tour event right off the bat but otherwise struggled on the European Tour, dropping outside the top 200 in the world; and Justin Suh continued to be hampered by a lack of permanent tour, though he did earn his KFT card for this season at Q-School.
But we also hit on a few – Takumi Kanaya and Min Woo Lee became worldwide stars and cracked the top 50 in the OWGR to earn Masters berths this April; and Garrick Higgo won on the PGA Tour last summer.
Now, as we enter a new year, there are several new candidates to have breakout seasons on their respective tours.
From Matthias Schmid on the European Tour and Nick Hardy on the PGA Tour to Pauline Roussin-Bouchard on the LPGA and Maja Stark on the Ladies European Tour, here are 10 potential breakout stars for 2022:
He is already on the European Ryder Cup radar for 2023 after a solid first summer as a pro. The All-American out of Louisville had five top-20s on the European Tour, including a runner-up finish at the Dutch Open (a week before the Ryder Cup), and two more on the Challenge Tour. He’s got full status on the European Tour this year and odds are that the long-hitting German can find the winner’s circle at least once.
After finishing the Korn Ferry Tour’s super season ranked No. 20 in points, the 25-year-old Illinois product earned his promotion to the PGA Tour. He made three of four cuts this fall with no top-25s, but he should grow more comfortable as the new year wears on and contend for rookie of the year. He’s also a recently engaged man, as he proposed to girlfriend, professional golfer Elizabeth Elmassian, in December.
The former D-III player of the year and one-year graduate standout at Florida State, Norrman notched four top-15 finishes on the European Tour after turning pro last summer, including a T-5 at the BMW International Open. Nickname “The Candy Man” because of his experience working at a candy store in his native Sweden as a teenager, Norrman will likely spend most of his time in the U.S. in 2022 after earning 12 guaranteed starts at Korn Ferry Tour Q-School. He’s a skilled driver of the golf ball and should be among the leaders off the tee this year on the KFT.
After winning five times on the All Pro Tour in the past two years while also capturing a PGA Tour Latinoamerica title last season, the 25-year-old Stevens finally earned his Korn Ferry Tour card for the upcoming season via Q-School. A role player on Oklahoma State’s loaded 2018 NCAA title-winning squad, Stevens has already proven he can win on the mini-tour level. Now, he gets a chance to do so on the KFT, where he figures to be among the favorites to win the tour’s points title in 2022.
Longtime fans of college golf will recognize the 29-year-old Frenchman’s name. He was an All-American at TCU and won a Challenge Tour event as an amateur in 2012. But since turning pro in 2015, he’s struggled to find his footing. That is, until this year, when he won twice on the Challenge Tour to help secure his European Tour card for the first time in 2022. He was T-12 in his season debut at the 36-hole shortened Joburg Open.
After two first-team All-American seasons at South Carolina, Roussin-Bouchard turned pro late last summer and quickly won on the Ladies European Tour. She then medaled at Stage II of LPGA Q-School before leading for much of the eight-round Q-Series. She’d settle for second, but she’ll be among the rookie-of-the-year favorites on the LPGA this year. Her strength is her length, as she ranked just behind Anne van Dam in driving-distance average on the LET last season at 296.67 yards. Don't be shocked if she wins (maybe even a major) in 2022.
Speaking of power, Fassi remains one of the longest hitters in the women’s game as she prepares for her third year as a pro. She battled a left-knee injury last year and had surgery in April. Now healthy, Fassi is eyeing not only her first win on the LPGA in 2022 but also her first season finishing inside the top 60 in the Race to the CME Globe.
While Roussin-Bouchard received much of the attention at Q-Series, the 18-year-old Thai finished right behind her in third and will undoubtedly be a key challenger for LPGA rookie of the year. Thitikul is coming off a season in which she won the Ladies European Tour’s points list and picked up two victories and a runner-up on the tour. Even though she turned pro in early 2020, Thitikul owns four career LET wins, two coming as an amateur, including her win at the 2017 Ladies European Thailand Championship as a 14-year-old. That made her the youngest player ever to win a professional golf tournament. While some could argue that she has already broken out, as she ends 2021 ranked No. 19 in the world rankings, she has yet to play an LPGA event in the U.S.
It’s been a couple of years since Valenzuela turned pro midway through her senior year at Stanford. She finished outside of the top 100 in points her rookie year, but because of the pandemic she was able to keep her card and have a second crack at a rookie campaign. She better last year, finishing No. 79 in the Race to the CME Globe, though she still has lots to improve on after notching just one top-10 finish.
After leaving Oklahoma State after two seasons and turning pro this summer, the skilled Swede made six starts on the Ladies European Tour, and the back of two wins and a runner-up, finished sixth on the tour’s points list. She’ll likely play much of the LET schedule in 2022, as she just missed at Stage II of LPGA Q-School. She’ll also have Symetra status. Regardless of where she plays this year, expect a few more wins from Stark.