Who will make moves in 2011?
I view my columns as children. Sometimes I like them, sometimes they're annoying, sometimes I seriously question whether they actually spawned from my, um, "creative process."
And sometimes I need to keep a little secret from them. This is one of those times.
So to all of my other columns, I have one word: "Earmuffs" Or at least: "Blindfold." Because you're not going to like what I'm about to write.
This is my favorite column of every year.
I know, I'm supposed to treat all of my "children" equally and regard them with the same measure of support and disgust. But I can't do it. This is the one who always cleaned its room, finished its vegetables and took out the trash. I call it "The Leap."
You see, anyone can make predictions for specific tournaments. I do it all the time. Of course, not just anyone can be right about 'em. That takes either a keen sense of inside knowledge or dumb luck. I'm usually fresh out of both.
This column is a little different, though. Rather than attempt to predict the winner of a certain tournament, I will choose players to make "The Leap" to the next level. As such, each player listed below will be chosen to move up in professional status via certain results during the upcoming season.
Of course, it's a hit-or-miss proposition. Last year, Jeff Overton and Francesco Molinari reached the goals I set for them, while Geoff Ogilvy and Ai Miyazato notably came up short. I expect a similar mixed bag of results again this year, but at least I'll have fun coming up with 'em.
After all, it's always nice to have your favorite kid around again.
The Leap: Major championship winner
With 11 top-20 results in 31 career major appearances, he's been close in the past. And yet, his best finish didn't come until last year's Open Championship, when he played in the final pairing at St. Andrews and closed with a share of third place, though still a mile behind winner Louis Oosthuizen.
Well, it's time for the 33-year-old Brit to step it up a notch. An elite talent, Casey drives the ball a long way, hits a high percentage of greens and is a solid putter, but it's his penchant for hitting the ball a mile high that really helps at majors. Add in the fact that his game is suited to win any of the four and we should expect this major breakthrough to happen at any of 'em this year.
The Leap: Major championship contender
Even most casual golf fans likely know two things about Crane: He plays painfully slow and he's the dude with the hilarious workout video spoof. That's one bad thing and one good thing, so let's break the tie: He's also one of the world's best putters.
In 2010, that translated into wins at Torrey Pines and Malaysia, but it's only a matter of time before he takes things to the next level. In 19 career major championship appearances, he owns just a single top-10 -- he tied for ninth at the 2004 PGA Championship -- but a guy who rolls the rock this smoothly won't go much longer without finding himself on some leaderboards.
The Leap: Top-10 in Official World Golf Ranking
For years, he has owned a ton of potential. Now he's really starting to fulfill it. Day won for the first time near his adopted hometown of Fort Worth at last year's Byron Nelson Championship. He followed by making a late-season run that included three top-10s in his final five starts to finish the year inside the top-40 on the world ranking. He's only going up from there, though. By year's end, Day could very well surge past a few dozen top players en route to a single-digit next to his name.
The Leap: Top-25 in the Official World Golf Ranking
If the current OWGR held for another six weeks or so -- and surely it won't -- Noh would sneak into the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship as the last man in the field at No. 64, barring no withdrawals. Not too shabby for a 19-year-old, but it's only the beginning.
Noh already owns a victory on the European Tour and the ball-striker supreme has as much talent as any other young phenom, be it Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler or Matteo Manassero. Against inferior competition on the Asian Tour, but with solid world ranking points still available, expect him to ascend this list in a hurry.
The Leap: Presidents Cup team member
Before turning pro, Moore was all-everything, winning nearly every big-time collegiate and amateur tournament that exists. Since then, he's been solid but not spectacular, often battling injuries to carve a nice career that includes 23 top-10 results in a half-dozen seasons.
Now a seasoned vet, he's ready to make the leap into the next echelon. That could mean a few more wins, a jump in the world ranking or a number of other things. The prediction here is that by season's end it will result in Moore securing a place as one of the 12 players on captain Fred Couples' roster at the Presidents Cup.
The Leap: PGA Tour Rookie of the Year
Funny story: While Louis Oosthuizen was busy blitzing the field at St. Andrews last year, there was an issue of Golf Digest on the newsstands proclaiming his good buddy Schwartzel to be the next great South African player. Well, it might have been bad timing, but the headline wasn't wrong.
Not long after Schwartzel finished runner-up at Doral to Ernie Els did his countryman congratulate him on clinching his PGA Tour card. With that result alone, he paved the way for this process -- and with a handful of worldwide wins already to his name, don't be surprised to see him bag his next one here in the U.S.
Brendon de Jonge
The Leap: Tour Championship competitor
You've seen this beefy guy before. He sort of looks like a lost Stadler. Fortunately for him, he plays like one, too.
After quietly racking up more than $2 million in earnings last season, de Jonge is ready to take another step. He usually plays better as the year progresses, so while he might elevate to a PGA Tour winner or top-50 on the OWGR, the pick here is that he pulls off another late surge, securing himself a spot in the elite field at East Lake GC in September.
The Leap: PGA Tour winner
Consider this both good news and bad news: Blanks is a very streaky player. It's bad news because, well, every player strives for better consistency. The good news, though, is even better, as a few top-five results are usually more beneficial to a player's progress than, say, a season full of 25th-place finishes.
Blanks might never be the type of player who cashes a check every week, but when he does, he can cash a big one, as evidenced by a runner-up finish in Puerto Rico and a T-5 at Harbour Town last season. Next up: His first career victory. Streaky players can do that, you know.
The Leap: Top 75 on PGA Tour money list
First things first: Yes, this guy's name is a headline writer's dream.
"What Happens to Vegas..." "Vegas, Baby!" "Jackpot!"
That's not the only reason he'll be making headlines, though. Last season, he finished seventh on the Nationwide Tour money list, with one win and three other top-three finishes. This year, the big hitter will become the first native of Venezuela to be a full-time member of the PGA Tour. "What happens to Vegas" will likely be a lot of made cuts and a few title contentions in the big leagues.
The Leap: Top 125 on PGA Tour money list
Ladies and gentlemen: This is what the future of golf looks like. Listed at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, Gates is straight out of the Dustin Johnson/Ricky Barnes mold, looking more like a linebacker or small forward than professional golfer.
That said, he can play a little golf, too. Last season, the 25-year-old had a win and a third-place finish in his first two Nationwide Tour events, cruising to his PGA Tour card from there. He won't be a breakout star, but expect solid results in some lower-tier events to clinch his playing privileges for 2012, too.
The Leap: PGA Tour driving distance leader
Quick: Name the longest hitter -- statistically speaking -- on the PGA Tour in 2010. Nope, it wasn't Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes or even John Daly. The correct answer is Robert Garrigus, who popped off at an average of 315.5 yards while no one else topped 310. His counterpart on the Nationwide circuit, though, was Stanley, a former Clemson University player who was two yards longer than Garrigus on the developmental tour. Now a full-timer in the big leagues, the youngster might win the title because he's not only long, but he can hit 'em straight and keep 'em rolling on the fairways pretty often, too.
The Leap: Top-10 in Rolex Rankings
Ask an LPGA fan about simply "Miyazato" and you're likely to hear all about the many talents of Ai. That's for good reason, but Mika -- no relation -- has proved that she's a pretty talented Miyazato in her own right.
Though she compiled just five top-10s in 23 starts on the LPGA last year, it's worth noting that each came in her last 11 starts of the season and doesn't even include her first professional victory in Japan, a week before turning 21 in October. Moving from 22nd in the world to inside the top 10 might not seem like a major leap, but considering she could pass the likes of Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie on the way, it's certainly noteworthy.
The Leap: LPGA Rookie of the Year
Korda passed through Q-School with flying colors, finishing in second place at the annual December grindfest. She was rewarded with an exemption stating she can be a full-time member prior to turning 18. (Of course, she'll reach that magic number in February, meaning this was the equivalent of a six-inch putt being conceded.)
Considering her immense talent, getting there might have been the toughest part. The daughter of ex-tennis star Petr Korda, she was runner-up at last year's U.S. Women's Amateur, played on the winning Curtis Cup team and competed in her third U.S. Women's Open. Success on the pro level isn't a matter of if, but when.
The Leap: Top-10 on European Tour money list
He is a tall, broad-shouldered Swede whose appearance could draw comparisons to countrymen Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson, but Andersson-Hed has found it much more difficult to make his mark in the professional ranks.
After going through Q-School on 14 separate occasions and finally earning his first win in 245 starts last season, he's primed to join the other big boys of the Euro circuit. Last year he ranked first in putts per round and sixth in putting average while finishing 22nd in the Race to Dubai. Expect him to easily surpass that result this time around.
The Leap: European Tour Rookie of the Year
Full disclosure: This potentially great Dane already has a leg up on the competition. In his first two starts on the 2011 schedule, Olesen finished runner-up and T-9 -- which doesn't come as a surprise to most observers.
After failing to earn his playing privileges for last season by a stroke at Q-School, he embarked on a Challenge Tour campaign that saw him easily graduate to the big leagues this year. His pair of top-10 results took place prior to his 21st birthday on Dec. 21; expect him to only get better with age.
The Leap: European Tour winner
If not for injury, this soon-to-be 25-year-old likely would have made this leap already. Sidelined for parts of 2008 and most of 2009 with a wrist injury, he finally played a full year in 2010 and compiled a half-dozen top-10 finishes. He knows how to close, too, having once fired a final-round 61 to win a Challenge Tour event.
All of that talent should lead to yet another leap for him soon: Best golfer ever from the Netherlands. Granted, the likes of Rolf Muntz, Maarten Laafeber and Robert-Jan Derksen aren't much competition, but Luiten could be the country's first golfing superstar.
The Leap: Nationwide Tour graduate
One stroke. One measly stroke. Through six rounds of 108 holes at Q-School, that's all that separated Biershenk from reaching his long-stated goal of reaching the PGA Tour. The Clemson University product was a regular on the developmental circuit in 2000-03 but has since been kicking around the mini-tours, finishing second on the eGolf Professional Tour money list last season.
Now 37, he's back to a tour on which he made cuts in four starts a year ago. Expect that trend to continue now that he's a full-timer, eventually meaning he won't need to sweat out Q-School again.
The Leap: Top-100 in Official World Golf Ranking
The list of single-named athletes is a short one. There are a bevy of Brazilian soccer players, from Pele to Ronaldo, and then there's ... Siddikur.
In golf circles, this might be a first; heck, even Tiger has a last name. But the rising star from Bangladesh goes simply by just one name. Currently ranked 199th in the world, it might be wishful thinking for him to make such a vault in one calendar year, but he's definitely a name worth watching -- especially since we only have to watch half as much of a name as anyone else.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
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