How many more rookies will win this season?
At the FBR Open, 23-year-old J.B. Holmes earned a seven-shot victory by seemingly crushing the ball 350 yards off the tee every hole -- and hitting them straight as an arrow. In a game that stresses distance and accuracy, owning both is a powerful weapon.
Here's the catch: Holmes is hardly alone in his proclivity for accurate, booming drives. He is joined in the 2006 PGA Tour rookie class by the likes of Bubba Watson, Camilo Villegas and Nathan Green, who have all seen a measure of success in the season's opening month.
So how many more of these first-year phenoms will win this year? We set the over-under at three, and -- as always in our Alternate Shot format -- ESPN.com's Bob Harig and Golf World's Ron Sirak debated the issue, taking opposing sides.
Not only is this year's rookie class deep, it also represents a new generation of players who are both long off the tee and long on confidence. Call these kids the Tiger Woods Babies. They represent the new breed of gifted athlete drawn to golf because Woods brought the cool factor to the game, and because he demonstrated that you can get as rich playing professional golf as you can in any other sport -- without getting beat up.
In Bill Haas, Villegas and Watson, you have a trio of players who hit it past Tiger -- on the fly. Let's say that again: They hit it past Tiger, on the fly. If Jack Nicklaus represented a leap forward in terms of power, and Woods built on that, these guys are taking it to the next level.
They also know how to get the ball in the hole. Like Holmes at the recent FBR Open, these guys will have a week when they are driving it straight and will simply overwhelm a golf course -- and the field.
Another reason at least three more rookies will take home a trophy this year is that there are several guys with a lot of experience among the incoming class. Green is 30 years old and has won both in his native Australia and on the Canadian Tour. Trevor Immelman is 26, and Nick O'Hern is 31. Both earned their PGA Tour cards by playing for the International side in the Presidents Cup last year. Not only is this threesome skilled, but its members also are world-wise in terms of knowing what pressure is all about. When they put themselves in a position to win, they will not be afraid to get the job done.
This is a rookie class that is not only deep in terms of talent but also compelling in terms of entertainment value. There will be a lot more rookie wins this year.
-- Ron Sirak
Being a rookie on the PGA Tour is a bit of a misleading term. Although it means you are a first-year player on the tour, it hardly has to mean you are inexperienced. A prime example is Todd Hamilton, who was a rookie in 2004 -- at age 38.
The point is that rookies today come to the PGA Tour with tons of experience. Holmes, who won the FBR Open on Sunday, is an exception.
He turned pro just last summer, made it through all three stages of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament and was medalist at the finals. And playing in just his fourth PGA Tour event, he won by seven strokes.
That is an incredible story, but don't expect that kind of breakthrough to happen three more times this year.
Even though players come to the PGA Tour with incredible résumés that include a slew of junior golf, amateur golf, college golf, mini-tour golf and often the Nationwide Tour, that does not mean it is easy to win as a rookie. In fact, it is quite difficult.
Sean O'Hair was one of 12 first-time winners on the PGA Tour in 2005, but was the only rookie on that list. Ryan Moore came to the tour with far more fanfare and didn't get a win, although he did play a limited schedule.
There are some solid rookies who will by vying for paydays this year on the PGA Tour. If they win, consider it a bonus.
-- Bob Harig
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