There are sports fans, and then there are sports fans who watch drafts. I fall into the latter category, a combination of pathetic and dedicated. I am drawn to the unknown and the one night where all teams enter with the same delusion: One player could change our fate.
The best of them all is the NBA Draft, a meat market of upside and bust potential. The picks come fast, there are only two rounds and the analysis is obsessive. It is a sports nerd’s dream. Last year, in an attempt to link this favorite summer tradition with golf, I unveiled the NBA-professional golf draft. With 14 lottery picks, we connect each one with the golf equivalent. The rules:
- Only golfers under the age of 30 are considered.
- Tour status is not a factor. Any worldwide golfer is eligible.
- This is not a 1-14 ranking of the best golfers, but an attempt to provide the athletic “twin” in basketball with golf.
And here we go.
- Ben Simmons is Rory McIlroy – Both players ooze with greatness, a flare for the unstoppable and the measurables that make them franchise guys. Rory was flipping wedges into a washer as a boy, and Simmons has been the No. 1 pick in his class since before prom. When pressed, you’d pick both as the most likely to be great. However, the questions are lurking. Simmons no-showed against big competition in his one-and-done year at LSU, missing the NCAA tournament and creating doubt about his passion. Rory went two-and-done at the U.S. Open, fell to fourth in the world and has doubters wondering if he can win a major on tough courses. On paper, the questions are silly. But we ask them anyway. McIlroy’s Tremendous Upside Potential (T.U.P.): 19 Majors and a 2020 Olympic Gold Medal
- Brandon Ingram is Jason Day – When we talk about measurables, these two are freaks. Ingram is 6’10” with a 7’3” wingspan and can play four positions. Day is known for his power, but has added more finesse of late and is a top 10 putter in the world, statistically, right now. The other similarity? You can make an argument for both that they are better than the player drafted ahead of them. Sixers fans are hoping Ingram doesn’t give them nightmares. Day, who a year ago right now wasn’t in our Big Three of golf, has won more tournaments since (7) than all previous years combined as a pro (5). He’s No. 1 now, but may be asserting his presence as No. 1 of this generation. Day’s T.U.P.: 12 Majors, retirement at 40 and the greatest Australian golfer of all time
- Jaylen Brown is Brooks Koepka – It’s all about the look. Brown was good, yet often unspectacular, at Cal, but looks like a man and passes the Eye Test in warmups. Head to YouTube and you fall in love with him even more. Is that where we are going with Koepka? The hype machine has been in full effect since he was tearing up Europe to earn his way back to the states. He would lead the list of guys who would turn heads in an undercover TopGolf appearance. He’s big, strong, good looking and intriguing. He’s also gone 39 starts without a win. With both, we are buying high. Koepka’s T.U.P.: Multiple majors, multiple Ryder Cups and multiple marketing campaigns
- Dragan Bender is Tony Finau – Bender is the prototypical stretch 4 in the modern NBA. He represents the type of player in the modern game of basketball. He is long, athletic and can shoot. Finau is the prototypical golfer to succeed in the modern game of professional golf. He is long, athletic and can shoot it long distances. Bender needs to get stronger. Finau needs to get stronger around the greens. The future is now. Are they the future? Finau’s T.U.P.: A major, 10+ professional wins and a ‘Chicks Dig the Long Ball’ commercial
- Kris Dunn is Branden Grace – Both are more experienced than you think (Dunn is 22, Grace is 28). Both have won more than you think (Dunn destroyed the Big East; Grace won four times in his debut European Tour season). Both come with credibility question marks into the mainstream, but each seem feisty enough to answer the doubters. In the case of Grace, his ballstriking display at Hilton Head turned heads, he’s lurking as a top 10 player and is becoming a top-five mainstay in majors. Grace’s T.U.P.: 2-3 majors, a FedEx Cup/Race to Dubai double and the best South African golfer in the post-Ernie Els generation
- Buddy Hield is Rickie Fowler – To the common fan of both sports, both of these players may be the most recognizable, or at least the most likely to crossover. Hield was the best scorer in college basketball, but scouts wonder if he can translate to the big time. Fowler finally came to be in 2015 and is now laboring. Are either really as good as we wanted them to be? Fowler’s T.U.P.: 20 wins and a major at the age of 45, still wearing a flat bill and rocking a Golf Board.
- Jamal Murray is Jordan Spieth – Everybody is wondering how both fell to this point. Have we forgotten what talent looks like? Murray got lost in the machine of Kentucky basketball and wasn’t able to showcase his guard versatility on a team that needed his shooting. Spieth has gotten lost in the wake of Jason Day’s surge and the rush to pick apart what is wrong in a year with two wins and six top-10s. Both are steals. Both will be just fine. Both will be great. Spieth’s T.U.P.: 2016 Olympic gold, 2016 FedEx Cup, 2 majors in 2017, 10 majors by his 30th birthday
- Marquese Chriss is Smylie Kaufman – Both are so hot right now. At the beginning of each’s respective year, nobody imagined we would be talking about them right now. Chriss was solid at Washington and wowed in workouts. Kaufman won in his second Tour start and then went viral on the spring break trip that hasn’t been erased from our Snapchat feeds. Flash in the pan, or lasting potential? Kaufman’s T.U.P.: 20 years on Tour, some wins and a return trip to Mexico in 2036 with the PGA Tour rookie class
- Jakob Poeltl is Bryson DeChambeau – ESPN’s Rece Davis opened the discussion on Poeltl with “if you like analytics…” At that moment, the comparison was sealed. Poeltl is a stat-lover’s dream. DeChambeau is a stat lover. Both have names that are pronounced far different than first glance. And, in many respects, both are throwback players. Poeltl works in the post as much as he relies on finesse. DeChambeau has the old-school fashion sense and a healthy respect for the history of the game. Both represent the most unique athlete in this exercise. DeChambeau’s T.U.P.: 10+ professional wins, a major and a counterculture following of young golfers.
- Thon Maker is Matthew Fitzpatrick – Maker used some creative classwork to skip college and get to the draft. Fitzpatrick spent a semester in college and then bolted for his professional career. Both have intrigued those in the their respective sports with an arsenal of skills that screams potential. Fitzpatrick has started to show his, but, like Maker, needs to show it can hold up on the big stage. Fitzpatrick’s T.U.P.: Open Champion, English hero and quiet thorn in Team USA’s side at the Ryder Cup.
- Domantis Sabonis is Patrick Reed – Sometimes, you need somebody to handle the dirty work. Sabonis is the best rebounder in the draft and won’t back down. Sound familiar? Reed seems to be lurking in 2016, doing the dirty work necessary to stay relevant, without being flashy. You feel like something big is coming, don’t you? Reed’s T.U.P.: Anti-hero in the Big Three movement, 3 majors all in playoffs and crusader to bring an end to crowds staying quiet during swings
- Taurean Prince is Justin Thomas – Folks are wondering if both are a bit of a stretch. Prince still has a lot to prove to justify his lottery pick, and you feel Thomas is trending that way. Yes, he broke through to win last year. Yes, he is hanging with the big boys. But the hype machine was there from Day 1, and, while the results have been there in big tournaments, the consistency is still a work in progress. Thomas’ T.U.P.: 2 majors, 10+ wins and no questions about his relationship with Spieth, Fowler, etc. when he turns 30.
- Georgios Papagiannis is Daniel Berger – Who? Sadly, you feel like that is the question that will be asked anytime either has a moment of greatness. Berger has taken his unique swing and defied the odds to not only win but also maintain a level of consistency. He feels lost, however, in the hype of so many others in his generation. Papagiannis may be an All-Star someday, but he’s in the black hole of Sacramento and will get far too many Nick Papageorgio jokes thrown his way. Berger’s T.U.P.: 10+ wins, 2 majors (both in Monday finishes) and at least one Ryder Cup snub.
- Denzel Valentine is Jon Rahm – Proven talents coming from college. Rahm opened with 64 as a pro to lead at Congressional. You feel like Valentine will drop a triple-double in his first game as a pro. We get so enamored in glitz, glam and potential, but sometimes the player of the year in college is just really frickin' good.
Rahm’s T.U.P.: The first to shoot 58 in a major tour event and more wins than DeChambeau on Tour.
- Juan Hernangomez is Danny Willett – I added a bonus spot outside of the lottery because this made too much sense. Two guys who were really good in Europe and now 2016 is the time to make those aware of that talent in the U.S. Willett’s T.U.P.: 20 top 10’s in majors and maybe another win, but always there.