The world of sports is powered by the idea of Next. Fan bases of teams long for the savior that will bring them championship riches or, at the very least, the hope of improvement. It’s why grown men in suits gathered in a room last year to learn who would win the lottery to draft Zion Williamson. Congrats, New Orleans.
Golf is not immune to this addiction to Next. The past decade has been defined by players anointed as the “next Tiger.” We long for a player who can exceed our own delusional expectations and guide us to the promised land of inflated television ratings.
I love EVERY second of it! What fun is sports without that fandom? So, if you’re new to this indulgent form of writing, understand that I think professional sports drafts are intoxicating. They are must-watch TV in my sports life. And, in order to crossover to golf, I present my fifth annual mashup of the NBA lottery picks and golfers under the age of 30.
Here we go, on the clock for pick No. 1.
Some quick reminders:
- Only golfers under the age of 30 are considered
- The ranking of golfers does not reflect current performance but rather an expression of potential and appropriate comparison to their hypothetical NBA doppelganger
A quick preface… This is a very weak draft class by NBA standards, and it feels like it might be in golf too. We lost Rickie and Rory in the last year to the start of their fourth decade on the planet. Gary Woodland and Tiger Woods showed us that veterans can rise to the top. Only nine players under the age of 30 are ranked inside the top 25 in the world, and only one of the top six. And while we have a hyped class of young golfers coming out of college, are they worth the investment?
Pick No. 1 Zion Williamson is Brooks Koepka – Easiest pick on the board. Both are the true Alphas available. Zion took freakish athleticism and answered all critics by becoming THE player in college basketball last season. Koepka took his physical dedication and answered all critics over and over and over again. The only thing stopping either, it seems, is injury. This is the last year Koepka is eligible for this exercise, but you'd still take his future over anybody else's, no?
Koepka’s Previous Draft Spots – 5th, 3rd, 12th, 1st
Pick No. 2 Ja Morant is Xander Schauffele – Oozing with tantalizing potential and a meteoric rise to this spot on our draft boards. Morant was must-watch this past season, albeit on a mid-major team in a mediocre conference (which Murray State didn’t win). If it weren’t for Zion, we’d be talking more about Morant. If it weren’t for Koepka’s ridiculous run in majors, we’d be all over X-man. Since the beginning of 2018, his results in majors and Players: T50, T2, T6, T2, T35, MC, T2, T3. His pro wins include a Tour Championship, a WGC and a ToC. His big-game potential is worth a flier at No. 2 now. But, like Morant’s lack of college competition, there is some risk here because Schauffele hasn’t crossed the finish line first in a major… yet.
Schauffele’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, NR, 12th
Pick No. 3 RJ Barrett is Justin Thomas – A year ago at this time, Barrett was the best player in his class. A year ago around this time, JT had as many major championship wins as Koepka. A lot can happen in a year. You can be underappreciated for your overall skill when Zion is posterizing players as your teammate. For Thomas, an ill-timed wrist injury snapped a run of great form. His putter is cold too, but the best all-around player, arguably, of this class is a steal at No. 3, just like Barrett could easily wind up the best of the draft.
Thomas’ Previous Draft Spots – 10th, 12th, 1st, 2nd
Pick No. 4 De’Andre Hunter is Cameron Champ – Both are household names in their sports thanks to championships. Hunter won a title at Virginia and was a versatile player in college, but being undersized and, perhaps, underskilled for the NBA game is a concern. Does he translate? Champ became a marketing force with his drives and even won already, but Sanderson Farms seems like a long time ago. He’s outside the top 50 in FedEx Cup points (with a win), somehow ranks 128th in SG: Tee to Green with that driver, and is almost dead last around the green on Tour. Both of these guys win the eye test, and are worth a lottery pick, but questions abound.
Champ’s Previous Draft Spots – NR, NR, NR, NR
Pick No. 5 Darius Garland is Patrick Cantlay – Very quick risers on the 2019 draft board. Garland had his cameo in college cut to just five games because of injury. Cantlay had his pro debut diminished by injury and tragedy. Now? Garland’s workouts and ridiculous skill set may make him the steal of the draft, while Cantlay has quietly risen to No. 8 in the world. He’s missed a total of four cuts since returning to competition in 2017.
Cantlay’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, NR, 15th
Pick No. 6 Jarrett Culver is Jordan Spieth – Everything about this pick is believing. You believe Spieth when he says that he has found it. You believe scouts that Culver’s overhauled shooting mechanics will translate as a pro. You believe that the magic of Spieth from 2015-2017 was the beginning of a GOAT career. You believe Culver’s phenomenal run with Texas Tech makes him a next-level superstar. How far does that belief truly take you right now?
Spieth’s Previous Draft Spots: 1st, 7th, 5th, 14th
Pick No. 7 Coby White is Jon Rahm – Go ahead, take your Morants and Garlands of the world, and we will quietly steal value with a proven scorer, shooter and improving playmaker, who did it at a powerhouse in the ACC by the way. Go ahead, hitch your wagon to the Xanders and JTs of the world, while we quietly take a guy who is younger than both and one of the most consistent golfers on the planet. Six wins and 20 top 10s worldwide in 63 starts since the beginning of 2017.
Rahm’s Previous Draft Spots – NR, 14th, 11th, 4th
Pick No. 8 Jaxson Hayes is Tony Finau – “Excellent physical profile.” Those are the first three words on ESPN’s breakdown of Hayes. Or is it Finau? Hayes is drafted high because he checks the boxes, but he couldn’t stay on the floor, show physicality or be relevant at Texas. Finau’s shine as a bomber is wearing off. This is his last year eligible for this exercise. But, just when we are ready to stop waiting for that big win, he almost conquered Colonial, a course that seems Finau-proof.
Finau’s Previous Draft Spots – 4th, 4th, NR, 6th
Pick No. 9 Rui Hachimura is Collin Morikawa – The two most enjoyable names to say paired together. You recognize both, but you don’t know why. Hachimura was versatile and dominant at times at Gonzaga. Had he played at Duke, he’d be everywhere. Morikawa was ridiculously consistent and a winner at Cal. Had he played for Oklahoma State, he’d be everywhere.
Morikawa’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, NR, NR
Pick No. 10 Cam Reddish is Bryson DeChambeau – You could call both the biggest conundrums of each class. Reddish was the afterthought freshman in the loaded Duke class, the distant third player drafted in this lottery who never put it all together but possesses all of the skills. DeChambeau put it all together in a huge way last year, but you get the feeling he doesn’t believe it. Will his pursuit of the perfect, repeatable body motion deny him ultimate greatness?
DeChambeau’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, 9th, 20th, 7th
Pick No. 11 Cam Johnson is Victor Hovland – We needed more players fresh out of Oklahoma State! Johnson has the skill needed most in the NBA, which is shooting. Is he an All-NBA player? No. Will he last? Most likely, because shooting keeps you getting paid. Hovland lived a step below Matthew Wolff’s shadow at OSU but was the top amateur in the world, won his fair share (including a U.S. Amateur) and just showed out in the Masters and U.S. Open. Is he a budding superstar? No. Will he last? Most likely, because world-class ballstriking keeps getting you paid.
Hovland’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, NR, NR
Pick No. 12 PJ Washington is Tommy Fleetwood – By staying at Kentucky for another year, Washington feels ancient by draft standards. By being relevant for a few years and growing a lifetime’s worth of hair, Fleetwood feels like he’s over 30. Also in common: I don’t think the last year helped either raise their profile much. Washington had a wonderful college season, but feels like a role filler at best in pro ball, while Fleetwood is less likely to contend in a major, it seems, than 365 days ago.
Fleetwood’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, 13th, 13th
Pick No. 13 Tyler Herro is Matthew Wolff – There may not be more to prove for anybody in both lineups than these two. Herro has the swagger and shooting to be a game-changer in the NBA, but his lack of athleticism hurts him a bit in terms of full projection. Wolff dominated in college and brought attention to the sport very few individuals have done at that stage. There are no questions about his ability to win. However, he did it with an unorthodox swing and violent power. Will his skills be able to maintain consistency as a pro?
Wolff’s Previous Draft Spots: NR, NR, NR, NR
Pick No. 14 Romeo Langford is Patrick Reed – Roll with me here, because I’m from Indiana. Langford was a high school basketball God, who would be the savior of Hoosiers basketball. It didn’t work out well. Reed was Captain America, the anti-golf star, who would pair with Spieth to form the greatest duo in team golf history. It didn’t work out well. The last year has been a bit of a tumble down this board for both.
Reed’s Previous Draft Spots: 6th, 11th, 9th, 10th
Bonus pick because I had no idea that this player would tumble this far, but it becomes somewhat symbolic because of my lack of faith in the golfer pairing, although this is probably way too low…
Pick No. 25 Nassir Little is Hideki Matsuyama – Both of these players were highly touted at younger stages of their careers. Little fizzled a bit at North Carolina, but his potential is still there. Matsuyama has dangled major success in front of our noses only to snatch it away at times. His ballstriking still makes him intoxicating, but his putter puts him a step below those ranked higher.
Matsuyama’s Previous Draft Spots: 7th, NR, 4th, 11th
Players who fell out of this exercise from last year: Joaquin Niemann, Aaron Wise