Tour Confidential: Who will be the breakout player of the 2019-20 season?

September 9, 2019

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we predict the breakout players of the 2019-20 season, dissect Walker Cup game plans, look ahead to the Solheim Cup and more.

1. We hope you enjoyed your offseason. The PGA Tour starts up again this week with the first event of the 2019-20 season with A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier. Look into your crystal golf balls and tell us who will be the breakout player on Tour this season.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@AlanShipnuck): Phil Mickelson. He was a non-factor after the West Coast. Phil the Thrill turns 50 next year, the U.S. Open is at Winged Foot (site of his most epic meltdown). It just feels like he has to have one last run in him.

Josh Sens, contributor (@JoshSens): I suppose it’s too late to call Matt Wolff and Viktor Hovland breakout stars at this point. I expect more pyrotechnics from them in 2020. But the bigger news will be Rickie Fowler, who will finally get his major.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: Spieth! I cite the name out of rooting interest more than logic, but you can’t keep a good man down forever.

Josh Berhow, managing editor (@josh_berhow): I like Michael’s Spieth pick. But Patrick Cantlay has won in each of the last two seasons and the guy is bound to explode soon. He had 17 top 25s last year in 21 starts! (And nine top 10s.) He’s so crazy consistent he’s going to start piling up the wins.

Rickie Fowler still hasn't claimed that first major title, but is his time coming next season?
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2. At this time next year will Brooks Koepka still be No. 1? If not, who will hold the crown?

Shipnuck: Hard to vote against Koepka, who has now learned how to win everyday Tour events while also coming strong at every major. Rory is the other obvious choice but that would require him to, ya know, win a major.

Sens: Unless Koepka grows as bored with the majors as he seems to be with many of the other events, or his putter goes as cold for the season as it did for that one week at Royal Portrush, I don’t see anyone catching him.

Bamberger: I think asking Koepka to come back in the new year and do it again is asking too much. The Portrush Sunday, the East Lake Sunday, both showed mental fatigue and a window into him: it’s not as easy as he has sometimes made it look. It’s such a young man’s game now, as we have seen with Spieth and Justin Thomas. I’m going to go with Hovland. He just seems to have it all.

Berhow: My wise colleague Sean Zak has done the math and the answer here is pretty simple. Brooks isn’t going anywhere.

3. U.S. Walker Cup captain Nathaniel Crosby told the team on Friday, before the weekend event started, that everyone will play at least three times and he had predetermined who was sitting when regardless of results or form. (Top-ranked am Cole Hammer, for example, sat on Saturday morning, and John Pak, who was 2-0 after the first day, was benched on Sunday morning.) It’s worth noting that Crosby sat twice in the 1983 Walker Cup and has said he’s still not over it. Great Britain and Ireland led the U.S. after Day 1 but the U.S. rebounded to win big on Sunday. Any burning takes on Crosby’s predetermined game plan?

Shipnuck: Captains can choke just like players in the heat of the moment — look at all of Jim Fuyrk’s bungling in Paris. From that standpoint it makes sense to formulate a plan far removed from the emotion of the moment. But it does open up a captain to epic second-guessing, as the Pak situation showed. Since the U.S. got the win you have to say Crosby’s plan worked.

Sens: The kind of Monday morning quarterbacking that goes on after these team match-play events is inevitable but also a bit unfortunate, as it so often distorts things in one way or the other by either assigning captains too much credit or too much blame. Paul Azinger will forever be known as a genius for his pod system at Valhalla, but of course those matches could have gone the other way and we’d be telling a different story. Something similar applies to Crosby’s approach — if his guys hadn’t played well, he’d be getting blamed for not thinking on his feet and making the right adjustments.

Bamberger: I think Nathaniel was really making a nod to the experience, what it means to play in an international team competition. He was saying the event is about the players, not the captain. That would have been true whether the U.S. won or not. Great stuff.

Berhow: I was going to say I disagreed with this thought process, even though I like the point he’s trying to push, but then again the Americans took eight of 10 singles matches and, as the saying goes, winning takes care of everything.

4. The Solheim Cup begins on Friday at Gleneagles in Scotland. The Americans have won the last two, both under Juli Inkster, who leads the U.S. again this year. Will the Americans prevail again, and who will be the U.S. team’s star performer?

Shipnuck: I think they’ll prevail in a squeaker – the Americans are a cohesive bunch who have a little more firepower than Europe. I think Nelly Korda will be the star in her first Cup. She’s a fiery player and will have her big sister to provide guidance and probably a very strong partner in team play.

Berhow: The U.S. makes it three in a row and I’ll also pick Korda to lead the way — but give me Jessica instead. She qualified for the team in 2017 but had to reluctantly withdraw before it due to a forearm injury. She’ll be motivated more than ever this year.

Sens: I like team USA in this as well. Top to bottom, the Americans have the stronger lineup. And I see their best player — Lexi — leading the way.

Bamberger: I think the Europeans will win. Road games are always hard to win and you can’t win them all, and the Europeans can follow the example of the Europeans in France last year. You don’t often think of a star from a losing side, but I’ll cite Inkster here: if the U.S. wins, she’ll take no credit; if the U.S. loses, she’ll put it all on her shoulders.

Nelly Korda (above) will be joined by her sister Jessica at the Solheim Cup.
Getty Images

5. The Tour’s new driver testing protocol will go into effect this week at The Greenbrier. Testing will happen only on practice days and will not be announced. (Under the old system only driver heads from equipment trailers were tested during random spot checks.) Only two parties will be notified of the results: the player and a rep from the manufacturer. Does this new form of policing go far enough?

Shipnuck: I guess so. Given the Tour’s bizarre obsession with secrecy it was never likely they would make the results public.

Sens: If this is enough of an issue to warrant testing, and the tests, as the Tour says, only take about 15 minutes, why not test every club?

Berhow: Seems like a step in the right direction, but I wish golf would join most of the other big-time pro sports and just announce some of these things, including fines, etc., publicly. We are all adults here.

Bamberger: The point of testing in sports is for the PUBLIC to have faith in the players, in their equipment, in their scores. The results should be public. The presumption of course is that nobody is TRYING to cheat, so it’s not as if there is a stigma attached here. The player should want his clubs tested, and be insistent that they comply. There’s something deeply illogical going on here.

6. Brooks Koepka was the latest golf star to appear in a SportsCenter commercial, with his two spots debuting last week. Which pro deserves to appear in the next SportsCenter ad? (Bonus points if you have a pitch for a script.)

Shipnuck: I have to say, the Koepka spots were rather underwhelming. Bryson definitely cries out for some lampooning, and the new untethered Phil could be good for some hijinks (though who will ever forget his wooden performance in his “Entourage” cameo). I think V. Hovland is hilarious — how about some love for an up-and-comer?

Sens: John Daly stirs up controversy at SportsCenter HQ by demanding a cart ride to the vending machine.

Bamberger: That’s good!

Berhow: Jon Rahm walks around the ESPN headquarters and absolutely goes bonkers losing his temper at everyday office hiccups us normal folk battle with all the time. Printer jam! A 5 p.m. meeting! Barb takes up too much space in the fridge! Think Mr. Rahm is a major win or two away from this sort of thing panning out but hey that could happen.

Bamberger: LaCava can’t caddie for Tiger — the Giants are playing. Woods is like, Whaa? Joe is like, Sorry. Tiger carries his own down the first, asking people in the gallery if they’ll carry it.

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