We made it. Golf’s long offseason (a month or so, the give or take depending on your feelings on the Hero World Challenge) is over, with the PGA Tour’s 2024 season beginning this week at Kapalua.
Even though men’s professional golf never really goes away long enough for us to truly miss it, there’s real reason to get excited for The Sentry. One, it’s the best collection of talent we’ve seen since the Tour Championship. Two, it’s in Hawaii, which means prime time golf from a sunny locale while most of the rest of us are bundled up somewhere far colder. There are worse ways to spend your weekend.
With the start of the season in mind, our golf team got together to answer some pressing questions about the sport, meaning PGA Tour and LIV players were up for inclusion.
Who most needs a big 2024?
Miller: Collin Morikawa. It was so crucial for Morikawa to turn the corner like he did to end the 2023 regular season and then win a fall event in Japan, putting himself back in the conversation as a top-five golfer on the PGA Tour. He’ll be 27 this year, and while those two major victories certainly aren’t going anywhere, Morikawa would tell you himself the 2022 and 2023 seasons were disappointments.
He’s one of the most talented golfers on the planet and one of the tour’s biggest stars, but in reality, he has never played like an actual week-in, week-out top-tier player. He’s been more of a rising star who could show that immense talent — and that clutch “it factor” — to snag those majors wins at Harding Park and Royal St. George’s. But he’s entered the FedEx Cup Playoffs outside the top 20 the last two years, showing that he hasn’t been a consistent regular-season golfer. We all know how good Morikawa is. He could be the best. At a certain point, though, you’re no longer the young budding prospect. You turn 27. You get passed by contemporaries like Scottie Scheffler and Viktor Hovland, and you need to go take your place as an elite player.
The good news? It really seems like he’s turned that corner. He’s been almost giddy with how he thinks he solved something in his swing, addressed some back issues and ended 2023 playing some of his best golf. I think this is a big year for him.
Kellenberger: Dustin Johnson. He will not turn 40 years old until after the U.S. Open. He’s the last man not named McIlroy, Scheffler or Rahm to be No. 1 in the world. We’re still not far removed from Johnson winning a green jacket and going 5-0 at a Ryder Cup. But in the six majors since his move to LIV, he’s gone T24, T6, T48, T55, T10 and missed cut, and never been in contention on the weekend. Because of that and LIV’s ongoing viewership deficiencies, Johnson has become out of sight, out of mind for golf fans. He’s too young with too much left for that to be the case.
Johnson’s legacy in the game is secure and maybe he’s comfortable with his work/life balance right now, but it’d be disappointing if he’s truly done adding to it — and winning one LIV event a year does not matter to anyone but the LIV bots. It’s about the majors for Johnson right now, and claiming his third in 2024 (besides winning at Augusta National in 2020, he’s played well at Pinehurst and Royal Troon) would be a big deal.
Quinn: The instinct here was to point to the return of Will Zalatoris, but then the realization struck that somehow, someway Cameron Young is still without an actual PGA Tour victory. Like everyone else, I expected a dynamic 2023 season from the 2022 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Young figured to vault into the top-10 conversation and lock down a spot on the Ryder Cup team. It simply has yet to materialize. Instead, a frustrating season saw Young spend multiple late Friday afternoons needing to make birdies just to make the cut. A mostly forgettable year included a final-round 73 in the final group at the Open Championship to finish T8. No one could’ve imagined early in the season that he’d miss out on East Lake.
No one questions Young’s talent, but at 26, you want to see him actually win. One imagines he does, too. Young was especially candid at last summer’s BMW Championship, when saying he wanted to grade his 2023 season with a C-, calling it “mediocre golf.” He also said he deserved a B for managing his struggles and improving in some areas that didn’t produce results. This is a season where things need to come together for Young because the alternative is a growing gap between him and a class of players we thought to be his contemporaries.
Who will be the breakout star of 2024?
Miller: Min Woo Lee. To golf nerds, maybe Lee has already broken out, but this will be the year the 25-year-old Australian becomes a household name. The best breakouts are the ones that have been bubbling under the surface for quite a while but never quite took your attention.
That’s Lee. He won the Scottish Open at 23 and has already finished top 25 at all four majors. And the past eight months have seemed to be that transition stretch, the kind almost all great golfers have before truly exploding (think Scheffler racking up top 20s and dominating the Ryder Cup in 2021).
After going T6 at the Players, Lee went on a really impressive major run of T18 at the PGA Championship, T5 at the U.S. Open and T41 at the Open Championship before racking up international wins in Macao and the Australian PGA Championship (against a tough field, I may add). He doesn’t have the PGA Tour wins yet, but he’s quietly risen to No. 19 on the DataGolf rankings, a good indicator of who is playing the most sustainable golf. So this should be the year of Min Woo.
To close, enjoy this beautiful shot on the way to his Australian win.
Kellenberger: The immediate and obvious answer here is Ludvig Aberg, so much so that I wanted to resist it. It just felt too obvious, to the point where I wondered if he’s already a star. But … he’s a star in the golf sicko world. Everywhere else? Not as much — Aberg’s Instagram follower count is half of that of Adam Scott, which is perhaps anecdotal but also a decent barometer of where an athlete exists in the broader landscape. Many golf fans were only introduced to Aberg at last year’s Ryder Cup. So 2024 will then be a massive opportunity for him — he’ll finally play in his first major championships, allowing him to be noticed and seen by the casuals.
And they’re going to love what they see — Aberg may be a generational driver of the golf ball, and the 24-year-old Swede has adapted as well to professional golf as anyone we’ve seen in years. Every part of his game is good enough right now to win, and some of it is exceptional. It all seems possible.
Quinn: You’re right, Hugh, Aberg is too obvious of an answer. He’s already a star. We saw so in Rome.
But you know who isn’t? Fellow Swede Vincent Norman. The 26-year-old was one of five players to win on both the PGA Tour and DP World Tour last season. The others? Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick, Max Homa and Aberg. Norman won the Irish Open with a final-round 65 and captured the Barbasol Championship in a playoff. Since turning pro in June 2021, Norrman has climbed from 1,018th in the world to 71st, but managed to exist in relative anonymity. That changes in 2024. Like Aberg, Norrman is extremely long and exceedingly straight off the tee, and continues to round out the rest of his game.
Whose stock are you selling for 2024
Miller: Wyndham Clark. Maybe this isn’t a bold take. I just happen to be somebody who did buy plenty of Clark stock last summer and I’m ready to sell for some profit. I tend to fall for players who were reliable in every other area and then “fix” their flaw, and the way Clark corrected his ball striking did elevate him to being a true top-10 PGA Tour player during the 2023 season. There was nothing fraudulent about it, making the cut at every single elevated event, winning the elevated Wells Fargo Championship and then winning us all over with an incredible U.S. Open performance at LACC. Before 2023, he was fighting to keep his PGA Tour card, so by that metric, yeah, I think Clark stays as a pretty solid golfer.
But is he actually one of the 15 best players on tour? One of the 20? My man just played on a Ryder Cup team, so the standard is suddenly much higher. This is the year for him to show us. He didn’t perform very well in Rome (somehow losing 7.86 strokes tee to green) and with his emotional play can often tumble far when things go wrong. I hope Clark can remain the kind of golfer who makes it to the Tour Championship every year. I’m just not confident.
Kellenberger: One day we’re going to look back at the 11th-hour pleas for Lucas Glover to make the Ryder Cup team and it’s all going to seem funny. With all due respect to Glover, who overcame the putting yips to win twice in August, I just don’t see him continuing to be one of the best players on the PGA Tour like he was for one month in 2023. It’s far more likely this was a terrific heater and not a sign Glover, 44, was going to go on a late-career renaissance tour that includes multiple tour wins and major contention. In the two full-field events Glover played in during the fall season, he was T44 and T59, so it may already be over.
Miller: But! There’s never been a time in Glover’s career in which he wasn’t a good ball striker and driver, averaging around half a stroke gained in both categories. If you assume the putting is going to stay around the same, I totally believe he’s back in Atlanta next year.
Quinn: Cameron Smith finished the 2023 calendar with negative strokes gained in five of his last seven events, a detail that may not sound too alarming, until realizing you’d be hard-pressed to find another elite worldwide player with anything remotely as worrisome. Yes, that stretch includes his LIV win at Bedminster in August, but for the purposes of this exercise, and parsing out what top players might not be worth riding with in the 2024 majors, it’s worth considering Smith’s current form.
This should be an interesting summer for Smith. Entering 2022, he was widely considered the best player on LIV’s roster. Since then, Brooks Koepka won a major, Talor Gooch won its individual championship, Bryson DeChambeau found a return to form, and, most notably, Jon Rahm supplanted everyone as LIV’s headliner. Smith is now seemingly in a rather curious place in the new world order. He left St. Andrews in the summer of 2022 as one of the most talked about players in the world and certainly is no less talented today. But, as it goes with all LIV players, his performance in the majors are becoming all the more important.
(Top photos of, left to right, Lucas Glover, Min Woo Lee and Collin Morikawa: Lintao Zhang, Gregory Shamus and Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images)