Predictions may be a fool’s errand, but there’s little that sports fans love more than peering into the crystal ball and taking a look at the top 5 golf players to watch. The fans’ appreciation of current stars is only exceeded by their curiosity about who will supersede them.
Who are the top 5 golf players to watch?
With that, we will indulge the temptation by providing some names to look for in the new decade. All the players on this list are age 21 or younger and under and are still amateurs, as of June 2020. This isn’t supposed to be a definitive ranking of top prospects but instead a sampling of promising players from around the globe. The top 5 golf players to watch are listed in alphabetical order.
Ricky Castillo, of Yorba Linda, Calif., completed a stellar freshman year at the University of Florida by winning back-to-back starts shortly before the season was paused by the coronavirus pandemic. He finished second in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings and was a first-team All-American. Castillo had a 66.5 scoring average in his two victories, shooting a final-round 65 at the Sea Best Invitational and closing 63-64 at the Gator Invitational.
Castillo also showed his potential in the summer preceding his first collegiate season. He made the Round of 16 at the 2019 U.S. Amateur before losing to eventual runner-up John Augenstein and was a semifinalist at the Western Amateur. Castillo finished T2 and T5 in the stroke-play portion of those prestigious events as well. He almost joined the short list of U.S. players who have played the Walker Cup before attending their first college course. Castillo was named a second alternate for the squad.
Conor Gough of Stoke Poges, England, represented Great Britain & Ireland in last year’s Walker Cup just two days after turning 17. He was the second-youngest player to compete in the biennial competition between the United States and GB&I. Gough earned his place on the team by winning last year’s English Amateur and the 2018 R&A Boys Amateur. The Great Britain & Ireland team lost, 15½-10½, in last year’s Walker Cup, but Gough went 2-2. Former FedExCup and U.S. Open champion Justin Rose also was 17 when he represented GB&I in the Walker Cup.
“I’m probably ahead of where I thought I would be at this stage in my career but I’m just taking things as they come and going with the flow,” Gough told the R&A. “I think I’ve shown a killer instinct to win events. I think that is just a trait I’ve always had in match play and in other competitions. As soon as I know I have a chance, I go for it.”
Preston Summerhays, of Scottsdale, Ariz., still has some time before stepping on a college campus. He has made a verbal commitment to attend Arizona State in the fall of 2021.
Summerhays has shown plenty of promise by winning the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur and two Utah State Amateurs. One of his best performances was a bit more under the radar. He was 15 years old when he shot 65-60 to win a U.S. Amateur qualifier by nine strokes over Drew Kittleson, who was runner-up to Danny Lee in that championship in 2008. Summerhays’ score was the lowest in a U.S. Amateur qualifier since at least 2011.
Besides his prodigious talent, he also has advantages that most juniors aren’t accustomed to. His father, Boyd, played on the PGA TOUR and now is an instructor to a handful of TOUR players, including Tony Finau.
“[Preston] is very confident in himself, but he still has the humility because he knows what he has to do better,” Boyd Summerhays said. “It gives him a clear picture of what he has to do.”
Also Read: John Augenstein & Top Amateurs Await Future
Travis Vick, of Houston, Texas, may not have a lengthy résumé, but for good reason. Vick also played baseball and football through his junior year of high school and was receiving interest from Division I schools in those sports. He was an all-state linebacker and all-district quarterback (in football-rich Texas) and a pitcher/third baseman. Vick’s high-school coach was former Astros star Lance Berkman.
Vick considered playing multiple sports in college but decided to focus on golf after consulting with Hal Sutton, a family friend who helps Vick with his game. Sutton’s 14 PGA TOUR victories include the 1983 PGA Championship and two PLAYERS Championships.
Vick focused full-time on golf during his senior year of high school and now in his freshman year at Texas. “It’s up to you to determine how good you want to be, not anyone else,” Vick told USGA.org. “You’re determining your own destiny.”
Vick’s athleticism will serve him well in a game where power is of increasing importance, adding to the reasons he is one of the top 5 golf players to watch. He was medalist at the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur and reached the Round of 16. He also won the 2018 Junior PLAYERS at TPC Sawgrass, which makes him a great contender for the top 5 players to watch.
Karl Vilips, of Perth, Australia, hasn’t played a college event yet. He’s scheduled to start at Stanford this fall, but his Instagram account (@koalakarl2001) is approaching 40,000 followers. He made his first post when he was 12 years old.
He’s had a presence on YouTube even longer. Vilips’ father, Paul, has been posting videos of Karl’s swing since 2008. His videos have been viewed more than 11 million times. His YouTube channel helped him gain the exposure that led to a full golf and academic scholarship to Saddlebrook Prep in Florida, according to his biography on the World Amateur Golf Ranking’s website. Vilips arrived in America at age 11, and three years later his father returned to Australia.
“I have definitely matured by being on my own,” Karl told USGA.org. “I can do small things like cooking and doing my clothes, but also being independent and learning to practice properly on my own.”
That’s invaluable experience for an aspiring professional golfer. Vilips has produced the results that back up the social-media success.
He won the Southern Amateur in 2017 at just 15 years old, matching Bobby Jones as the youngest champion in the tournament’s long history. In 2019, Karl finished sixth in the Northeast Amateur with a course-record-tying 61, reached the Round of 16 at the Western Amateur and closed the summer by making the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur. This is why he has made the list of the top 5 golf players to watch.