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2011 Top Rookies: First-Year Golfers to Watch

Greg Vara

Greg Vara

Vara is the lead golf writer at RotoWire. He was named the 2013 FSWA Golf Writer of the Year. In addition to producing the weekly preview and the bulk of the draft kit content, Vara participates in Yahoo!'s "Experts Picks" where he routinely dominates. He also picks college football games against the spread in his "College Capper" article.

1. Jamie Lovemark
2011 Proj. Earnings: $1,250,000
2011 Outlook: Lovemark will be a rookie in 2011, but he's already left his mark on the PGA TOUR. In 2009 he earned more than $450K as a non-member, but he missed out on his PGA TOUR card for 2010. Undeterred, he set out for the Nationwide Tour where he went on to win the 2010 money title and earn his pass to the PGA TOUR. Considering the success he had last year on the Nationwide Tour and the number of PGA TOUR events he's already played, Lovemark should hit the ground running in 2011. Lovemark is the odds-on favorite for rookie of the year heading into 2011.

2. Michael Thompson
2011 Proj. Earnings: $800,000
2011 Outlook: Thompson spent his entire 2010 season on the Hooters Tour, which is a notch below the Nationwide Tour. He dominated there, however, and winning has a way of carrying over. Sure, it's a huge step up for Thompson this year, but he's still playing the same game, so expect some success this season.

3. Nate Smith
2011 Proj. Earnings: $750,000
2011 Outlook: Smith struggled to adjust to the Nationwide Tour last season, but after a slow start, he found his game and eventually won in late September. Unfortunately, his slow start resulted in earnings just outside the top 25. Undeterred, Smith headed to Q-School where he earned his card for 2011. Unlike many other Q-School qualifiers from the Nationwide Tour, Smith posted a victory last season, which should help him this year.

4. Justin Hicks
2011 Proj. Earnings: $750,000
2011 Outlook: Hicks earned his card through the Nationwide Tour last season, but he went ahead and tried Q-School to improve his standing. He accomplished the feat and appears to be in good shape heading into the 2011.

5. Chris Kirk
2011 Proj. Earnings: $750,000
2011 Outlook: Kirk joins the PGA TOUR via his second-place finish on the Nationwide Tour last season. Kirk used two victories and two runner-up finishes to earn the second spot on the Nationwide Tour last season. At only 25, the future looks bright for Kirk.

6. Martin Pillar
2011 Proj. Earnings: $750,000
2011 Outlook: Piller won twice on the Nationwide Tour last season on his way to an eighth-place finish on the Nationwide Tour money list last season. Pillar started the season well, but faded a little down the stretch. Perhaps he knew his card was wrapped up for the following year. Whatever the case, Pillar should be one of the few in the hunt for rookie of the year at season's end.

7. Kevin Chappell
2011 Proj. Earnings: $650,000
2011 Outlook: Chappell was one of the more consistent players on the Nationwide Tour last season. In addition to one victory, he also earned a runner-up, a third-place finish and seven top-10s in 24 starts. In all, 10 top-25s in 24 starts. That kind of consistency will serve him well on the PGA TOUR this year.

8. Fabian Gomez
2011 Proj. Earnings: $650,000
2011 Outlook: Gomez has steadily moved up the ranks of the Nationwide Tour the last three seasons and has finally earned his PGA TOUR card for 2011. Gomez has improved his scoring average about one stroke per year over the last couple seasons. The best could be in front of Gomez.

9. Billy Horschel
2011 Proj. Earnings: $500,000
2011 Outlook: Horschel began the 2010 as a PGA TOUR rookie, but four starts into his rookie season, he had to call it quits due to a wrist injury. As the 2011 season approached, Horschel had two options, the first would be to use his major medical extension to play on the PGA TOUR in 2011 or give Q-School a try and improve his positioning. He chose the later, and because of that he won't have quite as much pressure at the start of the season. That said, he is coming off a significant injury and his limited experience last season on the PGA TOUR probably won't help him much.

10. Ben Martin
2011 Proj. Earnings: $500,000
2011 Outlook: At just 23, Martin has a lot to learn about the life on the PGA TOUR, but he looks to have enough ability to succeed early on. Expect a nice rookie campaign from Martin in 2011.

11. Scott Stallings
2011 Proj. Earnings: $500,000
2011 Outlook: Stallings finished strong at Q-School when the pressure was on as he birdied the final two holes. You have to like that type of play in the clutch - it should serve him well on the PGA TOUR this season.

12. Matt McQuillan
2011 Proj. Earnings: $500,000
2011 Outlook: McMullan played the Canadian Tour last season, and while that's not exactly the highest level of golf, he won in Canada. McQuillan should play fairly well in his rookie season, but it might take a while to adjust.

13. Jim Renner
2011 Proj. Earnings: $500,000
2011 Outlook: Renner has won each of the last two seasons on the Hooters Tour, which gives him a leg up on some of his Q-School colleagues. Renner is 27, so he's probably coming into his peak playing ability. He'll have to start quickly, though, as premium exemptions are limited.

14. Brendan Steele
2011 Proj. Earnings: $500,000
2011 Outlook: Steele finished sixth on the Nationwide Tour last season, and he'll join the PGA TOUR in 2011 as a rookie. Steele did not have sustained success last season, however, as he carded only four top-10s all season. His spot on the money list was due to a victory at the Nationwide Tour championship.

15. Jhonattan Vegas
2011 Proj. Earnings: $500,000
2011 Outlook: Vegas had a very nice season on the Nationwide Tour last year as he captured one victory, two runner-ups and one third-place finish. In all, he carded nine top-25s in 23 starts. Vegas also made the cut in his lone PGA TOUR start last season.

16. Kevin Kisner
2011 Proj. Earnings: $500,000
2011 Outlook: Kisner didn't have a great season last year on the Nationwide Tour, but he ended very well. His two best start, a win and a runner-up, both came in the second half of the season. He'll need to start this season better, though, if he's to earn his card in 2012.

17. Keegan Bradley
2011 Proj. Earnings: $400,000
2011 Outlook: Bradley finished inside the top-25 on the Nationwide Tour last season in what was his rookie season on that tour. It's unlikely, though, that he can pull another rabbit out of his hat this season on the PGA TOUR. A case of too much too soon.

18. Kyle Stanley
2011 Proj. Earnings: $350,000
2011 Outlook: Stanley was fairly consistent on the Nationwide Tour last season, but in the end, he only managed a 35th-place finish on the money list. Stanley likely will take his lumps this season and end up back at Q-School next year.

19. Robert Gates
2011 Proj. Earnings: $350,000
2011 Outlook: Gates finished in the top 25 in his rookie season on the Nationwide Tour. Gates likely will have success at some point on the PGA TOUR, but to expect anything out of him this early in his career is a bit unrealistic.

20. Jim Herman
2011 Proj. Earnings: $350,000
2011 Outlook: Herman has improved his scoring average in each of his three seasons on the Nationwide Tour, and for the first time, he cracked the top-25 on the money list. While Herman is improving each year, his progress is a little slow, and he needs to really step up his game this season to crack the top 125.

21. Zack Miller
2011 Proj. Earnings: $250,000
2011 Outlook: Miller played on the Nationwide Tour last season, but he did not earn his card through that means as his best finish all season was a T3. Miller earned his card through Q-School, and like many Q-School grads each season, he'll likely struggle in his first year on the PGA TOUR.

22. Bi-o Kim
2011 Proj. Earnings: $250,000
2011 Outlook: Kim fared well in his short stint on the OneAsia Tour last season, but we really don't have much to gauge him on just yet. He's only 20, so it's unlikely that he'll have a lot of success on the PGA TOUR this season.

23. Joseph Bramlett
2011 Proj. Earnings: $250,000
2011 Outlook: Bramlett enters the PGA TOUR fresh from college, which worked out fine for fellow Stanford grad Tiger Woods. Bramlett, though, likely will find his first venture into professional golf a little more difficult.

24. Sung-hoon Kang
2011 Proj. Earnings: $250,000
2011 Outlook: Kang played overseas last season, and to date he hasn't had a whole lot off success over there. Kang likely will struggle in his first year on the PGA TOUR.

25. Andres Gonzales
2011 Proj. Earnings: $250,000
2011 Outlook: Gonzales has played a bit on the Canadian Tour the last two seasons, and he's had some success. He enters the season with a fairly low status, however, as he finished near the bottom of the Q-School qualifiers. He'll have to make hay during the opposite-field events to better his status and get into some larger events.

26. Alexandre Rocha
2011 Proj. Earnings: $250,000
2011 Outlook: Rocha must deal with a lesser status entering the 2011 season because he finished near the bottom of the Q-School qualifiers. He'll need to play well at some of the opposite-field events to better his status. Rocha has some PGA TOUR experience as he played the Honda Classic last year and made the cut.

27. Scott Gordon
2011 Proj. Earnings: $250,000
2011 Outlook: Gordon struggled near the end of Q-School and doesn't have much professional experience. Don't expect much from this kid in 2011.

28. Will Strickler
2011 Proj. Earnings: $250,000
2011 Outlook: Strickler grabbed the final Q-School spot this year, and as such, he'll likely have trouble finding enough quality starts to accomplish much in the way of earnings this season.

29. David Hearn
2011 Proj. Earnings: $200,000
2011 Outlook: Hearn has spent a lot of time on the Nationwide Tour over the past decade, but until recently, he did not have a lot of success. In fact, his best result in the last five years on the Nationwide Tour was a runner-up finish, which is the primary reason he finished in the top-25 last season. Don't expect a whole lot from Hearn this season.

30. Joe Affrunti
2011 Proj. Earnings: $200,000
2011 Outlook: Affrunti did enough to earn his PGA TOUR card last season on the Nationwide Tour, but judging on how he made it into the top-25, his prospects this season don't look very good. Affrunti only earned four top-10s in 26 starts last season.
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