Just because the PGA Tour is off until January 4th and the only golf being played on American soil is meaningless doesn’t mean you can’t be thinking about Fantasy golf.
In fact, if you’re a serious player and you’re NOT thinking about fantasy right now, you’re being lapped and you’re wish for 2018 may end up being for a mulligan.
With the new season technically a few weeks old already, some players have worked their way into lists that they wouldn’t have been on had I got off my lazy ass and wrote these previews in October when the year actually started. So — good on you, J.J. Spaun, Austin Cook and select others!
As for you and I, the new year always brings with it more questions than answers. So in the coming weeks and days, I’m going to pose these questions and then answer as best I can. I’ll be profiling 40 players from now until December 31st — the final Sunday without meaningful golf until, like, this time next year.
Sure, it’s not football on TV, but at least it’s something.
Before I get into this list, I want to make a couple things clear — this list is not necessarily a declaration of who I think the top-40 players in 2018 will be, it’s just the 40 guys I truly have my eyes on from a fantasy standpoint in the coming 10 months or so. So don’t come at me with any of this, “you think x is better than y?????” or “I can’t believe you think blank should be ranked higher than blank.”
So — without further adieu — here’s who to watch in 2018, Numbers 40-36:
40. Talor Gooch
More than just an odd name, Talor Gooch makes this list because he’s one of the top young guns who earned his PGA Tour card via the Web.com Tour last year.
On the strength of a win at the New Sentinal Open on the Web.com Tour and a few other solid weeks, Gooch finished 6th in the final money list to automatically qualify for membership on the big Tour in 2018.
In six starts during the 2017-’18 season, Gooch is yet to post a top-10, but he has held his own — finishing T-16 at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and making his first four cuts on Tour.
Going forward, Gooch is, obviously, not a guy worth starting — but he is worth keeping an eye on. He’s shown in the past that he has the ability to get hot and string together solid finishes. Once he adjusts to life on the big stage, I expect him to put together a couple decent runs this summer as he makes the most of his rookie year on Tour. If you listen up now, you won’t trying to figure out “who is this guy?” later on.
39. Jhonattan Vegas
Three-time PGA Tour winner Jhonattan Vegas is one of the games more popular journeyman and a guy who should be on everyone’s fantasy radar.
Now, just because a guy wins on Tour doesn’t automatically — but Vegas has now done it in back-to-back seasons and has put together strong FedExCup finishes in each of those seasons.
There’s no reason not to keep him on your fantasy radar — especially in weeks where he’s one of the bigger names in the field. Weak field domination will be the key play for Vegas from a fantasy game plan standpoint. Don’t expect him to compete in majors as he’s only made one cut in them in his career.
38. Luke List
Last winter, Luke List found himself on lot of “who to watch” lists but never really broke out.
After early season success at the Sanderson Farms Championship (runner-up) in 2017, it seemed the pundits were correct. However, List stumbled in the coming weeks before rebounding again for a T-3 at the Shell Houston Open before sliding again. He finished 50th in FedExCup points.
Obviously, the game is there — but will the consistency be for List who is quickly turning into a journeyman pro. He’s still only captured one win as a professional — the 2012 South Georgia Classic on the Web.com Tour — and is looking for his maiden title on the PGA Tour.
It could be a make or break year for List — and if he plays up to his true potential, he’ll be a viable fantasy candidate most weeks. If not, he’ll be just another what might’ve been.
37. Smylie Kaufman
Smylie Kaufman burst onto the scene in 2016 at the Masters when he found himself in the final pairing on Sunday as a 24 year old PGA Tour rookie. He collected his first — and to date, only — PGA Tour win at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in 2015.
Since then, Kaufman has been one of these young guns we’ve all been waiting for to blossom into a big time star. It just hasn’t happened yet.
Kaufman struggled nearly all of 2017, save for a couple bright spots. Coming into 2018, fantasy players should keep a close eye on Kaufman. He obviously possesses the talent to compete with his SB2K buddies Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler — he just hasn’t quite put it all together.
Is 2018 the year? Only time will tell.
36. Thomas Pieters
Few players on the planet have my attention more exclusively than Thomas Pieters.
I predicted big things for Pieters in 2017 and may have been a year early on his breakout season. Because of that and what flashes of brilliance I saw out of Pieters last year I’m even more confident big things are coming in 2018.
After making waves as part of the 2016 European Ryder Cup squad and some great early season play in 2017 — including a T-4 at the Masters, where his legitimate bit at a win came up short after a Saturday 75 put him out of touch — Pieters slumped a bit down the stretch.
That in mind, he’s only 26 years old and is getting use to, not only playing this much golf in this many different places this many weeks in a row, but also constantly being on huge stages, and it’s easy to understand the slide. He’s got way too much talent not be a household name in the very near future.