The Golfer Watchability Index: Part 4
T20. Justin Thomas (59.5)
Justin Thomas is part of a large group of young American talent that is going to be a force at future Ryder Cups, and he kicks off part four at number twenty on the list. Why is he so fun to watch? If you’ve ever watched the NFL combine, you have definitely seen an offensive linemen run the 40 in some insane time; a time that by every definition should not be completed by anyone except the very best athletes in the world. It should be absolutely impossible that a 345 pound man is THAT fast. This is what it’s like watching Justin Thomas because there’s absolutely no reason why someone of his size should be able to hit the ball with the force that he does. He shouldn’t be hitting the ball as far as Dustin, J.B. and Bubba but he is and thankfully, people far smarter than me are here to explain it all.
See, it’d be one thing if Thomas was just going out there and smashing the ball from the tee, but he adds to it with an aggressive style from everywhere on the course thanks to a swing that is Usain Bolt level fast.
He could stand to show a little more of his personality out there, which we definitely saw come out when he appeared on the No Laying Up podcast back in May, but the fact that he actually went on the podcast at all gets him extra points with me. It seemed like not that long ago that we were worried about where golf was headed in the post-Phil/Tiger era, but players like Justin Thomas are making that idea sound like an awful lot of fun.
T20. Adam Scott (59.5)
Over the last few years, Adam Scott has played a bit of a reduced schedule and with his family growing as he turns 36 in 2016, it’s reasonable to assume that the notoriously private Australian will continue to play with less frequency. It makes sense for him of course, but it sucks for us because we’re really deprived of not only one of the game’s best talents, but someone who is so aesthetically pleasing on all levels. When it comes to Scott’s ability, we’re looking at someone who has consistently been one of the best players in the world from tee to green over the last decade and a half and he’s done it with a swing that is almost as good looking as his smile.
Throw in the fact that he dresses impeccably and he’s one of the best interviews in the game, and you have a player who is pretty much the full package even if he is almost always very stoic on the course. Unfortunately, his putting doesn’t exactly live up to the rest of his game and it’s going to be interesting to see how he adapts to the anchoring ban that is officially in place on January 1st, but the early returns on his switch have been promising. He had a slow start on the greens at the Presidents Cup, but he crushed Rickie Fowler on Sunday with a 6 and 5 win thanks to the putter, and it was working for him again in his last start at the CIMB Classic where he finished second to Justin Thomas despite posting a 25-under par score.
Barring a late season win, 2015 will be the first year since 2001 that Scott didn’t come away victorious somewhere in the world, but if he can get the putter going, there’s zero reason why he won’t win multiple times in 2016 and challenge the current big three for the number one spot in the OWGR. Even if he doesn’t though, the swing is so perfect that you can get a ton of enjoyment out of Scott even if he struggles.
T20. Rickie Fowler (59.5)
In part one, I mentioned how my favourite win of the year may have been Padraig Harrington’s playoff victory over Daniel Berger at the Honda Classic, but I think that my favourite season of the year was Rickie Fowler’s. Three huge wins (Players, Scottish Open, Deutsche Bank) should guarantee that the ridiculous narratives surrounding him are put to bed and he did it by not really changing much in his approach. Lots has been made, and rightfully so, about the swing changes he’s undergone with Butch Harmon but the same aggressive style that got Fowler to the PGA Tour is still present and you can tell that even though he’s serious about the game, he’s also just having a ton of fun out there too.
The swing is still unique even with the changes, and his game is making people realize that he’s more than just that guy who dressed in all orange. I don’t think he’s on the level of the absolute top guys in the game, but he’s close and after 2015, I can’t wait to see what he has in store for everyone going forward.
T20. Brooks Koepka (59.5)
My appreciation for Brooks Koepka will likely never reach the crazed stalker level of the No Laying Up crew, but he has definitely made me a huge fan, mostly because of his willingness to simply play to his strengths. Koepka hits the ball miles with every club in his bag, and he uses it to his advantage, ranking inside the top 10 on the PGA Tour in 2015 in going for the green rate, going for it percentage and birdies or better when going for it. He’s one of the best players in the world from long distances, making him a massive threat to go low at any event simply because there’s no course that he can’t take on physically, but he’s not a one dimensional player either.
You’ll be forgiven if you haven’t seen much of Koepka in 2015. Despite winning in Phoenix back in February and contending throughout the season, Koepka got as much TV coverage as Old Tom Morris used to. He’s a little robotic in his emotion and his #TourSauce game isn’t fully developed yet, but these are all minor concerns when you have a player who is as talented and aggressive as Koepka. The most exciting thing to watch in tournament golf is a player who can get hot and make a lot of birdies, and Koepka fits that bill perfectly with a solid looking swing to boot.
16. Louis Oosthuizen (60)
I’ve already gushed over Adam Scott’s swing, but when it comes to pure aesthetics, no one looks as good swinging a golf club as Louis Oosthuizen. Dogs wag their tails in anticipation when he is shown on TV. Johnny Miller can’t find anything negative to say when he takes the club back. Donald Trump once said it was sexier than Ivanka. How perfect are we talking? The swing above is what you always get to see, but even if he flips around and swings left handed, it’s still perfect:
Unfortunately, Oosthuizen has been about as healthy as Tiger over the last few years, missing tournaments for a variety of ailments and preventing us from seeing that smooth action on a more consistent basis. It’s not all about the swing with Oosthuizen though, as he has proven on multiple occasions that when he’s healthy, he’s one of the best players in the world with an incredible amount of power and aggression in that small frame. On top of not being healthy enough, it’s always possible that Oosthuizen could retire to go work on his farm too, so when he’s in the field, do yourself a favour and tune in.
T15. Kiradech Aphibarnrat (62)
If I was making this list twenty years ago, it’s a certainty that John Daly would have been involved and in all likelihood, he would have ranked very high, so it makes sense that the man known as the “Asia’s John Daly” would feature prominently here in 2015. Why is he known as Asia’s John Daly? Well, he’s a little on the bigger side for starters and he has a style that makes him a must watch. He fires at pins like they owe him money and he tends to run hot from time to time as well, but the most defining feature that links him to Daly is how far past parallel he gets in his back swing. Look at the photo above to see what I mean, and watch Billy Kratzert analyze the swing from Doral back in 2014.
With how cookie cutter swings have seemingly become these days, Aphibarnrat’s is so cool to watch and clearly it’s working. After going winless in 2014, Aphibarnrat picked up a pair of victories on the European Tour in 2015, and as of this writing, is 41st in the Official World Golf Rankings and if he can stay inside the top 50 for the rest of 2015, he’ll head to Augusta National for the first time. When he wasn’t picked for the Presidents Cup team a few months ago, I was horribly disappointed but I’m pretty sure that we’re going to be watching him play in several over the next decade. For more on Aphibarnrat, including why he changed his name to what it is now, I highly recommend this piece from Jim Litke and the video below.
T15. Ian Poulter (62)
Outside of maybe Tiger Woods, there probably isn’t a more divisive player in golf today than Ian Poulter. People always used to say that the reason Howard Stern gets a good audience is because he has a loyal following of fans, but he also has some hardcore detractors who listen just so they can be outraged, and I feel like this is where we’re at with Poulter. Personally, I enjoy watching him and think he’s good for the game. His back story is interesting and sure, some of the posts on Twitter and Instagram are obnoxious and annoying, but it’s also obvious that he absolutely loves the game and has an incredible passion for it, especially if he is playing for Europe at the Ryder Cup. Much like European contemporaries Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood, you never have to wonder what Poulter is thinking and there’s absolutely no spin from him in any way, which is refreshing.
On the course, I don’t really think he’s all that talented when compared to the other tour pros, but he’s pretty aggressive and there’s no doubt that he’s one of the current kings of #TourSauce, usually because he blows up emotionally.
I’ve always had this theory that the American broadcast networks show every single bad shot that Sergio Garcia hits and I think that’s the same thing with Poulter, so if you happen to be one of those anti-Poulter people, there’s something for everyone! He brings emotion, passion, a little bit of talent and a lot of crazy to the game, and ultimately, that’s why he’s so watchable.
T12. Miguel Angel Jimenez (63.5)
It may be hard to believe, but when American golf fans first got to know Miguel Angel Jimenez, he was nothing like the cigar smoking, live your life your way Jimenez that we have come to love in 2015. He was a quiet, reserved man with short hair who didn’t speak much English and if I was making a list like this back then, he never would have even merited consideration, but a lot has changed over the last fifteen years or so and even at 51 years old, he’s a ridiculous fan favourite. Much like Poulter, I’m not sure how much game really exists when compared to the other tour pros, but there’s no arguing that his short game is impeccable and considering his age and lack of distance, he keeps up pretty well with the younger players on tour. Despite getting the late start, he’s also adapted well to the #TourSauce movement:
T12. Justin Rose (63.5)
Underrated isn’t the word that I would use to describe Justin Rose, but when it comes to the best players in the world, I think he sometimes gets lost in the shuffle which is unfortunate because he’s not only really good, but a ton of fun to watch as well. He’s an incredible ball striker with a quality swing and in the past few years, he’s started to show us that he doesn’t lack in either the emotion or #TourSauce departments:
Ultimately though, this stuff wouldn’t mean so much if he wasn’t a great player and making him even more interesting is how long we’ve been watching him do it and the path he’s taken. This is a guy who has sunk to the bottom of the game not once, but twice in the past fifteen years, only to make it back and be a threat to win wherever he tees it up. He takes chances on the course, he can go low with the best of them, he dresses smartly, he shows passion for the game and he’s simply one of the best players in the world. It doesn’t get much better than that.
11. Charl Schwartzel (64)
When Charl Schwartzel won the 2011 Masters, I think it’s fair to say that it kinda came out of nowhere. For the most part, people remember that event because Rory McIlroy turned a four shot lead after Saturday into a ten shot defeat on Sunday, but watching Schwartzel fire a final round 66 and closing with four straight birdies showed that the guy who had six previous wins on the European Tour was a more than capable player at the game’s biggest events. Since then, Schwartzel has only won four events worldwide and none on the PGA Tour, and I really don’t get it because he’s as talented as pretty much anyone out there. Thankfully, that hasn’t affected his watchability. Let’s take a look at the checklist:
Gorgeous swing? Check.
Aggressive and pulls off miraculous shots? Check.
Thinks he’s a ninja? Check.
Occasionally loses his temper? Check and check.
Really talented? Absolutely. Everything here makes Charl Schwartzel one of golf’s most entertaining players, checking in at number eleven on the watchability index.
Next, for the last part of the index, I’ll be looking at golfers 10-1.