PGA Tour Fall Awards: MVP, Best Rookie, Biggest Comeback, more
There is arguably no sport with a worse grasp on the concept of an “offseason” than professional golf.
Take, for instance, the DP World Tour, which wrapped up its 2022 season in dramatic fashion at its Tour Championship on Sunday. That same tour began its new season…today. At two different tournaments, one in Australia and another in South Africa.
The PGA Tour had a full summer vacation by comparison, with no tournament golf played between the dates of Aug. 28 (the final round of the Tour Championship) and Sept. 15 (the first round of the Fortinet Championship). That meant a whole two weeks off before the new campaign.
This will change next year; the PGA Tour has wised up to this silliness (imagine wrapping up the Super Bowl and then starting the next regular season in late February) and will shift its 2024 calendar so that the season doesn’t begin until January. In the meantime, though, we have one last fall season to celebrate, and critique. Which means it’s time to hand out awards.
The fun — and ridiculousness — of this exercise is that we’re not exactly dealing with a large sample size. If the season were to end today, the following players wouldn’t qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs: Cameron Young (No. 134 in the standings), Shane Lowry (No. 142), Kevin Kisner (No. 153), Justin Thomas (No. 172), Webb Simpson (T189) and Jordan Spieth (T189). Will Zalatoris hasn’t played an event. Neither has Adam Scott. Nor Daniel Berger. Nor Tiger Woods. Several other top pros have played only once. So it’s time to celebrate the fellas that have played. Now, to the red carpet!
BEST TITLE DEFENSE
Winners: Max Homa and Rory McIlroy
Certain players like certain golf courses, so it makes sense when the same guys play well at the same venues every year. Still, it’s so hard to actually win that we’re amazed whenever anyone defends their title. It didn’t take long before it happened this fall; Max Homa showed up to the first event of the year, the Fortinet Championship, and did the same thing he did in 2021: left Napa with a trophy in his suitcase. He arrived in Charlotte at 2 a.m. the next day to kick off his Presidents Cup week in style.
A month later, McIlroy did the same thing at the CJ Cup: arrived a champion and left a champion. His victory came with a nice perk: the title of World No. 1.
Three interesting sidenotes: First, McIlroy’s defense actually came at a different course (Congaree on Hilton Head, S.C.) than his 2021 win (Summit Club, Las Vegas). McIlroy had also defended his Canadian Open title earlier in the summer, also at a different course (St. George’s rather than Hamilton).
Second, Homa and McIlroy have plenty more in common. Their first PGA Tour wins each came at Quail Hollow at the Wells Fargo Championship; McIlroy in 2010 and Homa in 2019. McIlroy then won the 2021 event when Homa was defending champion. And then Homa won the 2022 event with McIlroy as defending champion.
Third, it’s impressive there were two defending champions this fall seeing as several others didn’t even have the opportunity. Lucas Herbert was in a friend’s wedding the week of the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, so he missed his title defense. And Jason Kokrak and Talor Gooch, back-to-back winners at last year’s Houston Open and RSM Classic, each left the PGA Tour for LIV, leaving their titles undefended, too.
Also receiving votes: Sungjae Im (T7 in his Shriners defense) and Viktor Hovland (T10 in his three-peat attempt at Mayakoba)
ROOKIE OF THE FALL
Winner: Taylor Montgomery
After finishing his Korn Ferry Tour season on an absolute tear (T2-T3-T4-T9) Montgomery brought that form straight to the big circuit. He started his season with a third-place finish at the Fortinet and finished in the top 15 in six of his seven fall starts, making him arguably the best player not to have won this fall.
It makes sense that Montgomery, who grew up amongst the big-money backdrop at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas (where his father was the pro) is unfazed by the bright lights. He rode a hot putter to Rookie of the Fall.
Also receiving votes: Thomas Detry (five cuts in five starts, including a runner-up), Ben Griffin (six cuts in seven starts)
SOPHOMORE OF THE FALL
Winner: Sahith Theegala
Fresh off a finalist performance in the 2022 Rookie of the Year voting, Theegala is back at it this fall. He finished T6 at the Fortinet, T5 at the Zozo and T2 at this week’s RSM Classic, drawing tantalizingly closer to victory without quite getting there. Theegala now has six top-six finishes in his young PGA Tour career but has no shortage of enthusiasm in chasing win No. 1.
Also receiving votes: Tom Kim (we’ll get to him), Alex Smalley, Callum Tarren
BIGGEST BREAKOUT STAR
Winner: Tom Kim
I’d already awarded Theegala Sophomore of the Year before I realized that golf’s newest, youngest prince, Tom Kim, is actually a PGA Tour sophomore too. That’s strange because he had one of the shortest rookie years in PGA Tour history; he accepted “Special Temporary membership” after the Open Championship and then won two starts later at the Wyndham.
But we’re talking about the 2022-23 season now, and this fall is where Kim really shined. While we’re not really including the Presidents Cup in the rest of our selections, Kim was a fist-pumping, putt-making madman all week at Quail Hollow, grabbing the attention of every golf fan near a television. In his next start, the Shriners in Las Vegas, Kim shot 24 under to better the field by 3 and become the first Tour pro since Tiger Woods to win his second event before he’d turned 21. Good start!
Also receiving votes: Adam Svensson, first-time winner at the RSM
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE FALL
Winner: Ben Griffin
On the PGA Tour, a “comeback” can take different forms; pros can disappear due to injury or yips or just poor form. But for Ben Griffin, “comeback” meant very literally a return to professional golf. After a lackluster Korn Ferry season in 2019 left him in professional limbo during the pandemic, Griffin worked a desk job in 2021 as a loan officer for a mortgage group. But after some encouragement from friends — and sponsorship money, too — Griffin cruised through his 2022 KFT season, advanced to the PGA Tour and kept things rolling with six made cuts in seven starts.
The comeback kid seems generally unfazed by just about anything. At last week’s RSM Classic, his preparation included getting his water shut off (his roommate forgot to pay the bill) and suffering through some gastrointestinal issues that were either a stomach bug or food poisoning. He finished T29 anyway.
Also receiving votes: Rickie Fowler, Andrew Putnam, Patrick Rodgers
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEFTY
Winner: Brian Harman
After Lefty’s departure for LIV — and then Bubba Watson behind him! — the PGA Tour was left searching for its own signature left-hander. Enter Brian Harman.
Harman is another contender for best fall without a victory, an autumn that included four made cuts in four starts and runner-up finishes in his last two at Mayakoba and RSM. He leaped to No. 24 in the world in the process and, if we’re getting ahead of ourselves, No. 12 in U.S. Ryder Cup rankings, too.
He doesn’t have much competition, either. Garrick Higgo? Akshay Bhatia? A nation of lefties turns its lonely eyes to you, gang. Ted Potter, Jr. ain’t getting any younger.
Also receiving votes: None
BEST CADDIE CHANGE
Winner: Joe Skovron (and his players)
There was plenty of scrutiny placed this fall on the past and present players of high-profile caddie Joe Skovron. At the end of the 2021-22 season, Rickie Fowler — who had employed Skovron his entire career — decided to go in a different direction. Skovron soon jumped on with Tom Kim. How’d it go?
Quite well on both sides, as it turns out. Skovron got a front-row seat to Kim’s heroics at Quail Hollow and then, in their first PGA Tour start as a team, came away with a victory.
Fowler’s fall went quite well, too; his five starts with new looper Ricky Romano included a T6 at the Fortinet and a T2 at the Zozo. He also cracked the top 20 in the latest PIP standings, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice. Fowler stock seems to be trending in the right direction, even if he has large shoes to fill: his own.
MOST EFFICIENT SEASON
Winner: Rory McIlroy
You could argue that Rory McIlroy should sweep all of these awards, if we’re talking about per-tournament performance. With McIlroy busy getting in some time on the DP World Tour this fall (plus a little rest) he only showed up once on the PGA Tour: at Congaree, where he flew in to defend his CJ Cup title.
That 2021 CJ Cup win felt particularly significant because McIlroy was coming off an extreme low; his season hadn’t gone as he’d wanted, his Ryder Cup had ended in tears and he was searching for his next move. This year’s CJ Cup was a coronation; McIlroy left with the World No. 1 title and was the latest in a stretch of six consecutive tournaments where his worst finish was T4.
Also receiving votes: Tony Finau (two starts, one win), Keegan Bradley (three starts, two top-10s, one win), Patrick Cantlay (one start, one runner-up)
BEST RYDER CUP AUDITION
What’s that you say? A fiery American with Ryder Cup experience showing his chops down the stretch on foreign soil?
That’s right, folks: The Keegan Bradley Hive has come out of hiding. Our New England king didn’t play much this fall — he made just three starts — but he made his appearances count. First came a T5 at the Sanderson Farms. Two weeks later he followed that up with a stirring victory at the Zozo Championship in Japan, where four rounds in the 60s left him in the winner’s circle for the first time in some 1500 days.
Bradley’s up to No. 26 in the world. He’s playing some of the best golf of his career. And it’s possible — perhaps even likely — that nobody wants to make this team more than he does. Your move, Captain Johnson!
Also receiving votes: Seamus Power, Max Homa, Russell Henley
SUNGJAE IM AWARD
Winner: Andrew Putnam
Named for the player who spent multiple years on the PGA Tour without an actual home due to his relentless travel schedule, this year’s Sungjae Im Award is presented to Andrew Putnam, who played eight tournaments this fall — missing only a trip to Bermuda — and made eight cuts in the process.
Putnam’s fall did include a brush with the winner’s circle during a T2 at the Zozo, his calling card was consistency; six of his eight results were between T21 and T43. Toss in four made cuts to end the 2021-22 season and Putnam is the current owner of the third-longest active made-cut streak on Tour (12 events) behind only Jon Rahm (19) and Taylor Pendrith (13).
Also receiving votes: Patrick Rodgers, who MC’d at the Fortinet and then made his next seven cuts including four results of T16 or better.
MVP (PLAYER OF THE FALL)
Winner: Seamus Power
In determining our Player of the Fall, the committee wanted to reward buy-in. That means embracing the spirit of the PGA Tour fall season. It means playing tournaments that went completely unnoticed by your fairweather Tour fan, who was busy watching football or doing literally anything else.
And it was in that environment that Seamus Power thrived.
Power played six times this fall. He won the Butterfield Bermuda Championship. He finished T3 at Mayakoba. He logged a T5 at this week’s RSM Classic. And he leads the FedEx Cup standings by a wide margin (749 points to Bradley’s 638) heading into 2023. Between Power and Shane Lowry, Luke Donald can expect to stock Team Europe with Irishmen…
Also receiving votes: Bradley, McIlroy
Congratulations to all the winners! Keep your acceptance speeches short, please. Every minute of offseason counts.
The author (cautiously) welcomes your thoughts or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.