Anyone who has ever attended a golf tournament knows the drill: the biggest names get the biggest crowds, and if you want to see somebody like Jordan Spieth or Phil Mickelson you have to either be really tall or you have to pick a spot two or three holes ahead and wait for the players you want to see to come through. One of the things I really like to do when I attend a golf tournament is to go against the grain and follow some of the unsung players.
When I was a teenager I was a standard bearer for several years at the Western Open. Obviously I always hoped to have the best players in my groups, and it was definitely a thrill to get to walk with guys like Tom Lehman, Peter Jacobson and Tiger Woods. That being said, some of my fondest memories are of following around unheralded guys like Franklin Langham and Harrison Frazar.
When you follow players with smaller galleries you can get a really unique perspective on how they interact with their caddy, the other players, the gallery and any friends or family they may have with them. You can see how they shake off a poor tee shot or how their confidence grows after a couple of birdies in a row. I’m not suggesting you avoid the big names or big crowds, but there is certainly something to be said for following some unheralded groups for at least a few holes.
Of course, everyone wants to follow a winner, and the AT&T Byron Nelson at TPC Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas is a great place to look for lesser-known players who can get a win. Four of the last four Byron Nelson champions were first-time winners, including Brendon Todd in 2014 and Sangmoon Bae in 2013.
When Brendon Todd won last year he also led the field in scrambling. The ability to make par or better after missing the fairway is always a nice skill to have, but it seems to be particularly important at the Byron Nelson. Graham DeLaet and Boo Weekley tied for second in scrambling last season and finished seventh and fifth respectively. When Sangmoon Bae won in 2013, he finished 17th in scrambling. Justin Bolli led the field in Scrambling and finished fourth.
There is a pretty good chance we get another first-time PGA Tour victor at the Byron Nelson, and there is a good chance that player is able to make good things happen out of the rough. With that in mind, I have listed my top 8 players most likely to get their first PGA Tour win this week at the Byron Nelson Championship. If you are looking for obscure players to follow who could have huge weeks, here are your best bets.
1. Kevin Kisner
It is almost certainly a matter of when—not if—Kisner wins his first tournament. Kisner has lost in two playoffs in the last seven weeks and had another top-five at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. He tied for 16th at the Byron Nelson Championship last year and was 23rd in Scrambling coming into last week.
2. Justin Thomas
Thomas is in the midst of a breakout season, with five top-10s in 19 events including a T7 his last time out at the Wells Fargo Championship. At just 22 years old he has a bright future ahead of him.
3. Morgan Hoffman
Hoffman has come close to winning the Byron Nelson before, finishing 16th last year and fifth in 2013. This could easily be the year he breaks through.
4. Graham DeLaet
DeLaet has had a couple of close calls at the Byron Nelson as well, finishing T7 last year and T10 in 2013.
5. Billy Hurley III
Hurley finished T16 last year and was ninth in scrambling going into the Crowne Plaza Invitational.
6. Colt Knost
Knost tied for 10th at the Crowne Plaza Invitational and tied for 21st at the Byron Nelson in 2013. He is having his best season as a pro at age 29.
7. Zac Blair
I liked him better before he shot a 74 on Sunday to finish +1 for the tournament, but there are still some reasons for encouragement. Blair entered the Crowne Plaza Invitational eighth on the PGA Tour in Scrambling.
8. Cameron Smith
Cameron Smith is certainly the dark horse of this group, having played mostly in Australia and Asia. Smith has two top-15 finishes in seven PGA Tour events this season, and it would not be shocking if he breaks through this week.