Russell Knox - This is a sleeper to a win major. Knox won the HSBC Champions, the World Golf Championship last fall, before winning the Travelers Championship in what he thought was the clincher for a captains pick on the European Ryder Cup team. We all know how that turned out - he didn't get picked and Europe could have used badly him. Expect him to have a serious chip on his shoulder and to want to prove that he not only was worthy of that pick but to also prove that he's a world class player. Winning a major in 2017 would go a long way toward that, and the guy who finished eighth in driving average, ninth in greens in regulation and 25th in scoring average in 2015-16 has the game to do it.
Wesley Bryan - This is a sleeper to win and win fast. Contending won't be a surprise. He got a battlefield promotion, after all, for winning three Web.com Tour events in the same season and even was on the leaderboard at the John Deere Classic for a while before finishing T8. But the trick-shot artist has legitimate talent to win, and winning potentially as early as this fall would not surprise at all. And besides, he has a ton of positive mojo from 2016. He's long, can putt and has a confidence that's unique for someone who came from nowhere to something in 2016. Consider this: he only played 15 events on the Web.com Tour this year and still finished the season ranked first in putting average, second in birdie average and third in scoring average.
John Rahm - Of the amateurs who turned professional either after the Masters or the NCAAs this year, Bryson DeChambeau attracted the most eyes, especially after his 2015. But the new professional who actually turned in the flashiest results on the PGA Tour was Rahm, who pulled off the rare feat of getting his tour card purely off seven sponsor exemptions and resulting special temporary membership given to anyone without status on the PGA Tour. The Arizona State grad tied for third at the Quicken Loans National, tied for second at the RBC Canadian Open and tied for 14th at the John Deere Classic. It was insanely impressive golf under the most pressure. Stats wise, get this: in that T3 at Congressional, he was 13th in SG off-the-tee and 10th in SG around-the-green and putting. That's a really strong combination showing a well-rounded game. Don't be surprised if he gets a PGA Tour victory this season.
Andrew Johnston - BEEEEEEFFFF. Need I say more? Few took golf more socially by storm in the second half of 2016 than Andrew "Beef" Johnston. The Brit who said out loud, publicly, right after his Spanish Open win that he'd celebrate Open by getting really drunk (which is an automatic way to gain a ton of fans on social media, by the way) backed up his party antics by: a) getting really drunk, b) contending at the Open Championship and being in the second-to-last group on Sunday before finishing eighth, c) getting a sponsorship with fast-food chain Arby's and staring in some utterly hilarious commercials, d) coming to the U.S. to play the Web.com Tour Finals for a PGA Tour card even when he had a place to play and e) backing up those intentions with great play - fourth at the Boise Open - to clinch his tour card. It's uncertain how much he'll play over here or how well he'll play being a world traveler playing both tours - we've seen that backfire before - but he has the game to contend in a big spot and a personality that's infectious.
Thomas Pieters - He's not a PGA Tour member, so this is only for World Golf Championship events, majors and other events he'll play as a non-member. He got all the Ryder Cup headlines going 3-1 but has the game to back it up on an individual scale, too. Don't lose sight of this. The 39th-ranked player in the world made the team in the first place because he won the Made in Denmark European Tour event right before the captains pick selection date but also finished second at the Czech Masters, fourth at the Olympics where he was in contention for much of the event before falling back, tied for 16th at the French Open and finished second in Abu Dhabi last winter. The guy has talent and even with that limited of a schedule he can be useful to fantasy players because he proved he can step up in a big spot.
Bryson DeChambeau - I'm not much of a hot-take artist, so this may be as far as you ever see me go in that department. But I do think his climb into upper echelon golf is going to be a lot harder than some think. Yes, he nearly won the RBC Heritage in his first week on Tour but then he struggled, big time, missing four straight cuts. He admitted that he overprepared and worked too hard, perhaps expected considering the angles (figuratively and literally) at which he looks at golf. The man whose irons are the same length firmly believes he has the power to change golf -- and he very well might. Kudos to him for winning the DAP Championship in a playoff, the first Web.com Tour Finals event, to clinch his PGA Tour card. But getting acclimated to the traveling grind and learning all the golf courses on tour won't be easy -- it's not even for the best - and it wouldn't surprise if it takes the better part of a season for DeChambeau to work his way into a groove. That might not be a bust in a golf fan's eyes but in the eyes of a fantasy player it might not be good enough.
Jimmy Walker - If you are having a flashback, well, then you are correct, Walker was in this spot just last year. But Walker and the two names below this are here for a different reason than Walker was last year: they accomplished something in 2016 that will be hard to achieve next season. Walker won the PGA Championship, and while we all knew he had the caliber of game to do it, he doesn't come off to me as someone who will start winning a handful of majors. Frankly, no one will in this era, but I think some fantasy players may look to start Walker in big spots when his game really hasn't proven that consistent. Consider that Walker doesn't rank in the top 10 of any key statistical category; the highest he ranks is 15th in SG approach-to-the-green. To be a majors favorite, you have to be in the top 10 in those. Walker isn't. So be careful when majors come around.
Emiliano Grillo, Tony Finau - Grillo and Finau both got their first PGA Tour wins in 2015-16. The climb to get that second win will be steeper than the first, however. The Job security and scheduling freedom that comes after a first win, along with playing higher-echelon events, sometimes breeds a level of relaxing. But what some forget is that means playing more difficult courses, making the stress that much greater. Consider this from a stats perspective: Finau is scary long, yet his iron and short game strokes-gained rankings are 141, 120, 119. Grillo is 48th SG tee-to-green, 108th in SG putting. Those stats need to improve to contend more and win more consistently.
Bill Haas - This isn't so much a bust in the pure definition of bust as I think it's that some think too highly of Haas sometimes, especially from a fantasy perspective. He's a FedEx Cup champion and a six-time PGA Tour winner, and he clinched a Presidents Cup for his dad. But he got his first ever top 10 in a major this year at The Open. Yes, it took him that along. This season he had a second, third and six top-10s alongside five missed cuts and nine finishes outside top 25. Again, this isn't horrible stuff. But fantasy players seemingly are waiting for him to take a next step when this - with a win or two sprinkled in instead of the second or third - is his ceiling. In the golf fan's eyes that's perhaps not a bust, but for a fantasy player looking for week-to-week consistency, it may well be.