By Tom LaMarre
The early weeks of the wraparound season on the PGA Tour have turned out to be proving ground for rising, young stars on the circuit, which was shown again last week when 20-year-old Joaquin Niemann of Chile captured A Military Tribune at the Greenbrier by six strokes.
Niemann is in the field again this week for the 52nd Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson in Jackson, Miss., where defending champion Cameron Champ of Sacramento claimed his first victory on PGA Tour at the age of 23.
“I’m excited to return to Jackson to defend my title at the Sanderson Farms Championship … ,” said Champ, who won in his second start as a member of the Tour.
“It’s always an amazing feeling to go back to a place where you have had success, but it’s particularly special to go back to the site of your first career win. I can’t wait.”
Champ birdied five of his first six holes to take the lead in the opening round and eventually won by four strokes over Corey Conners, to become the sixth first-time PGA Tour winner in the tournament in the last seven years.
Other young guns in the field in addition to Niemann include Sungjae Im, Scottie Scheffler, Xinjun Zhang, Kristoffer Ventura, Henrik Norlander, Sebastian Cappelen, Beau Hossler, Joseph Bramlett, Fabian Gomez, Akshay Bhatia, Maverick McNealy and Denny McCarthy.
In addition to Champ, former Sanderson Farms champions back for another crack at the Reveille the Rooster trophy are Ryan Armour, Peter Malnati, Nick Taylor, Scott Stallings, D.J. Trahan and Chad Campbell.
Major champions playing this week are Jimmy Walker, Jason Dufner, Stewart Cink, Lucas Glover and Zach Johnson, and among the veterans are Brandt Snedeker, Cameron Smith, Chez Reavie, Martin Laird and Brian Harman.
While there are no players from the Top 10 in the World Golf Rankings playing in the Sanderson Farms, several of them figure to get there someday.
- Brandt Snedeker, United States – Making his first start in the new season after tying for 24th in the Tour Championship last month, Sneds is making his Sanderson Farms debut. Last season, he started his season with a runner-up finish in the Safeway Open for one of six top-10 results, and the last of his nine victories came in the 2018 Wyndham.
- Chez Reavie, United States – Top player in the Sanderson Farms field at No. 29 in the World Golf Rankings, Reavie recorded six results in the top 10 last season, including his second PGA Tour victory in the Travelers. He placed eighth in the final FedEx Cup standings by finishing eighth in the Tour Championship. Was 16th in Jackson in 2011.
- Sungjae Im, South Korea – The 2018-19 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year started the new season with a tie for 19th at the Greenbrier, slipping out of the top 10 by closing with a 71. Im, 21, won twice on what was the Web.com Tour two years ago and had seven top-10 finishes last year on the PGA Tour but missed the cut in Sanderson Farms.
- Joaquin Niemann, Chile – At 20 years old, Niemann might not have much of a hangover from his first PGA Tour victory by six strokes last week in a Military Tribute at the Greenbrier. By winning, he climbed 34 spots in the World Golf Rankings to No. 50. Makes debut in the Sanderson Farms, but new courses have not been a problem for him.
- Brian Harman, United States – The left-hander got off to a strong start in the new season by closing with a 65 to finish in a tie for third at the Greenbrier. That came after he made only the playoff opener, The Northern Trust, last season, when he had four top-10 finishes. Harman tied for 40th in his only appearance in the Sanderson Farms in 2013.
- Cameron Smith, Australia – The Aussie started his season with a tie for 24th last week at the Greenbrier after bowing out of the FedEx Cup playoffs when he tied for 59th in the opener, The Northern Trust, last month. He’s making his third start in the Sanderson Farms, missing the cut in 2015, but bouncing back to tie for 11th in 2017.
- Scottie Scheffler, United States – A two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, Scheffler tied for seventh last week in his first event as a PGA Tour member, starting with 65-62, with 71-69 on the weekend . He played in the Sanderson Farms on a sponsor’s exemption last year and finished in a tie for 45th after he opened with a 68.
- Cameron Champ, United States – The defending champion in the Sanderson Farms, Champ started with a 65-70 last season in Jackson before playing the weekend in 64-68 to win by four strokes. He had two other top-10 finishes and six in the top 25, but fell short of the Tour Championship by finishing 64th in the FedEx Cup point standings.
- Martin Laird, Scotland – A three-time winner on the PGA Tour, Laird started the new season with a disappointing tie for 47th at the Greenbrier despite posting three scores in the 60s. He recorded three finishes in the top 10 on the circuit last season, including a tie for seventh in the Sanderson Farms Championship, playing the middle rounds in 66-67.
- Lucas Glover, United States – The 2009 U.S. Open champion, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, played some of the most consistent golf of his career last season with seven finishes in the top 10 and 16 in the top 25. Glover is playing the Sanderson Farms for the sixth time, with his best results a tie for fifth in 2017 and a tie for 14th last year.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH – Corey Conners, Canada; Byeong Hun An, South Korea; Zach Johnson, United States; Ryan Armour, United States; Carlos Ortiz, Mexico; Tom Hoge, United States.
- Robby Shelton, United States – After winning twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, Shelton tied for seventh last week at the Greenbrier, opening with 65-62.
- Dylan Fritelli, South Africa – Surprise winner of the John Deere Classic last season, he has four other pro victories in Europe. Tied for 54th in the 2018 Sanderson Farms.
- Adam Long, United States – Still under the radar after winning the Desert Classic last season, Long tied for 14th at the Greenbrier, falling out of the top 10 in the closing holes.
- Henrik Norlander, Sweden – The Swede shot a respectable 69-71 at the Greenbrier but missed the cut after claiming his second victory on Korn Ferry Tour last season.
- Sebastian Cappelen, Denmark – Recorded second Korn Ferry Tour victory last season and tied for 64th last week at Greenbrier, fading a bit after opening with 69-67.
For first-round tee times visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html