Philadelphia, PA – Every year, the PGA Tour welcomes new members from the Nationwide Tour, and 2011 was evidence enough that several of those players are likely to make an immediate impact.
So, who will it be in 2012?
First, let's re-visit 2011 on the PGA Tour, which might as well have been called the "Year of the Rookie."
There were 35 neophytes in 2011, six of whom earned victories. That includes two-time winner Keegan Bradley, who picked up one of those victories in his first-ever major start in the PGA Championship. Bradley played on the Nationwide Tour in 2010 and never won, but had a string of four straight top- five finishes late in the year that gave him some momentum heading into the PGA Tour.
Some rookies, like Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, come from the Sunshine Tour instead of the Nationwide Tour. Coming from a lesser-heralded circuit didn't stop Schwartzel from having success in his first year as a PGA Tour member.
Other 2011 winners included Jhonattan Vegas, Brendan Steele, Chris Kirk and Scott Stallings, each of whom played on the Nationwide Tour in 2010.
So, a majority of the rookie winners on the PGA Tour came from the Nationwide Tour, and there are now 25 new names to mark for 2012.
Only one is fully exempt for next season: money leader J.J. Killeen, who came out of nowhere to win two straight events and earn a well-deserved promotion. It took him a few years to win at all on the Nationwide Tour, but he'll look to build off his best season of golf at age 30.
Maybe the biggest threat among the first-time PGA Tour card-holders is No. 4 Jason Kokrak, whose late season blitzkrieg earned him an elevation. He had three top-fives in his last six events, including his first two career victories. He's the tour's longest driver and was second in birdie average and might be able to handle some of the longer courses next year.
The youngest new PGA Tour member will be Danny Lee, who, at 21, finished sixth on the money list and led the Nationwide Tour in scoring average. He already has some big-time experience, having won as an amateur on the European Tour in 2009. At the Johnnie Walker Classic that year, he beat out players like Paul Casey, Francesco Molinari and Lee Westwood.
Now, Lee takes his 2008 U.S. Amateur Championship along with his two career victories to the PGA Tour to test his luck.
OLDIES BUT GOODIES
Several of the players advancing as first-time PGA Tour members have waited a long time for this moment, some perhaps more than a half-decade.
Ted Potter, Jr. turned professional at age 19 and has certainly come a long way to get here. In 2004, he played in 24 events and made the cut in exactly zero of them. At the start of 2011, Potter didn't have Nationwide Tour status, but Monday-qualified into the season-opening South Georgia Classic and ended up winning the event.
Fast-forward several months later, and Potter is No. 2 on the money list and now has his PGA Tour card for the first time at age 28.
Gary Christian has spent more than a half-decade on the Nationwide Tour, and his win at the Mylan Classic gave him enough money to qualify for the PGA Tour for the first time at age 40.
Meanwhile, some older folks are back onto the PGA Tour after losing their status once before.
Golfers like Mathew Goggin, 37, Ken Duke, 42, four-time Nationwide Tour graduate and 43-year-old Gavin Coles and 38-year-old Daniel Chopra will all be heading back to the PGA Tour after regaining card status.
Chopra could ride some momentum after breaking the course record at Daniel Island in the Nationwide Tour Championship, though he ultimately lost the title to Duke.
Sadly, only 25 members of the Nationwide Tour can graduate directly to the PGA Tour, and there are quite a few who will have to try their luck through Q- school.
Players ranked 26-40 on the money list are put right into the final stage of Q-school, and 2011 winners James Nitties and Brett Wetterich will be among those players unfortunate enough to be among the first five players outside the top 25.
Harris English, who would have easily qualified for the top 25 had he shed his amateur status earlier in the year, will have to try his luck in the second stage of Q-school after missing the Tour Championship field by only a few thousand dollars.
Another pair of winners on tour this year who qualified only for the second stage of Q-school were Steve Friesen and Greg Owen.