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Viktor Hovland
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Culp's Corner

Grading the Grads: Korn Ferry Tour Finals 25

by Josh Culp
Updated On: September 3, 2019, 10:39 pm ET

Last week I gave a look at the regular season top 25 from the Korn Ferry Tour. They all earned a PGA TOUR card for the upcoming 2019-20 season which kicks off next week in West Virginia.

Now, the Korn Ferry Tour Finals have concluded and there is another batch of 25 golfers who punched their ticket to the big stage. Let's dive into the numbers to see which golfers should be on your fantasy radar this fall. 

In the list below, I've ranked them based on expected fantasy output this season. The 2019 Strokes Gained Rank refers to the total number of strokes gained across the PGA TOUR, Korn Ferry Tour, and European Tour, over the course of 2019. 

Numbers 1 thru 10 will be listed below with 11 thru 25 on page two. Then on page three I will include the 2019 Strokes Gained rankings for all 50 of the golfers that played their way into PGA TOUR status via the Korn Ferry Tour. That list is generally a pretty strong predictor of which golfers will make a splash and play their way into the FedExCup Playoffs by year's end. You need to account for the entire package before making the final call, though. 

Here they are: 

#1 Viktor Hovland
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 1

You might bucket him into the "generational star" category and he hasn't even played a full season as a pro yet. He brings that kind of upside on the course in addition to being incredibly marketable off-the-course. Hovland ranks first of everyone on this Finals 25 list in terms of total (adjusted) strokes gained in 2019. He did that all in less than 50 rounds while much of this list sits above 70 rounds for their sample. How does Hovland get the job done? Through elite ball-striking. He gained at least 1.6 strokes off-the-tee each of his last seven measured starts and also gained at least 1 stroke approaching-the-green in all seven of those events. Remember last year when Niemann looked like a can't-miss superstar? Hovland has basically 1.5x'd Niemann's output over the first 10 events on the PGA TOUR. We should see plenty of Hovland near the top of the leaderboard this season.

#2 Doug Ghim
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 4

Brings elite amateur pedigree but he lost strokes to the field in six of his first seven starts on the PGA TOUR. That made it tough to earn his TOUR card in 2018 but he went down to the Korn Ferry Tour to hone his craft. All that hardwork paid off as he went 9-for-17 during the regular season with three top 10s and then added a pair of top 25s during the KFT Finals to secure his spot on the big stage. Only three other golfers on this list gained more strokes over the field during 2019 worldwide appearances. Ghim has Midwestern roots, went to school in Texas, and now calls Vegas home. I think that variety of climate experience should help him adapt quickly to all the new courses he'll see in 2020.

#3 Tom Lewis
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 7

The Englishman snuck into the Korn Ferry Tour Finals via his T11 at The Open Championship and he paid off that opportunity in a big way by winning the Korn Ferry Tour Championship after skipping the first two legs. Lewis was highly regardedafter his amateur career then won early on at the 2011 Portugal Masters. He then went on to miss 29 of his next 50 cuts and hovered outside the top 300 in the OWGR until he found something in 2018. Lewis won on the Challenge Tour and Euro Tour in a matter of three weeks and his game has been relatively consistent since then. Still in his late 20s, he brings 4 worldwide wins to the table which is more than most, if not all, can say from this list of graduates.

#4 Beau Hossler
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 9

The young Cali native might be the best putter on TOUR, or maybe on the planet. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration but he already has 11 career starts where he gained at least 5 strokes putting for the week. The problem during his sophomore campaign was a dip in his iron play. Hossler ranked 179th in SG Approach in 2018 but manged to drop to 184th last season. Just a guess but this could be a case of trying to make swing changes where things get worse before something finally clicks. He's never gained more than 3.8 strokes on approach in a single week and until that changes, it will be hard to rely on him as a consistent option. He's been T3 or better thru 54 holes on three occassions (2017 Sanderson, 2017 Shriners, 2018 Houston). All three of those events are part of the fall swing this year so we may see an early spark from the Texas Longhorn.

#5 Hank Lebioda
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 6

Hammerin' Hank finished above TOUR average in Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee, Strokes Gained Approach, and Strokes Gained Around-the-Green, during his rookie campaign on the big stage last season. That was good for 58th in SG Tee-to-Green at season's end. Not too shabby for the lefty from Florida State. The ball-striking stats are nice but we'd also like to see that extra gear which is missing so far. He managed just two top 25s in individual events on the PGA TOUR last season.

#6 Cameron Davis
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 12

The young Aussie has a world of talent but we are still waiting for that big breakthrough on the big stage. He's a big hitter but hit fewer fairways than the field in 14 of his last 17 starts, just to paint a little picture of his play style. I think the best is yet to come still for young Davis. He's never been better than T10 after any round on the PGA TOUR (T10 after R1 of 2019 John Deere). He was getting his first look at most of the courses last year so maybe that little extra experience will help him get in his comfort zone and post some more low rounds. I'm not eager to invest right out of the gate but if he heats up then I think the sky is the limit and I'll quickly jump on board.

#7 Matthew NeSmith
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 10

The South Carolina native has sprinkled five career starts on the PGA TOUR and missed the cut in all of them. His results on the Korn Ferry Tour were much better than that in 2019. He went 15-for-25 including a win during the KFT Finals. He ranked 20th in driving accuracy this season and 1st in GIR percentage (125th in putting average, yikes). That steady ball-striking is a good sign for his prospects on shorter layouts he'll face this season. Adding an interesting note, he also proposed to his wife at Harbour Town so maybe the RBC Heritage is an event to circle for him.

#8 Joseph Bramlett
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 2

The Stanford product dealt with back issues in 2014 and 2015 that nearly ended his playing career. He found his stride again in 2018 but narrowly missed out on a PGA TOUR card. It looked like another heartbreak might be in the works when he ended 32nd on the regular season points list in 2019. He stayed calm and rattled off three straight finishes in the T23 to T26 range to secure his card. Bramlett ended the season ranked 30th in driving distance, 6th in GIR percentage, and 14th in eagle rate. He could make a big splash if his back holds up which there is no indication that it will be a major problem again. Just something you have to consider when investing in season-long leagues because back injuries rarely just go away for good.

#9 Kramer Hickok
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 11

The Texas native went 13-for-26 on the PGA TOUR this season and showed some flashes of upside along the way. That includes the Mayakoba Golf Classic where he co-led after day one, the Genesis Open where he was T3 after day one, and the Barbasol where he was T3 thru 36 holes. He has been a bit more consistent on easier courses with bermudagrass greens so that's something to consider when looking for spots to invest.

#10 Grayson Murray
2019 Strokes Gained Rank: 20

Struggled with injuries in 2018 but his comeback tour picked up a bit of steam this summer. He ended the KFT regular season with a T29 before posting finishes of T23, T11, and T7 during the Finals. The 25-year-old won the 2016 Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship and then again the following year with a victory at the Barbasol Championship. The big hitter brings winning pedigree to the table and he's still young. Let's just hope that he's matured a bit while he was recovering from injury because he was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons before but his golf game might be the star of the show in 2020. Silverado Resort or GC of Houston might be decent spots to target him during the fall. Overall, we want to invest during weeks where the course doesn't put a big penalty on missed fairways.

Josh Culp

Josh Culp joined NBC Sports Edge in 2014. The DFS enthusiast from Iowa State can be found on Twitter @futureoffantasy.