Odds and Ends

PGA Championship: European Tour Players to Keep an Eye On at Kiawah

by Patrick McDonald
Updated On: May 18, 2021, 5:24 pm ET

With a major championship comes many unknowns. One of which are players from the European contingency making their way across the Atlantic Ocean to come play here in the United States. While some of you may be unfamiliar with the European Tour, trust me when I say that they can hold more than their own. 

It wasn’t too long ago that Brooks Koepka got his feet wet over in Europe, starting on the Challenge Tour, Europe’s equivalent of the Korn Ferry Tour. Then there’s Patrick Reed who makes it a habit to take the journey over a few times a year, specifically for Rolex Series events such as the BMW Championship, as he is not only a PGA Tour member, but also a European Tour member. 

And of course, there’s the early season swing in the desert where we have seen the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, and Tony Finau compete. Or even at the DP World Tour Championship, their version of the Tour Championship, where we saw Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland compete last season. 

While some of those tournaments may have grabbed your attention due to the headliners, the rest of the field are also worthy of your recognition. There are a number of players that golf spectators will be introduced to for the first time this week. Below, I will highlight three of the top players to watch out for as they try to make their names known here in the United States. 

Garrick Higgo:

The young South African is arguably the hottest golfer on the planet, yet average golf fans have yet to notice. In his last four starts, Higgo has two victories to go along with two top-10 finishes on the European Tour. For his career, the 22-year-old has three European Tour titles and has most recently jumped up to No. 51 in the official world golf rankings, putting him above the likes of Bubba Watson, Jason Day, and Ian Poulter

The PGA Championship and the Ocean Course specifically will be a beast that Higgo will be encountering for the first time in his career. In order to see the weekend and keep the heater alive, Higgo will need to find the short grass from off-the-tee as he is only hitting fairways at a rate of 44.86%.  

The rest of his game should hold up to the brute, Pete Dye test. Higgo is plenty long from the tee box and extremely competent on the greens. There’s a chance he could ride a hot putter into the weekend given his ability to make birdies in bunches as evidenced by going a combined 52-under par in his two victories.  

Per the oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook, Higgo is +600 to finish as Top South African at the PGA Championship. Of the 11 in the field, Higgo has the third shortest odds, behind only Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, implying that a good week could be in store for the smooth swinging lefty.  

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John Catlin:

The American has made his home over on the European Tour and has been quite successful in doing so. A three-time winner on the European circuit, the California native has moved his way up to No. 80 in the official world golf rankings ahead of European staples such as Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer

The sense I get when watching Catlin is that when he gets hot, he gets really hot and tends to string quality starts together. His first career victory at the Andalucia Masters in 2020 was followed up with another victory just three weeks later at the Irish Open, where he defeated Aaron Rai

It would be a stretch to say that something similar could happen at this week’s PGA Championship. Catlin’s most recent win occurred just over a month ago at the Austrian Open where he was victorious in a five-hole playoff over Maximilian Kieffer. He has since followed it up with two made cuts, one of which was a top-5 finish in his last start at the Tenerife Open.  

Unlike Higgo, Catlin has a higher mountain to climb when it comes to beating out his fellow countrymen. With 86 Americans in the field this week, Catlin is +15000 to take home the crown of Top USA Player. For reference, that puts him in the same neighborhood as Kevin Streelman and recent PGA Tour winner, Joel Dahmen.  

Sami Valimaki:

The 2020 European Tour Rookie of the Year has had a sluggish start to his 2021 season as he makes his PGA Championship debut this week. This won’t be the young Finn’s first major however as Valimaki appeared in the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot where he posted a two-day total of 152 and missed the cut. 

His other notable appearance here in the United States came earlier this year at the WGC Workday Championship at The Concession. Valimaki struggled once again as he finished the tournament in a tie for 64th at 9-over par and 27-strokes behind eventual winner, Morikawa.  

One of the best putters on the European Tour, Valimaki has struggled with the rest of his bag in 2021. However, as of late the 2020 Oman Open champion appears to be finding some form. He has quietly reeled off three consecutive top-30 finishes on the European Tour, including last week at the British Masters where he finished at 6-under and in a tie for 21st. He’ll hope to continue this trend heading into Kiawah Island where he will be making his second major championship appearance. 

Valimaki will be the lone player from Finland at the 2021 PGA Championship. However, his odds to finish inside the top-40 are the same as two former PGA champions. At +300, Valimaki is alongside both Phil Mickelson and Martin Kaymer, indicating a strong weekend showing is not out of the realm of possibilities.

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Patrick McDonald

Patrick McDonald joined NBC Sports EDGE in the spring of 2021. When he’s not chasing longshots, he’s chasing his golf ball around the local muni. You can find Patrick on Twitter @AmateurStatus.