Golf: Who is NEXT?

Lexi Thompson

Lexi Thompson is no stranger to hype -- or outsize expectations. In 2007 at age 12, she became the youngest player to compete in the U.S. Women's Open. Three years later, she turned pro. In the fall of 2011, when she was just 16, Thompson became the youngest to win on the LPGA Tour. Oh, and then she successfully petitioned the LPGA Tour for membership, even though she was a year shy of the age requirement. Her bubbly personality, blonde hair and nearly-six-foot frame had fans, sponsors and media lining up at the ropes. But how would a 17-year-old handle the day-to-day pressure of the loftiest expectations? Just fine, thanks. In her first full year on the tour, Thompson carded four top 10s and earned more than $600,000 in prize money. She also ranks second in both driving distance (271 yards) and eagles (eight), making her one of the tour's biggest draws. Thompson's rookie season coincided with what the Golf Channel described as a 9 percent spike in U.S. television viewership. "She's jumped right in and handled the pressure of her win really well," says five-time tour winner Brittany Lincicome, 27. "She had to mature very quickly and she did. But her real gift is how she's been with fans -- always tweeting pictures to fans and going outside the ropes to talk with them. We can never have enough outgoing players to help grow our tour." -- Sarah Turcotte

Patrick Cantlay

Even after his whirlwind 2011 summer -- which included four top-25 finishes on the PGA Tour and a second-place finish in the U.S. Amateur -- Patrick Cantlay kept his promise and returned to UCLA for his sophomore year. The tour, he figured, could wait. But there is no holding back the aggressive, athletic swing he and coach Jamie Mulligan have crafted from the age of 7. As Mulligan told Golf Digest, "He's been creating the shots he sees in his mind from a very early age." That much was evident when Cantlay, just 19 at the time, blistered the rain-soaked TPC River Highlands to card a 10-under 60 at the 2011 Travelers Championship -- the lowest round ever by an amateur in a PGA Tour event. Indeed, the more Cantlay played with the pros, the less he looked like a starstruck teenager just along for the ride. So after another successful season at UCLA and T47 and T41 finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open, respectfully, the baby-faced Cantlay turned pro in June. But in early December, he failed to navigate Q-school. Now comes the hard part: Playing his way back onto the Tour, and proving he belongs ... again. -- Scott T. Miller

Carly Booth

Scotland might be the birthplace of the modern game, but it has been a while since it gave birth to a female golfer who became a household name. Scottish-born LPGA legend Catriona Matthew is the last to make the claim, but she's likely approaching her career twilight at age 43. So when 20-year-old Scot Carly Booth stormed onto the Ladies European Tour with two 2012 wins, the Euro golf community got to buzzing. "I've played with Carly a few times," Matthew says. "She's really good -- the best Scottish prospect we've had in a while." With swing training from instructors at David Leadbetter's IMG Academy and a short game honed on a backyard course her dad built, Booth, a three-year pro, has played her way into a top-five slot on the LET money list and is sitting pretty for the 2013 Solheim Cup squad. But it's her charm -- she has been spotted tumbling and dancing on the course -- that has made her one of the most popular players on the European tour. Her countrywoman is definitely a fan. "She can build on this," Matthew says of Booth's breakout season. "I really hope she'll go on to even bigger things." -- Sarah Turcotte

Beau Hossler

Beau Hossler's fourth round at the 2012 U.S. Open was a bummer. Heading into Sunday at The Olympic Club, the baby-faced Mission Viejo native was just four strokes off the leaders and nicely positioned to make a move. After leading at one point on Friday, Hossler was the darling of the ESPN and NBC broadcasts, and his galleries crowded six fans deep. Seasoned pros wait a lifetime for such a moment. Then the wheels came off. Hossler ultimately fired a disappointing 76 to fall back to 29th place, in the money for $50K and change. Of course as an amateur, Hossler didn't collect any cash. At 17 years old, the high school senior is just beginning to prepare for his freshman year at the University of Texas. But the American Junior Golf Association All-American -- the youngest player to make the cut at the Open in six decades -- is no fluke. Hossler's 10 birdies ranked third in the entire field through three rounds in San Francisco, and he bounced back to make the cut at the PGA Tour's AT&T National just two weeks later. "Having that experience puts me ahead of a lot of guys my age," he says. "I learned that the difference between shooting 70 and 76 at a major is 100 yards. Tiny little things matter so much more. So now I'm all about putting and course management to push me over that next hump." Then might we see him collecting a check in the near future? "Oh no," he says, "I'm in no hurry. I plan to have a long career out there." -- Sarah Turcotte

Lydia Ko

On April 24, 1997, just 11 days after one golfing prodigy had completed a resounding, transcendent 12-stroke victory at the Masters, Lydia Ko, a soon-to-be golf phenom, was born in South Korea. Fifteen years later, the effervescent Ko became the first amateur since 1969 to win an LPGA event. The South Korean-born New Zealander -- who counts a swing coach, physiotherapist, trainer and mental skills coach among her support team -- also finished T17 (Ricoh Women's British Open) and T39 (U.S. Women's Open) in her two major championship appearances this season. The golf world is taking notice. When Tiger Woods, the aforementioned golfing prodigy, was asked whether Ko reminded him of himself, he simply said, "I wasn't like that at 15, no." Ko does have this in common with Woods: She won't rush into her pro career. She wants to finish high school (in 2014, no less), then play in college. Her college of choice? Stanford, of course. -- Scott T. Miller

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