The next players to win their first major

Rickie Fowler watches his tee shot on the fifth hole during the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Los Angeles Country Club on Saturday, June 17, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Rickie Fowler’s form at the U.S. Open shows that he’s still capable of winning a major championship. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

Paid for by Jeep

Golf is a sport built on tradition and a deep reverence for the past. But the game’s future is always fluid. Since the era of Tiger Woods’ dominance ended, first-time major winners have flourished. In every single year but one since the year 2000, at least one of golf’s four majors featured a first-time winner, most recently Wyndham Clark at the 2023 U.S. Open in June.

With golf’s talent level deeper and broader than ever before, it’s only a matter of time before we see another first-time major winner. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 of the likeliest candidates to hoist their first major trophy soon, whether at Royal Liverpool in July or in 2024.

Jeep banner

Jeep banner

Sam Bennett: The reigning U.S. Amateur champion played this year’s Masters on an exemption, and proceeded to roll up a full sleeve of “first amateur since” marks. He was the first amateur since 2003 to be in the top three heading into the weekend since 2003, the first amateur to be inside the top 10 heading into Sunday since 1964, and ended up carding the best finish (T16) by an amateur since 2005. In his first major as a pro, the 2023 U.S. Open, he finished in a tie for 43rd. The former Texas A&M Aggie appears set for a bright future.

Tony Finau: Now that he’s figured out how to win tournaments, majors are the next rung on the ladder. He’s cooled off a bit since the 2018-21 era, when he carded at least two top 10s each year. But he’s always a fan favorite, and thanks to his prominence in Netflix’s “Full Swing,” he’s a TV star, too. He remains a threat at every course, even if he’s one of the Tour’s friendliest guys.

Tommy Fleetwood: He owns two of the best Sunday rounds in major championship history — a pair of 63s, most recently this month at the U.S. Open — and has exactly zero majors to show for it. He’s knocked on the door, hard — he has solo second-place finishes in both the U.S. Open and the Open Championship — and his time is now.

Rickie Fowler: Just a few weeks ago, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near this list, consigned to the best-to-never-win category along with players like Lee Westwood, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker. But Fowler has enjoyed a resurgence of late, and his sterling performance at the U.S. Open suggests that the onetime neon-clad hero of millions might still have something left to say.

Max Homa: Golf’s Everyman has turned into a reliable PGA Tour professional, winning six times on the PGA Tour already. He wins the interview room every major, but hasn’t yet put it all together on the big stage; his best performance is a tie for 13th at last year’s PGA Championship. But if he can channel his endless positive energy for four days at a major, look out.

Sungjae Im: The 2018-19 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Im has flourished at the Masters, where he has two top-10 finishes in the past four years. He hasn’t fared as well at the other three majors, but his creativity and resilience have led him to victory all over the world, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts threatening at more majors.

Viktor Hovland: The best breakthrough bet on the board, the perpetually smiling Hovland is so close to major victory he can taste it. Prior to finishing in solo 19th place at the U.S. Open, he enjoyed a three-major run finishing no worse than T7. He couldn’t keep pace with Brooks Koepka in the final round of this year’s PGA Championship, but those kinds of losses can make a player stronger and more prepared for the next tense Sunday, whenever that comes. With Hovland, it should come very soon.

Tom Kim: At just 20 years old, he’s so new to pro golf that he’s played the Masters and The Open Championship only one time apiece. Even so, he’s already claimed two PGA Tour wins and established himself as one of golf’s most engaging, enjoyable players. He’s coming off his best finish at a major, a tie for eighth at the U.S. Open. With many more years ahead, he’s got plenty of time to learn how to hang in all the way to the final grouping on Sunday.

Xander Schauffele: Golf’s reigning Olympic gold medalist is racking up the close finishes at majors. While he’s struggled at The Open Championship, he has 11 top 10s in 25 majors, including second-place finishes at both the Masters and The Open. He’s getting close, so close, and once he puts everything together on a Sunday, many majors could flow his way.

Will Zalatoris: There’s some measure of honor in finishing second at majors — both Jack Nicklaus and Phil Mickelson have done it many times over — but it helps if you actually win a few besides. Zalatoris is a couple of missed putts from having at least two majors, having finished no lower than a tie for second at three different ones. Injuries have kept him in the clubhouse for all of 2023, but the way he played in 2022 — including a T6, 2, T2 run in the year’s first three majors — signaled that this is a major talent just waiting for a major moment.