Where else to start than with Jon Rahm. Long tipped for greatness, it is safe to say that the former World Amateur Number One has taken to professional golf like a duck to water.
Since joining the paid ranks in June 2016, the Spaniard has been on a steady ascent to the top of the game.
Rahm immediately showed his star quality in his first start as a professional by claiming a share of third place in the PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National in the summer of 2016, but it was in 2017 when the young Spaniard really caught the eye.
Starting the year at 137th in the world, Rahm triumphed in his second appearance of the season by beating the likes of Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose and Hideki Matsuyama to take the Farmers Insurance Open title.
That maiden professional victory took Rahm inside the top 50 in the world for the first time, but he wasn’t finished there.
Back-to-back top-five finishes in World Golf Championships in March took Rahm up to 14th but it would be his victories in the Rolex Series that would secure him a place in the world’s top five.
After his outstanding six-shot victory in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open Hosted by the Rory Foundation the big-hitting Spaniard rose from 11th to eighth place, and it was his narrow win in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai which means Rahm will finish the year as World Number Four.
Having risen 133 places in just one season, the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year will be confident he can rein in Dustin Johnson at the summit of the world rankings next year.
Rahm was not the only Spaniard to excel in 2017.
For the first time in Official World Golf Ranking history three Spanish players will finish the year inside the top 20 – Rahm, Sergio Garcia and Rafael Cabrera Bello.
2017 was a special year for Garcia. An early-season victory in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, his first on the European Tour for three years, was followed by arguably the greatest golf moment of 2017 when he ended his 20-year wait for a Major Championship in April.
His famous Masters Tournament triumph in his 74th Major appearance elevated Garcia into the top five in the world for the first time since 2014, and although he would relinquish that position as the season wore on he did win again on home soil in Valderrama in October – helping him to finish 2017 in 11th in the world.
His compatriot Cabrera Bello – so often the nearly man too – also claimed the biggest win of his career so far at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open after he overcame Callum Shinkwin in a play-off.
That Rolex Series win, coupled with his best Major finish the following week at the 146th Open Championship where he claimed a share of fourth, has sealed Cabrera Bello’s spot in the top 20 in what has been an incredible year for Spanish golf.
Rose in bloom
Although many will remember Rose’s 2017 season because of his near misses it has also been an excellent campaign for the Englishman.
Despite losing out to Garcia in a Sunday shootout in Augusta, and finishing just one shot short of lifting his second Race to Dubai title, Rose reaffirmed his position as one of the game’s leading players with his performances in 2017.
Across the European, PGA and Asian Tours Rose won three times, finished as a runner-up three times and secured nine further top tens.
More impressively, since missing the cut at the US PGA Championship in August Rose has recorded ten consecutive top-ten finishes – including wins at the WGC-HSBC Champions, the Turkish Airlines Open and the Indonesian Masters.
That red-hot run has taken Rose up to sixth place in the world, and has made him the second-highest-ranked European player on the planet, behind Rahm.
In his current form Rose will be a formidable force in next year’s Majors and at The Ryder Cup in Paris.
Tyrrell and Tommy
Two other Englishmen who made sharp rises this year were Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood.
Hatton, who began 2017 in 24th place in the world, made a fast start to the season with top-five finishes in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, the Honda Classic and the Arnold Palmer Invitational but a mid-season slump saw him drop to 30th in the rankings after he missed the cut in the US PGA Championship.
A share of third place in the Omega European Masters, followed by a tied eighth finish in the British Masters supported by Sky Sports, was proceeded by back-to-back victories at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship and the Italian Open – his first Rolex Series title.
Another fine performance in his final appearance of the season in Dubai, where he carded the joint-lowest round of the week en route to finishing tied eighth, saw Hatton rise back up to 16th in the world.
While Fleetwood finishes 2017 one place lower than Hatton in 17th, the Race to Dubai winner’s climb up the world rankings has been far starker.
After starting 2016 as World Number 99 the 26 year old won his first European Tour title in four years at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship where he held off the challenge of World Number One Dustin Johnson to triumph by one shot.
Runner-up finishes in the WGC-Mexico Championship and the Shenzhen International, alongside a first Major top five at the U.S. Open, catapulted the Englishman to just outside the top 20 in the world.
His second victory of 2017 at the HNA Open de France, the second event in the Rolex Series, saw Fleetwood rise into the top 20 in the world for the first time – a position he has maintained since.
Outside the world’s top 20 there have been a number of impressive climbers.
America’s Peter Uihlein, who four years ago was competing on the Challenge Tour, entered the top 50 in the world for the first time after a string of excellent performances – most notably a runner-up finish behind Fleetwood in France.
South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli became the 2017 Challenge Tour Graduate of the Year after two European Tour victories this year, and his move from 152nd to 54th during his rookie season is one of the most noteworthy of 2017.
Li Haotong, who produced the best finish by a Chinese player in Major history when he finished third at The Open after a closing 63, rose from 134th to 59th in the rankings while Ireland’s Paul Dunne moved up just shy of 200 places this year from 275th to 76th, thanks largely to a maiden European Tour win at the British Masters supported by Sky Sports.
The sharpest rise by a European Tour member in 2017 came from Julian Suri. When teeing up at the Barclays Kenya Open in March he sat in 1137th in the world.
Fast forward to November where after victories on both the Challenge Tour and the European Tour, Suri is the World Number 63 – that’s a leap of 1,074 places.