US Open Field 2012: Complete Analysis of Golf's Youngest Rising Stars
Upon being assigned to write an article on golf's youth, I had to ask: How do I define youth?
Dictionary.com defines it a number of ways: "the period of life from puberty to the attainment of full growth"; "the first or early period of anything"; "the appearance, freshness, vigor, spirit, etc., characteristic of one who is young."
Aha. The third definition seems to shed some light on what we're currently seeing on the PGA Tour from its youngest players.
Much like Tiger Woods of 15 years ago, the modern youth of 2012 carry on their shoulders a chip, the type that exhibits a scathing desire to be great. With that comes a confidence that they will reach that greatness at some point.
And most of all, there is a flair for the dramatic that has excited today's golf fans who know at any time they could see something they've never seen before. And these kids aren't going to be afraid to show their emotion when they hit said shots.
Those are the primary characteristics of the youngest players on the PGA Tour in 2012. Here are some of the kids who make up this new cast of characters.
Rory McIlroy—Age: 23; Country: Northern Ireland; World Ranking: 2
Rory McIlroy left quite an imprint in the minds of golf fans when he ran away with the 2011 U.S. Open title. His dominance at Congressional Country Club led to the assumption that he would win every major tournament from now 'til the time he is 40.
Needless to say, fans and the media went a little overboard. But McIlroy's talent is obvious to anyone who watches him swing a golf club.
With great length off the tee and a unique ability to scramble, McIlroy is the epitome of a major championship-caliber player. He is unafraid, as shown by his response to blowing a 54-hole lead at Augusta in 2011 by coming back to dominate the U.S. Open.
McIlroy's struggles since last year's U.S. Open are a bit disconcerting, but his talent is unmistakable. And that's the reason he remains the most exciting young player in the game.
Rickie Fowler—Age: 23; Country: United States; World Ranking: 20
Rickie Fowler is perhaps the most flashy player on tour. Whether it be his bro-style hat, shiny shirts and pants, or the skinny mustache, Fowler is impossible to miss on the golf course.
He exudes youth to the core. He hasn't been quite as productive on the PGA Tour as McIlroy, but the Oklahoma State alum is coming on quickly.
He recently won the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., for his first career PGA Tour victory.
And make no mistake about it, he was the 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. He followed that up by battling hard at Royal St. George's before finishing fifth in the British Open in 2011.
Like McIlroy, he is long off the tee and can scramble like a madman. He simply needs to become more consistent. When he does, he'll not only be the most popular player in golf, but one of the best.
Bubba Watson—Age: 33; Country: United States; World Ranking: 5
If you think Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler are long hitters with great scrambling ability, check out Bubba Watson, who rode those two qualities to his first major victory at The Masters this past April.
His victory was one of the most celebrated major victories in quite some time, partially because everyone loves Bubba. What Bubba has on Fowler and McIlroy in age he makes up for with a pink driver (what man would ever do that?) and an honest demeanor that causes people to flock toward Bubba.
He took some wrath from the media for skipping out on this year's Players Championship to spend time with his wife and their infant son. But that very quality is what makes Bubba so beloved by his fans. It's not all about golf.
He doesn't even use video to break down his swing or other traditional methods of player evaluation in today's game. Instead he's just a regular Joe who happens to play golf really well.
Dustin Johnson—Age: 27; Country: United States; World Ranking: 10
The three players above are all long hitters. They use great skill and fluid mechanics to hit the ball far and accurately. Then there's Dustin Johnson, who just rips the ball with brute strength.
You've likely seen the PGA Tour's commercial entitled "These Guys are Good," where Johnson is shown dunking a basketball, swimming and exhibiting other athletic traits you normally don't see from golfers.
That's what makes Johnson special. He's young and freakishly athletic.
And his win on Sunday in Memphis at the FedEx St. Jude Classic was a necessary step in regaining his confidence and feel for the game. And it got him back into the top 10 of the world golf rankings.
Matt Kuchar—Age: 33; Country: United States; World Ranking: 6
If I included Bubba Watson, I had to include Matt Kuchar. No, Kuchar doesn't possess the same kind of youthful enthusiasm of Watson or the other three above him on this list, but he possesses an intriguing golf game.
Kuchar was the rightful winner of this year's Players Championship (known to some as the "fifth major"). That win catapulted his image among world golf fans.
Kuchar is a more consistent version of the above players. He doesn't necessarily hit the ball as far, but he does everything well enough to hang around in each tournament.
His smile is infectious and his composure as calm as a lake in winter. That is who Matt Kuchar is. In some ways, he contradicts all the traits of the other young studs in this group.
But he embodies them in that he is a rising star—one of golf's elite. And he's going to be around for quite awhile.
Jason Dufner—Age: 35; Country: United States; World Ranking: 9
Though 35 years old, Dufner is young in terms of his PGA experience. He has only been one of the upper-echelon players on the tour for a couple of years.
In that short time he has genuinely become one of the best players. His play has been more impressive than Luke Donald's or Tiger Woods' over the past couple seasons.
All he really needs now is a major to his name.
Keegan Bradley—Age: 26; Country: United States; World Ranking: 24
At just barely 26 years of age (his birthday was June 7), Keegan Bradley already has more career major wins than Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Justin Rose.
All three are ranked in the top 10 of the world golf rankings. Bradley's career projects to be a very promising one. The St. John's product was a great college player and figures to become a great professional as well.
Justin Rose—Age: 31; Country: South Africa/England; World Ranking: 7
Justin Rose was once an international prodigy. Now he's just one of the guys.
Yet he remains the No. 7 player in the world and is fully capable of putting it all together for one weekend to capture a major title.
He hasn't done it yet, but he possesses many of the same qualities as the other players on this list.
For that reason, he and they give golf fans much to look forward to in the coming years.