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What's Behind the PGA Tour's Youth Movement?

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What's Behind the PGA Tour's Youth Movement?
Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
Rusell Henley is the latest of golf's young guns to win.

It seems to me we're on the precipice of golf's latest new age.

Such a thing happens in all sports as the passage of time makes it necessary for one generation of stars to slide gracefully from the spotlight to allow room for the new stars to move in.

Arnold Palmer and Gary Player did it so players like Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson could take their place at the top of the game. Greg Norman and Johnny Miller made room for Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

And it surely looks as though that's where we are now.

Have you looked at the top 20 on the PGA Tour money list recently? Nine of those fall into the young guy/rising star categories. You know all the names, here's where they rank going into this weekend's World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship:

Are any of golf's young guns good enough to win a major in 2014?

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Dustin Johnson (2), Harris English (3), Webb Simpson (5), Chris Kirk (7), Jason Day (8), Jordan Spieth (11), Patrick Reed (12), Graham DeLaet (13), Russell Henley (16).

There is just one among them over 30 years old, Graham DeLaet being 32. But he's definitely a late-bloomer and his experience on golf's biggest stages is probably equal or less than the 20-something crowd.

Those, however, are just the guys in the top 20. We can't leave out players like Victor Dubuisson, and Rickie Fowler. Or Rory McIlroy, a former No. 1 in the world, or Hideki Matsuyama, the young Japanese star.

When a new group "makes it" on the PGA Tour, very few of them actually really make it. Tiger Woods tore up the PGA in 1997, his first full year as a professional. Sergio Garcia joined the tour in 1999 and dueled Woods at the PGA Championship that year, sparking great hope that he and Woods would be golf's next great rivalry.

It didn't turn out that way. Garcia couldn't take the heat Woods was creating and the Spaniard has won just 26 times worldwide. Woods dominated the game for a dozen years like no one ever has and earned 106 victories worldwide.

But Woods' body is slowly but surely giving way, making his future an iffy one. Mickelson has struggled with physical issues the last few years and who knows how long the big left-hander will be able to be successful at the highest level. And yes, both of those players had great years in 2013.

Is it possible that one of the young guys might turn out to dominate the game the way Woods has? Certainly. But one of the things working against that possibility is that these young players form such a sizable group, that there will be lots of winners and for one player to win a bunch is going to be tough.

That's one of the reasons Woods' chase of Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors was going to be difficult even if he was healthy. The depth on the PGA Tour is so much stronger than it was when Woods' career began.

What's interesting is what seems to be a common thread between the nine youngsters in the top 20 of the money list. Eight of those played college golf at some level for varying lengths of time. That doesn't seem to be a coincidence in my mind.

Learning to win at a higher level and maturing both as a person and player seems to be the way to go. Nearly every professional golf on the PGA Tour has had success as an amateur, that's a given. But this group certainly is a great endorsement for that college experience.

The lone exception in the group is Jason Day, who grew up in Australia and did attend the Hills International College for a time, but it wasn't a traditional American college or university. The school had a golf academy there and Day obviously learned plenty there.

Maybe the college experience thing is just a coincidence and maybe it's because this group is just very talented and have caught onto all the nuances of the game at a very young age.

It's hard to argue how much talent is out there when you watch Day and Dubuisson put on the show they did at the WGC-Accenture Match Play or watch Jordan Spieth do what he did in 2013 as a no-status player at the beginning of the year.

The bottom line is these guys are good. And they're established good at young ages.

Will they go on to be great? That's where the enjoyment comes in for the golf world, watching and waiting to see how the next 20 years will treat these young stars.

 

 

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