The Top 10 Golfers in the World Under 30 Years Old
Looking at the best golfers in the world, a large swath tend to be in their 20s. That’s the physical prime and, more often than not, a confidence prime based on youth and relative naivete.
They grew up watching Tiger Woods in his prime and missed the Richter-scale shaking nature of the Woods-induced fear he imparted on the PGA at large.
The players on this list account for eight majors over the past few years, and that doesn’t include the handful of wins at the Players Championship, the unofficial fifth major.
Many of these young men have already made a splash and will continue to do so. Some are locked and loaded, while others may need another year or two.
So these are, for now, the best players aged under 30 on the PGA Tour.
No. 10: Billy Horschel
FedEx Cup Ranking: 70th
Official World Golf Ranking: 61st
PGA Tour Wins: Three
Billy Horschel, the 2014 FedEx Cup champ, has a few more months of his 20s to improve his ranking.
Ever since that breakout 2014 season where he won the FedEx Cup by finishing second, first and first to close out the $10 million, Horschel has been a toothless gator: all snap and no bite.
He hasn’t won since the 2014 Tour Championship, and when things go poorly, immovable structures suddenly become movable, and you pay for it as he did at the Players Championship in May. Horschel moved a bicycle fence and subsequently built Frosty the Snowman.
“It was my own fault,” said Horschel, per Will Gray of the Golf Channel. “...I didn’t think it was an immovable obstruction because it looked pretty movable to me.”
Horschel isn’t the same player he was in 2014 and maybe that’s pressure or injuries, but perhaps with some practice he can make the top-10 list of players under 40.
No. 9: Victor Dubuisson
FedEx Cup Ranking: N/A
PGA Tour Wins: Two*
Victor Dubuisson doesn’t stand out in stark relief from many golfers on either tour, but he’s young and capable.
With two European Tour wins, the Frenchman has proved he can close out tournaments.
In 2016, his numbers fell off dramatically from the previous two years. He lost 13 yards off his drives, gained three strokes on average, lost six percentage points of driving accuracy and lost seven points off his greens in regulation.
That’s a slump if there ever was one, but he’s still young and with two wins, he can find ways to turn around his performances on the European Tour and the Ryder Cup if he makes the team again.
*European Tour wins
No. 8: Brooks Koepka
FedEx Cup Ranking: 21st
PGA Tour Wins: One
Brooks Koepka is rounding into form as a player, and 2016 has seen him finish with two seconds and a third.
He’s a bomber off the tee and a solid putter, so his game is calcifying. He’ll be a strong contender and maybe the second-best U.S. golfer behind Jordan Spieth in a few seasons.
No. 7: Hideki Matsuyama
FedEx Cup Ranking: 16th
PGA Tour Wins: One
For a few years now we’ve been waiting for the big break of Hideki Matsuyama. He has the one win, six top fives and 20 top 10s, but he hasn’t had that explosive stretch that we’ve seen from other golfers on this list. Maybe this is the year.
He tied for sixth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and tied for seventh at the Masters and the Players.
On the prospect of Matsuyama winning at Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta National and Masters chairman Billy Payne said, per Augusta.com:
Oh, it would be good. It would be a real celebration.
And while you’re right, we obviously don’t play favorites, we have all talked about it, how long is it going to take.
We had Hideki Matsuyama emerge so quickly as a great player, and we’re going to have others. So it’s going to be a very special day, very special day.
Matusyama has cooled of late (two missed cuts and a T42), but if he comes around to that early-season form, he could pair together a few wins and ascend lists like this one.
No. 6: Patrick Reed
FedEx Cup Ranking: Eighth
PGA Tour Wins: Four
Patrick Reed is a gamer and a finisher. You don’t earn four wins by the age of 24 without a certain uncoachable killer instinct.
Despite those four wins, the Texan manages to put too much pressure on himself to win majors. Maybe he’s trying to shoulder Spieth out of the spotlight. Whatever Reed's strategy, it’s not working yet.
This year he has two seconds, but when it comes to the big tournaments, he hasn’t come to play. He finished in a tie for 49th at the Masters and missed the cut at the Players and the U.S. Open.
The talent is there and so too is the fire, maybe too much fire.
No. 5: Danny Willett
FedEx Cup Ranking: 55th
PGA Tour Wins: One
The Brit has one career PGA Tour win and the most coveted win in all of golf: the Masters.
Danny Willett’s riding high, all the way up ninth in the Official World Golf Rankings.
Dating back to the 2015-2016 wrap season, he finished with two T3s in WGC events. Couple that with a win in the Masters and Willett’s proving to be a big-game hunter in these tournaments.
“That’s why you put in the endless hours chipping, putting, hitting shots, imagining hitting shots at certain courses at certain times,” he said, per John Huggan of Golf Digest. “And fortunately I was able to relive some of them dreams and some of them practice sessions.”
Willett spends most of his time playing in Europe, but that could all change with his continued improvement in the States.
No. 4: Rickie Fowler
FedEx Cup Ranking: 27th
PGA Tour Wins: Three
When will Rickie Fowler have that Spieth-ian season? A Rory McIlroy-ian summer?
After that memorable 2014 year where Fowler finished top five in all four majors, it felt like it was a sooner-rather-than-later prospect.
He won two events in 2015, but he hasn’t had a tight control of the golf ball this year. Not yet anyway.
Per Steve DiMeglio of USA Today, Fowler said:
[I] cleaned a few things up. All of it is just fundamentals, from setup and getting the ball just to start on the line that we’re actually looking at and having the flight that we want. One of the main things was my body wasn’t rotating or continuing to rotate through the ball, but also some of that was caused by not being in the proper position at the top.
Fowler went on to say that his errant game off the tee was made all the more troubling by his inability to scramble and sink challenging putts. Hence the missed cuts.
“It’s a fine line as everyone knows out here, between having a chance to be in contention come Sunday to packing your bags and going home early,” he added.
No. 3: Rory McIlroy
FedEx Cup Ranking: 36th
PGA Tour Wins: 10
Rory McIlroy had a banner year in the majors in 2014 when he won The Open and PGA Championship.
He snagged a T10 at the Masters in 2016 and missed the cut at the U.S. Open, so now his focus turns to the last two majors he conquered.
“I'm going to be working every day to try and get better," McIlroy told Sky Sports. "I'll be playing a bit of links golf and work on the shots that I need for Troon as well, so I'm confident with where I'm at.
"I haven't played Troon and I'm going to go over this week for a couple of days to sort of figure it out, to see what I need to do there.”
With four career majors and 11 career wins to date on the PGA Tour, he could claim four more majors and 10 more wins by the time he turns 30 and surge right into the conversation of one of the best players of all time.
McIlroy still has a way to go before he enters that debate, but he’s on course while Day and Spieth steal the current headlines.
No. 2: Jordan Spieth
FedEx Cup Ranking: Fourth
PGA Tour Wins: Three
Jordan Spieth turns 23 at the end of the month, and what has he even done to deserve such a high placing on this list?
The year 2015 was a most memorable season for Spieth by winning the Masters, U.S. Open and the FedEx Cup. Here’s the thing: He may never have a season as good as he did in 2015, and that’s fine. Only golfers such as Woods and, um, Woods, put together multiple years of transcendent dominance like that.
Spieth is the type of golfer who will probably win 1.5 majors every two-three years for the next 10-15 years of his career.
The question becomes: Who will have more majors by the time Spieth retires, Woods or Spieth?
In any case, at this moment, Spieth isn’t quite the best golfer under 30, but we’re splitting serious hairs at this point.
Per Dave Shedloski of Golf Digest, Spieth said:
It's the same feeling I had the last round or so at the U.S. Open and in practice last week, and I've really been searching. You know, this is kind of a phase that I feel like everyone goes through. Not specifically this, but everyone goes through a little phase, a down phase in ball-striking where you're just trying to find something that frees you up to swing through the ball.
No. 1: Jason Day
FedEx Cup Ranking: Second
PGA Tour Wins: 10
Jason Day, a future Hall of Famer, has been a rolling ball of fire in 2016, despite dropping four shots on the final four holes of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational thus giving Dustin Johnson another snazzy trophy.
"I'm disappointed, but I've got to try and focus on what I did great this week, move on, and try and get better for the British Open," said Day, per the Australian Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "I feel like my game is coming around nicely.”
Who would bet against Day at The Open?
This season has been truly special: three wins and eight top 10s (five in WGC or major tournaments).
Dustin Johnson (north of 30) may be the hottest golfer on the planet right now, but Day is still the best in the world and certainly the best under 30.