Vijay Singh has won 22 PGA Tour events, including a major championship, after the age of 40. He’s won three tournaments, including a World Golf Championship, after the age of 45.
Kenny Perry has won 17 events after 40, was a member of the 2008 American Ryder Cup team at 48, and came within a hair of winning the 2009 Masters at 49.
Tom Watson nearly won his sixth career British Open last year at 59, and at 60, was leading the 2010 Masters after the first round.
Phil Mickelson won the 2010 Masters, and now appears to be playing some of the best golf of his career at the age of 40 (he turns 40 in three weeks).
It’s no secret that the careers of modern day golfers are lasting significantly longer today than in previous generations.
It’s also no secret that the "old folks" are benefiting from things like technology, equipment, and weight training programs.
But what about the young guys?
Has anyone stopped to ask why we are seeing a slew of teenagers not only competing in, but winning professional golf events?
Never in the game’s history have we seen so many young players competing at such a high level.
Why is that?
Well, a lot of the technological advancements that have allowed the older folks to extend their careers, are also allowing the young bucks to start their professional careers earlier.
Here are a few of the reasons why we have, and will continue to see, players of a young age making their mark on professional golf.
Forty years ago, you had to be fairly strong guy to wield a wooden driver, and generate enough club head speed to compete on the PGA Tour. Four decades ago, you also had to be a superb ball striker just to find the fairway with those minuscule wooden things they used to tee off with, all the while worrying about your shot shape.
Drivers that used to be the size of a newborn’s first, and weighing as much as a sledgehammer, are now the size of hardcover text books, and as light as a bamboo shoot. As a result, teenagers are able to generate more club head speed than ever before, which in turn is allowing 16-year-old kids to hit the ball 285 yards.
Sure, a 16-year-old kid may not be hitting the ball as long as J.B. Holmes or Mickelson. But a 16-year-old kid is still growing, and has yet to even fill out.
In essence, equipment has allowed these kids to hit the ball at a distance adequate enough to compete in pro golf.
As a youngster growing up in Ohio, Jack Nicklaus used to play 36 and even 54 holes of golf in a single day during the summer months.
In college, Nicklaus was still committed to the game, but he was also committed to kegs of beer, hot dogs, and pizza pies—which led to the nickname Blobbo when he first emerged on the professional golf scene in 1958.
In the 1970s and 80s, most kids interested in golf learned the game in a way similar to Nicklaus. They played golf, and when they got sick of it, they played some more.
Today, kids are not only putting in the same hours as players in previous generations, but they are also incorporating strength training into their schedules.
It’s not uncommon for high school golfers today to hit the gym for an hour and a half before school, and then spend four hours on the golf course after school.
By the time a 16-year-old who is given a sponsor’s exemption to a PGA Tour event, he has probably played in hundreds of junior events around the country, been undertaking a PGA Tour-style workout program for the past three years, and probably been practicing as much, if not more, than many touring professionals.
Having swing issues?
Coaches today can digitally record a few swings, review them in super slow motion on a high definition television, and figure out the problem in a matter of minutes.
Therefore, not only are kids today being taught the same fundamentals of the game, but their swing faults are now being be identified and corrected at an extremely young age.
A 14-year-old child prodigy who develops a snap hook two days prior to the U.S. Junior Amateur can visit a golf coach who will record his swing, identify the problem, and correct it—all during a 30 minute lesson.
An argument can certainly be made that young golfers today are trying too hard to mold their swings into what their instructors considered to be the perfect golf swing.
All golf swings have minor idiosyncrasies, and by attempting to eradicate these idiosyncrasies all together, young golfers often remove an important level of comfort in their golf swing.
But, that argument aside, video technology has allowed instructors today the ability to identify, and correct fundamental swing problems quicker than ever before.
Golf Has Become Cool
Fifteen years ago, the high school golf team was a minor step above the debate team in the hierarchy of high school coolness—that was, until Tiger Woods showed up in 1997, and changed the game forever.
Woods brought cool to the game of golf, not to mention fame, fortune, and notoriety.
Those high school golfers that used to get thrown into lockers by the jocks while walking down the hallway, now had their classmates looking on in awe at the way they hit a golf ball and wondering if this “nerd” was going to become a multi-millionaire with fast cars, a massive beach house, and a gorgeous wife in just a few short years.
Kids used to find it baffling how their father could watch old, overweight men hit a little white ball around for four hours every Sunday. Those same kids now found themselves sitting in front of the television watching guys such as Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas, walk around with flashy clothes, and first-pump their way to million-dollar paydays in front of adoring galleries.
Junior Golf Tours
By the time a 17-year-old golfer turns pro, he will have likely been playing on a world golf tour for years—it just wasn’t called the PGA Tour or the European Tour.
Massive junior golf tournaments take place throughout the world all year long, and by the time a junior golfer reaches high school, he will have already learned how to travel, how to quickly adjust to new golf courses, and how to handle late round pressure.
In terms of competition, the step from amateur to professional golf is obviously a massive one.
But, in terms of learning how to live life out of a suitcase, these kids are more-or-less seasoned veterans by the time they turn pro.
There is a tremendous amount of golf on TV and the Internet today. With the Golf Channel, kids can watch and listen to hours upon hour of in-depth analysis and interviews with the game’s biggest stars.
Through the Golf Channel and extensive weekend television coverage, junior golfers have the opportunity to listen to expert opinions on how holes or shots should be played, why some players falter down the stretch on Sunday, while others thrive, etc.
Modern day television has made a lot of people a lot more knowledgeable about many subjects, including golf.
Up until the past few years, much of the world had experienced an unprecedented financial boom.
Europeans, Australians, and Asians, etc., have all become a lot wealthier over the past 15-20 years, which in turn, is opening up the game of golf to more people than ever.
Recent estimates have shown that if even one percent of China’s population takes up golf over the next decade (which is expected), China will require more than 1,700 new courses just to meet demand for the game.
In many countries outside of the U.S., golf is also a lot more affordable. Greens fees and membership dues in places like Australia, South Africa, etc., are often a fraction of the cost as we see here in America.
Many countries also offer outstanding instruction to their top-ranked junior golfers free of charge through government sponsored programs.
For example, the Australian government offers a program called High Performance, which is overseen by the Sports Commission. This program provides young golfers (no matter what economic class they come from), with the financial and coaching support they need to be successful.
This is part of the reason why we are seeing more and more of the top young players come from outside of the U.S., and this will undoubtedly continue in the foreseeable future.
Although golf’s growth has remained stagnant in the U.S. for years now, it’s booming in many other parts of the world, which is why we will continue to see outstanding young international players popping up on golf biggest stages over the next decade.
For more PGA Tour news, insight and analysis, check out The Tour Report.