Young and restless
A new crop of 20-somethings on the PGA Tour aren't waiting for wins
Instead of “These Guys Are Good,” the PGA Tour should change its marketing slogan to “And a Child Shall Lead Them.”
Or simply: “These Young Guys are Good. Really Good!”
Now that the Tiger Woods Era appears to be over, who better to pick up the slack than the current 20-something stars in professional golf? It’s likely we’ll never see another player dominate the way Woods did in his 20s – with 46 of his 79 tour victories coming before he turned 30 – but there certainly is more quality depth now among the young guns in their white belts.
And we’re not limiting our discussion to the top three winners in their 20s: Jason Day, 29, 10 wins and one major; Rory McIlroy, 27, 13 wins and three majors; and Jordan Spieth, 23, eight wins and two majors. They’re the marquee names among the freshest faces on tour but there are plenty of other young players on the way to making names for themselves. A select sampling:
Hideki Matsuyama, 25: All he did in the recent span of less than four months is win five tournaments – two in his native Japan, one in China, Tiger’s event in the Bahamas and the Phoenix Open last month – to vault to the top of the FedEx Cup standings and No. 5 in the world rankings. Many inside and outside the ropes expect him to win a major soon.
Justin Thomas, 23: After leaving Alabama early to turn pro, Thomas recorded tour wins at the Malaysian CIMB Classic in 2015 and 2016 and this year already has won the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua and the Sony Open of Hawaii, the latter highlighted by an opening-round 59. He also moved up to No. 8 in the world rankings.
Patrick Reed, 26: He raised eyebrows a couple of years ago when he said he considered himself a “top five” player but he won his first four PGA Tour events by age 24. Now Reed is a five-time winner, a Ryder Cup legend and ranked No. 9 in the world. Maybe there’s a Masters in the near future for the former Augusta State star.
Rickie Fowler, 28: Let’s not forget the colorful Fowler, who was born in Anaheim and grew up in Murrieta. Ranked 14th in the world, he has four PGA Tour victories and one in Europe, racked up $24 million in prize money and already has played on three Ryder Cup teams. Not bad for a tour pro once labeled “most overrated” by anonymous (and gutless) tour colleagues.
Jon Rahm, 22: One of three former No. 1-ranked amateurs on the leaderboard during the recent Farmers Insurance Open, Rahm broke through for his first PGA Tour victory by playing the final six holes at Torrey Pines in 5-under par, including a clinching 60-foot eagle putt on the 72nd hole. A native of Spain, Rahm won the Ben Hogan Award twice while at Arizona State and topped the world amateur list when he turned pro. Patrick Rodgers, 24, from Stanford and C.T. Pan, 25, from Washington were the other former college No. 1s who challenged Rahm at Torrey Pines.
Patrick Cantlay, 24: A former high school star at Anaheim Servite and NCAA Player of the Year as a freshman at UCLA, Cantlay was considered a can’t-miss pro until being derailed by a back injury in May 2013. Earlier that year, he tied for ninth at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and won the Web.com Tour’s Colombia Championship two weeks shy of his 21st birthday. Because of a slow-healing stress fracture, he didn’t play on tour from November 2014 until his return last month at Pebble Beach, where he shot rounds of 70-71-71-72 to tie for 48th.