In the tense moments following the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s five-point loss last fall in Scotland, Phil Mickelson made a telling observation.
No, it wasn’t that 500-pound elephant regarding Tom Watson’s leadership style that should cause American golf fans to sit up and take notice, it was a much more subtle observation.
“The youthful energy that Jordan Spieth brought this week, that Patrick Reed brought, they are the ones that kept us in it. ... They are just brilliant players,” Mickelson said at Gleneagles.
Lefty didn’t mention Jimmy Walker, but it was only out of semantics. At 35 years old, Walker defied the traditional definition of a Ryder Cup rookie, but given the state of golf in the New World the journeyman is a welcome exception to a growing trend.
With just four Americans currently ranked in the top 10 and perennial pace setters Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson struggling, it’s a telling headline that two of those American outliers – Reed and Walker – ended up going head to head in primetime on Monday at the year-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions, with Reed coming from behind to force and then win a playoff.
Walker appeared to be heading for his fourth PGA Tour victory in the last 16 months when he went two shots clear of the field at the turn, but Reed chipped away, first with a birdie at the 15th hole, and then with a wedge shot from 83 yards at the 16th hole that bounced once, spun and dropped into the hole for an eagle.
Reed may still not technically be a “top-five player,” although his victory at Kapalua will propel him into the top 15, but the Texan, along with Walker and Spieth, are emerging as America’s best options for future international matches.
“The confidence level is really high and I continue working on my game. Everybody gets on a hot streak, the main thing is to stay consistent and keep moving forward,” Reed said following a closing 67.
At 24-years-old, Reed became just the fourth player, along with Woods, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, to win his fourth Tour title before turning 25.
That it came in a mano-a-mano duel with Walker was apropos for an American side still stinging from last year’s loss. As bad as Gleneagles was for the U.S. team, Watson’s three rookies continue to be a source of optimism.
“Jimmy was so jacked up to play in it (the Ryder Cup),” Walker’s swing coach Butch Harmon said on Monday. “He played so well there and he and Rickie were such a great team together. He said I want to be on this team and the Presidents Cup every year.”
All three of last year’s rookies are currently inside the top 10 for this year’s Presidents Cup team and in the last two months Spieth has won two high-profile events - the Australian Open and Hero World Challenge - while Reed and Walker put on a show in Hawaii to kick off 2015.
“I just stayed patient and tried not to get ahead of myself,” Reed said following his birdie at the first extra hole.
Good advice for an up-and-coming Tour star, as well as U.S. golf fans.