Why are players getting better at an earlier age?

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 5, 2012, 5:50 pm

Tianlang Guan, a 14-year-old from China, will compete in the 2013 Masters thanks to his victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur. On the heels of a “Morning Drive” poll Monday, we asked GolfChannel.com writers: Why are players getting better at an earlier age?

By RANDALL MELL

Training.

Today’s young junior and amateurs are closet pros.

They train like pros now. They have swing coaches with high-tech swing analyzers and video equipment. They have trainers to condition their bodies. They have sports psychologists to condition their minds. Some of these kids have better teams than PGA Tour pros.

They travel junior and amateur circuits like little touring pros. Look at New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, who at 14 this year went halfway around the world to win the CN Canadian Women’s Open, becoming the youngest winner of an LPGA event. These gifted young juniors are traveling the planet seeking top competition.

While there are many factors in the rise of young stars, the fact that they’re approaching the game like professionals in every way but earning prize money is the largest factor in their increasing success.

By RYAN LAVNER

Let’s give some credit to the American Junior Golf Association.

Ever been to one of its tournaments? It’s practically a PGA Tour event, only with more parents and pimples. Volunteers on every hole. Leaderboards scattered throughout the course. Pace-of-play enforcers. These junior players undergo media training. They are required to write thank-you notes to sponsors after they sign scorecards. They compete at Innisbrook and Grayhawk and Mission Hills and Bay Hill. They play big-time golf, from ages 12-18.

Let’s give some credit to college golf programs.

Ever seen an elite team’s season schedule? It’s practically ripped off the Tour’s website. This season, defending NCAA champion Texas will play at Isleworth, Cypress Point, Redstone, Prairie Dunes and Capital City Club. Mini-tour grinders and Web.com regulars are worse off than today’s college players, one of the many reasons they largely opted to stay in school this year and not pursue Q-School.

Why are so many young players making a splash on the professional stage? Simple: They’re not intimidated, having already learned what to expect from an early age.

By REX HOGGARD

Coaching, be it from a “name” instructor with a PGA Tour pedigree or a club professional with a nurturing junior program, is the single most important factor behind the wave of teen sensations that are quickly becoming the norm at golf’s highest levels.

Fourteen-year-old Tianlang Guan’s victory at the Asia-Pacific Amateur on Sunday is just the most recent prodigy breakthrough, and his Masters invitation is sure to keep the industry buzzing throughout next spring. But the foundation for that triumph was set in motion years ago when he began honing an action that may not be powerful but was certainly consistent enough at Amata Springs Country Club in Thailand.

And we’ve seen this before.

At June’s U.S. Open Andy Zhang was the first Chinese 14-year-old to rattle the game’s foundation when he became the youngest participant in the national championship.

For Zhang his rise was a direct result of his parents' decision to stay in the United States after a trip to the U.S. Kids World Championship in 2008. At the time Zhang asked his parents to stay in America because he liked the golf courses, but it was his ability to receive regular expert instruction that lifted him to phenom status.

And why 14 is becoming the new 24 in golf.

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

Getty Images

Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

Getty Images

DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

Getty Images

LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.