Top five Americans under the age of 25

By Rex HoggardNovember 21, 2013, 1:21 am

Be it the inherent dangers of unrealistic expectations, the misguided failings of the American college system or the traditionally languid pace of player development from potential to bona fide player, the emergence of a true American prospect has been largely an exercise in diminishing returns in recent years.

Dustin Johnson has victories in his first seven years on the PGA Tour and a collection of major near-misses, but at 29 the bomber has moved beyond the “project” phase of his career and firmly into the circuit’s established core.

The same could be said for Brandt Snedeker, 33; Keegan Bradley, 27; Webb Simpson, 28; Bill Haas, 31; and Hunter Mahan, 31; to name a few.

But thanks to Jordan Spieth’s historic zero-to-60 run into the big leagues and Peter Uihlein’s trailblazing season on the European Tour, not to mention Harris English’s second Tour tilt last week in Mexico, the landscape now includes a growing collection of accomplished American’s who are under 25.

Talent spotting is more art than science and the mini-tours are littered with can’t-miss kids who did, but with so much potential perched on the doorstep to stardom your scribe polled a collection of industry insiders to create a “top 5 under 25” list of American talent.

In no particular order (while most observers agreed on the primary candidates, building a consensus as to how they compare to each other is as byzantine as the Country Music Awards), here is a look at the U.S.A.’s best and brightest:

Spieth. His only misstep in 2013 was skipping the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, an understandable omission and proof no one is perfect.

The 20-year-old played his way onto the Tour with top-10 finishes in Puerto Rico and Tampa, went 1-for-2 in playoffs to win the John Deere Classic and finish runner-up at the Wyndham Championship and became the first player since Tiger Woods in 1997 to play his way into the Tour Championship.

U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples’ decision to make Spieth a pick for this year’s matches spoke volumes – 2013’s runaway Rookie of the Year is as good as advertised.

“I have confidence in myself and my support team definitely believed in me to get the job done,” Spieth said in September. “Just the way the year ran the way it happened, I feel very fortunate, very blessed. A lot of luck involved.”

Uihlein. Although not nearly as well-documented in the United States as Spieth’s climb, the 24-year-old won the Madeira Island Open on the European Tour and was 14th on the final Race to Dubai list.

At 64th in the World Golf Ranking it’s likely U.S. audiences will see more of Uihlein in 2014 as he brings a surprisingly complete game back across the pond.

Rickie Fowler. Critics will point to the 24-year-old’s single Tour victory (2012 Wells Fargo Championship) as a reason to exclude him from this list, but such are the pitfalls of runaway expectations and early success.

At 40th in the world Fowler is the second-highest ranked player on this list, behind Spieth at No. 21, and despite his relatively lonely trophy case he’s proven himself surprisingly consistent over his short career.

He has the same number of career top-10 finishes as he does missed cuts (23) and earlier this month he finished runner-up to Adam Scott at the Australian PGA Championship to cap his season.

English. The 24-year-old won with the savvy of a veteran on Sunday at the OHL Classic, lapping the field by four strokes, and has quietly emerged as one of the Tour’s hidden gems.

In two-plus years on Tour he’s played 57 events, missed just 10 cuts and narrowly failed to advance to East Lake when he finished 31st on this year’s FedEx Cup points list.

“I guess it started when I was younger about being calm on the golf course. I used to get pretty mad when I was younger, and my mom used to get onto me how I need to stay calm and act like she doesn't know if I'm shooting 85 or 65,” English said on Sunday. “I've watched guys like Freddy Couples, Davis Love, Phil Mickelson, all these guys growing up, how they acted on the golf course.”

The final spot on our “top 5 under 25” list was not as clear as the first four.

“I’m lost for a fifth,” said one insider when polled. “(Russell) Henley is too slow, (Patrick) Cantlay too young, (Bud) Cauley too short, (Jamie) Lovemark too hurt.”

John Peterson. Although there were plenty of candidates for the final spot, the 24-year-old ultimately separated himself with a torrid finish to his 2013 campaign on the Tour.

In his last five events, Peterson didn’t finish outside the top 5 and was runner-up at the finale at TPC Sawgrass to wrest the Finals Series money title from Seung-Yul Noh and secure full status for the 2013-14 Tour season. Peterson has a refreshingly complete game, finishing 2013 first in greens in regulation, scoring, ballstriking and 39th in ballstriking on the secondary tour.

As is normally the case, someone will consider their absence from this list a slight, which demands an honorable mention section. Tour rookie Hudson Swafford highlights that list, followed by Cauley, Cantlay, Brooks Koepka, Luke Guthrie, Morgan Hoffman, Andrew Loupe and Andrew Putnam.

Of course, the fact that America finally has a collection of young talent with enough tools to be considered potential stars is a testament to golf in the Lower 48, which has curiously been criticized in recent decades for not producing the “next Tiger Woods.”

As unrealistic as that title is, only time will tell if any of the post-1988 crew climb that high, but it’s nice to be able to have the conversation.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''

Bubba (64) fires his lowest round of 2017

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:12 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bubba Watson’s plan when he left the Dell Technologies Championship in September was to take a few months off and come back fresh in 2018

Those plans changed after a few weeks.

“What we figured out was the mental side, preparing for kindergarten - not for me, for my son - preparing for [wife] Angie's knee surgery. It's been a tough go,” Watson said.

“Being home and being with the family and everything, I realized how much I missed the game of golf, and that's why I wanted to come and play in these tournaments.”

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

The plan has paid off this week at the RSM Classic, where Watson is tied for 12th place after a second-round 64 on the Seaside course moved him to 7 under par.

Watson, who tied for 51st two weeks ago in Las Vegas, got off to a quick start on Day 2, playing the opening nine in 29. Despite a miscue at the 14th hole, when his tee shot wedged into a tree, he was solid coming in for his best individual round this year.

The left-hander was particularly sharp with his ball-striking after what has been a difficult year.

“I want to play golf now and right now I'm swinging at it pretty nicely,” he said.