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.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.