Young talent more ready than ever to win right away

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2015, 11:17 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – As Jay Seawell gazed down the picturesque range at Sea Island Resort on Tuesday, he could have easily mistaken the occasion for hundreds of similar meetings back home in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

In order, Justin Thomas, Trey Mullinax, Bobby Wyatt and Dru Love were warming up – just like they did in the old days when all four would get ready for one of the ubiquitous qualifying rounds at the University of Alabama.

“I’m sitting on the range today and there’s Bobby and Trey and Justin and Dru, and I’m thinking these guys qualified against each other every day,” said Seawell, Alabama’s head golf coach turned caddie this week at Sea Island Resort. “You do that every day, all the time, that’s how you get better.”

The only difference was that instead of playing for a spot in Alabama’s lineup, the foursome were preparing to play for a $1 million winner’s paycheck at the RSM Classic, and if recent history is any indication, it isn’t as farfetched as it may have once seemed.

Although trends come and go on the PGA Tour, a move to a younger demographic appears to be the new norm with victories already this season by Emiliano Grillo (23 years old), Smylie Kaufman (23 years old) and Thomas (22 years old).


The RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos


The common thread between those champions, other than their age relative to the rest of the Tour, is that just two years ago Kaufman and Thomas were playing for pride in college, and yet have made the transition to playing for purses as a professional appear easier than one would have thought.

Last year as a rookie on Tour, Thomas narrowly missed advancing to the Tour Championship and Kaufman cruised through his first year as a professional on the Web.com Tour and finished 10th in his first start as a Tour member at the Frys.com Open last month.

There is no shortage of reasons behind the dramatically reduced learning curve for Tour newcomers.

“The way they set up the courses [at college events] it teaches us that you have to be a little more on your game,” Thomas said. “Before, 10, 15 years ago the courses weren’t set up as difficult as they are now, so we come out here it’s a little more comparable to what we play.”

There’s also something to be said for better practice facilities for players at most colleges that helps speed the developmental process, but the biggest difference between today’s freshly minted pro is the level of competition they’ve already faced.

“The competition in college is so good,” Thomas said. “There’s just no fear. Particularly now, guys are seeing players like Jordan [Spieth] and myself playing well who are close to their age and they are like, why can’t I do that?”

Seawell, who is serving as Mullinax’s caddie this week, said he began to see the transition when Rickie Fowler joined the Tour in 2010.

Players like Bud Cauley who had competed, and beaten, Fowler in college and at amateur events were drawn to the unavoidable conclusion that perhaps the next level wasn’t that far away.

“Rickie Fowler was probably the era were you started to see young guys after young guys start to play at a high level,” Seawell said. “When Rickie did it that’s when it seemed to get Bud [Cauley]. I know when Rickie turned pro and had some success what impact that had on Bud.”

Similarly, when Spieth joined the Tour in 2013 and won the John Deere Classic, Thomas couldn’t resist bolting Alabama early for his turn.

“It was totally Jordan,” Seawell laughed. “[Thomas] saw what Jordan did and it made him itch. Justin is thinking I can do that, I competed against him.”

Thomas has now become a part of that domino effect, inspiring players like Love, who was a freshman at Alabama when Thomas played his last year in Tuscaloosa, to aim higher.

Until 30-year-old Russell Knox won the WGC-HSBC Champions earlier this month, the previous four Tour events had been won by players 23 or younger, and there is no shortage of fellow 20somethings – like Patton Kizzire, who finished T-2 and T-4 in his first two starts as a rookie – looking to continue the trend.

“The young guys have one thing over the older guys, they have enthusiasm. That’s what the younger guys have to learn is to continue to have that enthusiasm,” Seawell said. “They come in with this great energy.”

Whatever the reasons, players now reach the Tour with a drastically increased ability to compete at the highest level that wasn’t there just a decade ago.

“I didn’t know what I was doing when I came out on Tour,” said Davis Love III, this week’s host at Sea Island Resort. “I watched [Sea Island director of fitness] Randy Myers a few weeks ago and he had two brothers, think they were 11 and 9, in the gym working out. They’ve already figured it out by the time they reach high school.”

If the current trend is any indication, by the time the modern college player reaches the Tour they are ready to make their own mark.

Getty Images

Watch: Daly makes birdie from 18-foot-deep bunker

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 11:14 pm

John Daly on Friday somehow got up and down for birdie from the deepest bunker on the PGA Tour.

The sand to the left of the green on the 16th hole at the Stadium Course at PGA West sits 18 feet below the surface of the green.

That proved no problem for Daly, who cleared the lip three times taller than he is and then rolled in a 26-footer.

He fared just slightly better than former Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill.

Getty Images

Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

Getty Images

Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “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.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.