Youthful pros continue to have success on Tour

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2014, 11:33 pm

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The comment doesn’t seem so absurd anymore.

Two amateurs named Harris English and John Peterson had just finished 1-2 at a then-Nationwide Tour in 2011 when Peterson, the NCAA champ, woofed:

“The top guys in college, the top 20 or 30 guys, can beat the top 20, 30 guys on the PGA Tour. Maybe with the exception of two or three guys who are constantly up there, those top 20 college guys will beat those top 20 or 30 PGA Tour guys, if given the opportunity. They just don’t have the opportunity.”

Was he overly giddy at the high finish? Of course. Was he young and brash? Sure.

But 2 1/2 years later, it’s clear that Peterson knew of the impending storm. English has two Tour wins in the past eight months, while Peterson finished T-4 at the 2012 U.S. Open, made the cut in the Masters, and blitzed through Tour Finals to secure his playing privileges this year.

That golf is in the midst of a youth movement is no new revelation, yet this season it is one of the earliest and most intriguing story lines. So far, five of the eight winners have been in their 20s. Last year, in 40 events, there were 14 20-something champions.

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Compare that to the past 10 years, and you can see where the game is headed. In 2009, in 46 events, there were only six wins by players in their 20s, including just two under 25. In 2004, in 48 events, there were just 10 20-something winners.

Last week, Patrick Reed, 23, started with three consecutive rounds of 63 to set the Tour scoring mark en route to his second win in his last nine starts. His decisive victory at the Humana moved Reed into elite company, joining Rory McIlroy, 24, and English, 24, as the only players under 25 with multiple Tour titles.

Of course, Reed’s peers knew of his talent. He was a two-time NCAA champion at Augusta State, where in back-to-back years he knocked off both Peter Uihlein and English in singles to earn the pivotal points for his team.

“Kids come out and they’re ready to win,” said two-time winner Jimmy Walker, who needed 188 starts to break through on the PGA Tour. “I don’t think I was as good as Jordan Spieth was. He’s 20. It takes longer (for some players).”

Not long ago, there was only one answer – Rory – to the question of the best player in the world under 30. Now there are myriad choices, from Spieth (20) to Hideki Matsuyama (21) to English (24) to Keegan Bradley (27) to Dustin Johnson (29, for a few more months at least). Twenty-somethings occupy eight spots in the world’s top 30, but there are dozens more uber-talented prospects in the pipeline.

“I think everybody is just feeding off each other,” said Russell Henley, 24. “Obviously it’s gotten way more competitive and more and more guys are playing out here. And it’s going to keep happening, too.”

So, what happened? 

Sure, equipment has helped narrow the playing field, shortening the gap between elite and very good. But college stars also play a demanding schedule against elite competition on tough tracks all season long, preparing them for the grind of tour life. What’s more, amateurs are being given more opportunities in pro events, which provide not only a chance to test their game but also their nerves.

Henley played in two U.S. Opens and a handful of Nationwide events while he was in college at Georgia. During his junior and senior years, he watched as Rickie Fowler splashed onto the scene at just 20 years old, nearly winning the 2009 Frys and, a year later, earning a spot on the Ryder Cup team.

When it came time for Henley to jump to the pros, he hardly seemed fazed – he won the Sony Open in his first start as a PGA Tour member.

“I think you’d be lying if you said it didn’t motivate you to see your friends playing really well,” Henley said. “It’s a great thing, though. It’s exciting for me to know that the same guys I’ve been playing in tournaments with forever are doing well. I know that I can do it again, too.”

Which brings us back to Peterson’s point. Finally given an opportunity, the 20-somethings are proving that, yes, they can beat the 20 or 30 best Tour players. And there are more on the way.

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Watch: Tiger's Saturday birdies at Honda

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 8:07 pm

Tiger Woods looks in complete control of his iron play at PGA National.

Four back to start the day, Woods parred his first seven holes before pouring in his first Saturday birdie with via this flagged iron from 139 at the par-4 eighth:

Woods' hit three more quality approaches at 9, 10 and 11 but couldn't get a putt to drop.

The lid finally came off the hole at No. 12 when he holed a key 17-footer for par to keep his scorecard clean.

One hole later, Woods would added a second circle to that card, converting this 14-footer for a birdie-3 that moved him back into red figures at 1 under par for the week.

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O. Fisher, Pepperell share lead at Qatar Masters

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 5:13 pm

DOHA, Qatar - Oliver Fisher birdied his last four holes in the Qatar Masters third round to share the lead at Doha Golf Club on Saturday.

The 29-year-old Englishman shot a 7-under 65 for an overall 16-under 200. Eddie Pepperell (66) picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to catch his compatriot and the pair enjoy a two-shot lead over American Sean Crocker (67) in third.

David Horsey (65) was the biggest mover of the day with the Englishman improving 31 places for a share of fourth place at 12 under with, among others, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Andrea Pavan.

Fisher, winner of the 2011 Czech Open, made some stunning putts on his way in. After an eight-footer on the par-4 15th, he then drove the green on the short par-4 16th for an easy birdie, before making a 12-footer on the 17th and a 15-footer on the 18th.

Like Pepperell, Fisher also had just one bogey to show on his card, also on the 12th hole.

Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

''I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,'' said Fisher, who has dropped to 369th in the world rankings.

''You can quite easily make a few bogeys without doing that much wrong here, so it's important to be patient and keep giving yourself chances.''

Pepperell, ranked 154th in the world after a strong finish to his 2017 season, has been a picture of consistency in the tournament. He was once again rock-solid throughout the day, except one bad hole - the par-4 12th. His approach shot came up short and landed in the rocks, the third ricocheted back off the rocks, and he duffed his fourth shot to stay in the waste area.

But just when a double bogey or worse looked imminent, Pepperell holed his fifth shot for what was a remarkable bogey. And he celebrated that escape with a 40-feet birdie putt on the 13th.

''I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn't let it bother me,'' said the 27-year-old Pepperell, who hit his third shot to within four feet on the par-5 18th to join Fisher on top.

The long-hitting Crocker is playing on invites on the European Tour. He made a third eagle in three days - on the par-4 16th for the second successive round.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 24, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Uihlein fires back at Jack in ongoing distance debate

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 4:32 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Wally Uihlein challenged Jack Nicklaus’ assault this week on the golf ball.

Uihlein, an industry force as president and CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet for almost 20 years, retired at year’s start but remains an adviser.

In an interview with ScoreGolf on Friday, Uihlein reacted to Nicklaus’ assertions that the ball is responsible for contributing to a lot of the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to the soaring cost to play.

Uihlein also took the USGA and The R&A to task.

The ball became a topic when Nicklaus met with reporters Tuesday at the Honda Classic and was asked about slow play. Nicklaus said the ball was “the biggest culprit” of that.

“It appears from the press conference that Mr. Nicklaus was blaming slow play on technology and the golf ball in particular,” Uihlein said. “I don’t think anyone in the world believes that the golf ball has contributed to the game’s pace of play issues.”

Nicklaus told reporters that USGA executive director Mike Davis pledged over dinner with him to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

“Mike Davis has not told us that he is close, and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there,” Uihlein said.

ScoreGolf pointed out that the Vancouver Protocol of 2011 was created after a closed-door meeting among the USGA, The R&A and equipment manufacturers, with the intent to make any proposed changes to equipment rules or testing procedures more transparent and to allow participation in the process.

“There are no golf courses being closed due to the advent of evolving technology,” Uihlein said. “There is no talk from the PGA Tour and its players about technology making their commercial product less attractive. Quite the opposite, the PGA Tour revenues are at record levels. The PGA of America is not asking for a roll back of technology. The game’s everyday player is not advocating a roll back of technology.”

ScoreGolf said Uihlein questioned why the USGA and The R&A choose courses that “supposedly” can no longer challenge the game’s best players as preferred venues for the U.S. Open, The Open and other high-profile events.

“It seems to me at some point in time that the media should be asking about the conflict of interest between the ruling bodies while at the same time conducting major championships on venues that maybe both the athletes and the technology have outgrown,” he said. “Because it is the potential obsolescence of some of these championship venues which is really at the core of this discussion.”