Newsmaker of the Year, No. 5: The Youth Takeover

By Will GrayDecember 15, 2015, 1:30 pm

When Justin Thomas penned his brief Twitter profile, he didn’t lead with the fact that he plays on the PGA Tour. He didn’t even open by pointing out the national title he won while at the University of Alabama.

Instead, the first line on Thomas’ page harkens back to his high school days: “St. X grad ’11.”

The current state of affairs on the PGA Tour isn’t just a youth movement; it’s a youth takeover. And it’s one that has been led by the decorated “Class of 2011,” a crop of prospects who have seamlessly transitioned to the professional ranks while many of their peers are still writing in blue books.

It is a group led by 22-year-old Jordan Spieth, a once-in-a-generation wunderkind, but the Class of ’11 runs much deeper than his personal trophy case. There’s Thomas, who will tee it up alongside Spieth next month in Kapalua. That winners-only field will also include Emiliano Grillo, who earned his stripes in Europe before picking up a pair of trophies in October.

There’s Daniel Berger, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and there’s Patrick Rodgers, whose Stanford career equaled that of some guy named Tiger Woods. The list goes on, each player as equipped as the last, and it even includes the likes of Ollie Schniederjans, who just last week breezed through Q-School to earn his Tour card after turning pro in June.

“Our graduating class, 2011, has probably eight or nine tour players that will come out of it,” Spieth said in January, an estimate that should prove to be rather accurate. “We should still be in school. It’s cool to see peers we grew up with for a while all making the transition pretty easily.”

And therein lies the difference with this most recent group. There are always rising stars, guys who cut their teeth more quickly than others. But these players more closely resemble hired guns than fresh-faced rookies – equal parts eager to challenge and ready to win.

Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list

The same players who were vying for AJGA hardware when Charl Schwartzel won the Masters are now taking home PGA Tour trophies with an alarming frequency. After capturing the CIMB Classic at age 22, Thomas was asked if he expected to win so quickly.

“I expected to win a lot sooner than this, honestly,” he said. “So, obviously, it’s a win, whatever, just a couple tournaments into my second year is great, but it would have been nice to win a couple last year, too.”

The insatiable quest to win quickly, of course, is instilled by the leader of the pack. Spieth’s meteoric rise won’t be challenged anytime soon, but it offered a tantalizing barometer for players who remember facing – and beating – him in junior and college events just a few short years ago.

Consider it confidence by proxy.

“Basically the only player I look up [to] is Jordan,” Grillo said after his Open victory. “I played a lot with him. He’s my age, he’s a bit younger than me. Makes you think, if he can do it, I can do it. That’s been my thought in the last year, two years.”

The other, undeniable factor in the recent rise of youth is the Tiger effect. Woods has been out of commission for essentially the last two years, but it’s more than just his recent on-course performance – or lack thereof.

It’s the fact that a typical Class of ’11 grad was 4 years old when Woods stormed Augusta National for the first time, 8 years old when he completed the Tiger Slam and 15 years old when he won his last major.

For them, there is no PGA Tour without Tiger.

The shock and awe that helped Woods steamroll his competition for more than a decade simply doesn’t exist with this group, which grew up eyeing his records just as Woods grew up chasing Jack Nicklaus.

The youth movement, though, is not limited to the men’s game. The LPGA has always trended younger than its male counterpart, but that pattern was accentuated this year as 17-year-old Brooke Henderson burst onto the scene and 18-year-old Lydia Ko became the youngest man or woman to win a major before successfully defending her Race to the CME Globe title.

In fact, the average age of the top 10 players in the Rolex Rankings is barely over 23. World No. 2 Inbee Park may seem like an elder statesman, having won her fourth different major this past summer, but at age 27 she is younger than Jason Day and only a few months older than the former standard bearer for the youth movement, Rickie Fowler.

As both Day and Fowler elevated their respective games, it seemed for much of the year that trophies were handed out exclusively to 20-somethings. Players like Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els – names that in large part defined the early 2000s – all went winless.

In their stead rose the likes of Thomas and Grillo and Berger, all seemingly ready to step out of those sizeable shadows and establish their own names, one trophy at a time.

Led by their top-ranked ringleader, it appears they’re here to stay.

“They want to beat me as bad as I want to beat the next guy, and it’s cool to see the transition of guys in my class,” Spieth said. “I can’t imagine there’s been a class that has had this before at our age. It just speaks to what we’ve all done for each other growing up, pushing each other to get better and better.”

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry