Wheres the Next Big Wave


2007 Big Questions Editor's Note: TheGolfChannel.com is counting down its top 5 stories from the world of golf in 2006 and looking ahead to the five 'Big Questions' on the PGA TOUR in 2007. This is our No. 5 question for the upcoming season.
A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to Ireland this past fall.
And no, it wasnt the total beat down Team Europe gave the U.S. in the Ryder Cup. Heck, that train wreck was so bad it was almost funny. Just ask Woosie.
No, the unfunny part was the glaring light it shined on the lack of youth being served on the American side.
Although U.S. captain Tom Lehman had four rookies on the team, the average age of those four was 31. Not one player on the U.S. squad was in their 20s.
Lucas Glover
Lucas Glover finished up ranked 21st on the PGA TOUR money list in 2006.
So this became the question: Are Americans just going through a phase or is this cause for alarm?
It depends on who you ask, of course, but Jim Furyk doesnt seem too concerned.
It's cyclical. This is the same story two years ago, it was the young guns. It's like every odd year we have the young guns story and there's these five guys that come out and win a tournament, and all of a sudden, look out Tiger and Phil because these guys are going to be kicking for the next three years, and the stories go that way,' Furyk said.
Then all of a sudden two years later there's not a guy in the top 50 under 30 and the world is coming to an end. There's no reason to really get too, too upset or too excited about things because things aren't usually as good as they seem and they're never as bad as they seem, also. Just kind of sit back and relax and think the whole subject over. I think we have quite a few very good young players in the U.S.
Good players maybe. Very good young players? Not so fast, Mr. Furyk. Like he mentioned, there is a no denying the fact that at the moment there is just one American ' Lucas Glover - in the top-50. Then drop all the way down to 69th for the second 20something American ' Sean OHair.
Tiger Woods didnt help the young set by what he was able to accomplish in his 20s, which of course leads to unreasonable comparisons. But looking to the past, it used to be the norm for the young guns to have better starts to their careers.
Names like Tom Watson, Curtis Strange and Ben Crenshaw all had racked up multiple wins before the 26th birthdays. Today, only Ben Curtis and Jonathan Byrd have more than one victory in their 20s. And those two names dont quite stack up against the international likes of Geoff Ogilvy, Sergio Garcia, Luke Donald, Trevor Immelman and Paul Casey.
Multiple theories abound as to why international players in their 20s are having more success than their American counterparts.
I think one of the main differences between the two is travel, says Golf Channel and CBS analyst Peter Oosterhuis. The international players travel all across the world at such a young age in order to play. They turn pro at an early age and travel all over the world. This might help to toughen them up.
There is also a money factor, adds Oosterhuis. There is so much money in todays game that it could lead to a lack of desire. With all of the money that can be made, you really have to have lofty goals in order to stay competitive. You have to have a drive that goes beyond making a lot of money.
Troy Matteson
Troy Matteson closed the season with a victory and four other top-10 finishes.
And boy, is there plenty of money. The total purse on the PGA TOUR the year Tiger arrived in 1996 was $70,700,000. Now the number has exploded to the tune of a staggering $260,000,000.
With all that cash on the table, its also quite possible that many of the aging stars have decided to overhaul their training regimes to stay in shape and thus stay competitive. Plus, in golf, experience might possibly be the most important club in the bag, something the 20-years-olds dont yet quite have a handle on.
But there is at least hope, and it mostly comes in the form of raw power: Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes, Lucas Glover and Troy Matteson. All won over a $1 million this past season and all hit it a ton, especially Watson and Holmes, who finished the year ranked 1-2 in driving distance on the PGA TOUR.
Holmes was a four-time All-American at the University of Kentucky, earned medalist honors at the 2005 Q-school and quickly won in his rookie season with a dominant seven-stroke win at the FBR Open. His length also enabled him to lead the TOUR in total eagles.
And he doesnt shy away from knowing what his strength is.
A lot of people like to see people hit it a long ways. Bubba Watson hits it long, John Daly, Tiger Woods. Everybody likes to see somebody hit it a long ways because a lot of the fans, they can't do that, said Holmes. Most of them, if they play, they've made a 30-footer or something like that. It's something they've done. But they can't hit it 340, 350, whatever.
Enter Watson, he of the 319.6 yard average off the tee. A Nationwide Tour graduate, he too started the season strong with a T-4 at the Sony Open and a third-place showing at the Chrysler Classic of Tucson. Despite finishing near the bottom of the driving accuracy rankings, he did enjoy a 100-hole bogey-free streak during the season.
The abovementioned Glover had a storied college career and has steadily risen in each of his three years on TOUR. In 2005, Glover really made a name for himself when his holed a 100-foot bunker shot on the final hole to win the FUNAI Classic at Disney. This season, although without a win, the 27-year-old finished 21st on the final money list due to eight top-10 results.
And then theres Matteson, probably the least known of this group, but perhaps the hottest heading into next year. After setting the Nationwide Tour record for winnings in 2005, the former Georgia Tech star struggled for most of his rookie season before catching fire near the end of the year with a pair of back-to-back top-10s at the Southern Farm Bureau Classic and the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro.
Suddenly armed with confidence to go along with his shot-making, Matteson then hit the jackpot, winning the Frys.com Open in Vegas for his maiden PGA TOUR win. A second-place finish the following week at Disney and another top-10 at the Chrysler Championship shot Matteson all the way up to an impressive 36th on the money list.
But will any of these 20somethings continue to make the progression to eventually make it into the top-10 in the world, or make a Ryder or Presidents Cup team? Or will someone like Sean OHair or Ryan Moore be the ones that make it near the top?
Those are questions that can only be answered out on the fairways in the next year or two. And hopefully, for the Americans' sake, sooner rather than later.
Related Links:
  • Reviewing 2006; Previewing 2007