PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – There’s something different about these rookies today.
They don’t act like rookies.
Hall of Famers who understand the pecking order in professional sports, who know the alpha-male nature of men’s athletics at the highest level, are observing this.
Johnny Bench, maybe the greatest catcher who ever played Major League Baseball, shook his head watching rookies Cody Gribble and Wesley Bryan take a share of the lead Thursday at the Honda Classic. Bench loves golf. He strolled PGA National in the first round with Pro Links Sports executive director Hollis Cavner.
Bench said back when he regularly played the pro-ams at the Doral PGA Tour stop, he could tell who the rookies were. They were the guys almost apologetically trying to wedge their way into open spots on the driving range.
“They come out of college, and they’re ready,” Bench said.
With 6-under-par 64s, Gribble and Bryan are tied for the lead at the Honda Classic.
Gribble won his second start as a rookie back in October, claiming the Sanderson Farms Championship. Now, he’s in early position to make a run at his second title in just his 11th start.
Bryan is looking for his first PGA Tour title in his 10th start.
With a flood of 20-somethings winning this season, long apprenticeships no longer appear to be required before winning.
Ten of the 14 PGA Tour events staged this season have been won by players in their 20s.
Gribble, 26, played with Jordan Spieth on the University of Texas team that won the NCAA title in 2012. Spieth has already won nine PGA Tour titles, two of them majors. Gribble also played against Justin Thomas in college. Thomas has won twice this year.
“I think, definitely, that gives you a bit of confidence, knowing that it's definitely doable and you belong here,” Gribble said. “On the course, I think my talent will prove itself, and, obviously it did this fall. I had a couple of really good years on the Web.com, and it was just kind of my time.”
Bryan, 26, made a run at winning Sunday at the Genesis Open. He tied for fourth.
“Every time you tee it up, the object is to win,” Bryan said. “Every time I put it in the ground, I fully expect to get in contention and have a chance to win on Sunday.
“Obviously, you’re going to lose a lot more than you’re going to win out here, but you’ve got to keep that mentality.”
Gribble didn’t bring the kind of momentum to the Honda Classic that Bryan did. Since his victory in the fall, Gribble has cooled off. He has missed his last four cuts.
But there was fire back in Gribble’s shot-making Thursday. He hit all 18 greens in regulation on the difficult Champion Course (where lift, clean and place was in effect). Nobody has done that since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National 10 years ago.
“It was good,” Gribble said. “Had a good session with my teacher [Randy Smith]. Hit a lot of good-quality iron shots. Had a rough couple weeks and was really struggling. Got a few things to work on but played well. When you have a lot of 20-footers, you're going to make a couple.”
Bryan, who was known more for his YouTube trick-shot artistry and Golf Channel "Big Break" appearances before breaking through as a Tour pro, won three times on the Web.com Tour last year.
Gribble and Bryan share some history at PGA National’s Champion Course. They both played their way through Web.com Q-School finals at PGA National in 2015.
“It's so tricky and challenging around the greens,” Bryan said. “It's a big, long golf course with tight fairways. Most of the teeth comes from, really, 30 or 40 yards and in.
“Fourteen months ago at Q-School, I was able to navigate it and finished Top 10 that week. I just kind of continued that play today.”
Bryan and Gribble continued to play PGA National like veterans.