Youth dominating golf on global scale

By Jason SobelOctober 17, 2011, 6:51 pm

I’ve never been much of an optimist. Offer me a glass half-full and I’ll pour it out. Show me a silver lining and I’ll maintain that gold is a better buy.

It’s more than that, though. I don’t get too hyper about hyperbole. I have aggravations with exaggerations.

Keep all of that in mind as I make the following proclamation about the impending future of golf: It’s brighter than ever.

This isn’t in regard to the state of the game at its grassroots level or a rebirth in the number of courses being built – though each could be positively impacted by this idea.

Instead, it’s about what is currently taking place at the game’s most elite stage, and what will be taking place for an awfully long time to come.

Ever since players have been competing for cash, there have been young studs on the horizon, threatening the status of seasoned veterans. Never before, though, has the crop of prospects been as respected as they are right now.

There’s no better explanation than to simply ponder a response to this question: Who is the most talented young player in the world? The easy answer is Rory McIlroy, the 22-year-old wunderkind who won the U.S. Open in dominating fashion earlier this summer.

Observers may have proffered a double-take in recent weeks, though. Rickie Fowler, also 22, broke through for his first career professional win in Korea. Tom Lewis followed by claiming the Portugal Masters title in just his third pro start on Sunday.

It speaks volumes about the skill level of these kids that the answer can change seemingly on a week-to-week basis. And it says even more that they’re not just contending, but learning to win on the professional ranks at such a young age.

In previous generations, this triumvirate would have provided all the fuel necessary to flame the rivalry of newcomers versus the establishment, but these days they have plenty of company from their up-and-coming peers.

There’s Jason Day, 23, who finished as runner-up at two of this year’s major championships. Ryo Ishikawa, 20, whose professional victory total has already reached double-digits. Matteo Manassero, 18, who already owns two European Tour titles. Bud Cauley, 21, who is on the verge of becoming the sixth player in the past three decades to earn his PGA Tour card without Q-School or a developmental tour.

At the risk of simply listing more unique talents, there’s Patrick Cantlay, a UCLA sophomore who has already made his mark on the professional circuit. Peter Uihlein, who took last year’s U.S. Amateur crown. Harris English and Russell Henley, a pair of recent University of Georgia grads who claimed Nationwide Tour wins before ever turning pro.

That foursome competed on the U.S. Walker Cup team last month. It should only serve as further proof of the global budding talent level that they lost to the team from Great Britain and Ireland.

There is a dizzying array of ridiculously gifted and hard-working youngsters. They’ll not only have to share riches and fame with each other, though, but a bevy of already proven players who are only a few years their senior. Four of the world’s top-10 ranked golfers are 30 or younger, as are each of the next three just outside that delineation. They include rising stars such as Webb Simpson and major winners like Martin Kaymer. In fact, three of the current holders of major titles – and five of the last seven – are 20somethings.

The future of golf is in such a good place at the elite level that it would be easy to proclaim this the beginning of a transformation from the so-called Tiger Era to one of greater parity and more superstars.

In keeping with my newfound optimistic viewpoint, though, allow me to offer what can only be considered the brightest of bright ideas: Tiger Woods returns to past form early next season, but instead of singularly dominating tournaments as he did for so many years, his younger peers – the players who aren’t intimidated by his persona and aren’t afraid to win – continue to step up, one by one challenging him for titles that become larger than simply the trophy for which they are competing.

Add in continued consistent play by stars like Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, and perhaps renewed invigoration for Phil Mickelson, and the next five to 10 years could be a golden age for the game, the likes we haven’t seen in decades.

When Jack Nicklaus first burst onto the scene as a baby-faced 22-year-old at the 1962 U.S. Open, his immediate rivals were Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. While those competitions persisted for years, by the time Nicklaus’ career was winding down, he had cultivated new, younger opponents – most notably Tom Watson.

Woods may never return as the player he once was. If he does, he may finally find a worthy foil in a player like McIlroy, or the opposition could come in the form of a few dozen young, talented players – each of whom has been making his mark during Tiger’s absence from the winner’s circle.

Should the latter take place, it would ultimately provide an entertaining landscape, the likes of which hasn’t been captured in a very long time. It would be a momentous change, sure, but change isn’t always a bad thing.

Hey, even a glass half-empty guy can be optimistic about the future.

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Descending into golf's depths, and trying to dig out

By Brandel ChambleeApril 23, 2018, 3:05 pm

Watching Alvaro Quiros finish second this past week in Morocco, I was reminded of just how rare it is for player to come back from the depths of golf hell.

Quiros, a player of immense ability, hype and length, won the Dubai World Championship – his sixth win in four years – to close out 2011 and then went down the rabbit hole of trying to change his golf swing. He would miss 11 cuts in 2012 and either miss the cut or withdraw in another 41 European Tour events over the next four years. Because he hadn’t won a major championship, his epic backwards slide in the world rankings (435th prior to this past week) mostly went unnoticed – but it was far from unusual.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship, but just three years later, when he played 20 events on the PGA Tour and missed 14 cuts, he no longer looked anything like a recent major champion. In 1995, he played in 18 events and either missed the cut, withdrew or was disqualified from every one of them. In 1996, he missed the cut in all 11 events he entered on the PGA Tour; and in 1997, he shot 92 in the first round of The Open, withdrew from the championship and stopped playing professional golf.

Like Quiros, Baker-Finch’s downfall came after his biggest win, when he finally thought he had the time, because of the 10-year exemption he received, to change his golf swing.

David Duval won the 2001 Open Championship and just two years later he shot 83-78 in the same event and missed the cut, which was one 16 events he either missed the cut or withdrew from that year. In 2005, he missed 18 cuts in 19 starts. Duval’s competitive demise may well have been precipitated by injuries and an existential malaise after winning golf’s oldest championship, but it was accompanied by queries far and wide as to how to correct his swing and thinking, just like Baker-Finch before him and Quiros thereafter.

These desperate searches for help, like the indelible ink stains on dyer’s hands, are the one common thread amongst those who suffer from the absolute negation of their technical and then creative abilities. Those who take as indisputable the theories of others are, in the deepest sense, wounding their own intuition. They are controverting the evidence of their own senses in such a way that is comforting to the insecure player, but tragic to the artist. To quote Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

As I write this, PGA Tour winners Steven Bowditch (1,885th in the world) and Smylie Kaufman (337th) are in similar downward spirals in their careers and no doubt are desperate for, and susceptible to any suggestion.

One player they can look to who made it back from the frantic madness that accompanies losing one’s game, is Henrik Stenson. He put his trust in one man, Pete Cowen, even though while working with Pete he missed 14 cuts in 2002, followed by 15 missed cuts in 2003, and 11 in 2004. What Stenson did not do was panic and run from teacher to teacher, from shrink to shrink, as the missed cuts piled up.

Stenson, with Cowen’s help, slowly built one of the most reliable swings in the history of the game. A swing that regularly leads events in fairways found and greens hit in regulation. A swing that authored the lowest score ever shot in major championship history. A swing that is a far cry from the OB-launching swipes he was taking in late-2001 and 2002.

Given the soul-eating depths of where he came from, a place from which few have dug themselves out of, I watch Stenson play golf with a far great admiration than I otherwise would, and similarly was pulling for Quiros in Morocco. The same way I am pulling for Bowditch and Kaufman to find their games again.

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Langer skipping Senior PGA for son's HS graduation

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 2:53 pm

Defending champion Bernhard Langer will miss this year’s Senior PGA Championship to attend his son’s high school graduation.

Langer made the announcement Monday, during Senior PGA media day at Harbor Shores in Michigan. The event will be held May 24-27.

“I won’t be able to defend my title this year because my son graduates from high school that very same weekend,” he said. “Family comes first in my life, so I have to be there to celebrate.”

Langer said that his son, Jason, will play golf for the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Langer and his family live in South Florida.

Langer won last year’s event at Trump National outside Washington, D.C. The 60-year-old has no wins but three runners-up in eight senior starts this season.  

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Landry reaches OWGR career high after Valero win

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:40 pm

After notching his first career PGA Tour win at the Valero Texas Open, Andrew Landry also reached unprecedented heights in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Landry shot a final-round 68 at TPC San Antonio to win by two shots, and in the process he cracked the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time at age 30. Landry started the week ranked No. 114, but he's now up to 66th. The move puts him within reach of a possible U.S. Open exemption, given that the top 60 in the May 21 rankings will automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills.

Trey Mullinax went from No. 306 to No. 169 with his T-2 finish in San Antonio, while fellow runner-up Sean O Hair jumped 29 spots to No. 83 in the world. Jimmy Walker, who finished alone in fourth, went from No. 88 to No. 81 while fifth-place Zach Johnson moved up five spots to No. 53.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Alexander Levy took home the title at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II, allowing the Frenchman to move from No. 66 to No. 47. With no OWGR points available at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Levy is guaranteed to stay inside the top 50 next week, thereby earning a spot in The Players.

Idle since an MDF result at the Houston Open, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood dropped two spots to No. 100 this week. It marks the first time Westwood has been ranked 100th or worse in nearly 15 years, ending a streak of consistency that dates back to September 2003.

The top 10 in the rankings remained the same, with Dustin Johnson leading off at No. 1 followed by Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose. Rickie Fowler remains No. 6 with Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia rounding out the top 10.

With no starts announced until the U.S. Open in June, Tiger Woods dropped two more spots to No. 91 in the latest rankings.

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What's in the bag: Valero Texas Open winner Landry

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 12:34 pm

Andrew Landry won his first PGA Tour event at the Valero Texas Open. Here's a look inside the winners' bag.

Driver: Ping G30 (9 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 65X shaft

Fairway woods: Ping G (14.5 degrees adjusted to 15.5), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 75X shaft; (17.5 degrees), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 85X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (3-PW), with Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 105 S shafts

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 (52, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD ZB-S

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x