CROMWELL, Conn. – The future of the PGA Tour assembled in the media room at the Travelers Championship on Wednesday.
Then again, based on their collective talent and confidence, these kids might be the Tour’s here and now in short order.
Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa, Justin Suh and Matthew Wolff are all in the field this week at TPC River Highlands, with Hovland and Wolff, both Oklahoma State products, making their much-anticipated professional debuts. Morikawa, out of Cal, and Suh, from USC, got going on Tour earlier this month at the RBC Canadian Open and Memorial Tournament, respectively.
As the Travelers has increased its strength of field and its appeal to PGA Tour pros in recent years, it’s also become an event, based on its timing and place on the schedule, where the game’s best amateurs make the leap.
“This is always known to be one of the tournaments all the young guys turn professional,” Suh said. “To be up here with great golfers like this these guys, it's going to be a fun week and we're just looking forward to it.
Doing their media availability as a group were four guys who, as Wolff put it, “all beat up on each other in college.” Their school colors have been swapped with sponsored apparel, as they’re adjusting to their new normal.
“You have more time because you're not with the group the whole day and you don't have to kind of wait around for your teammates to finish practice,” said Hovland. “You're a lot freer in that way. Then again, there is a whole lot more people that want a piece of you. You have to almost schedule your whole day. You're almost busier than before. So it's a circus out here. There are so many people out here. I'm just trying to take it minute by minute.”
Hovland is the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion who took low amateur honors this year at both the Masters and the U.S. Open. Last week at Pebble Beach, he broke Jack Nicklaus’ 1960 scoring record for an amateur when he posted a four-round total of 280, tying him for 12th.
“I had no clue after I finished the round,” he said. “I was just really happy that I played sweet that Sunday (with a final-round 67). … Obviously he's the GOAT, and to beat one of his records, that means you've done something really special.”
Hovland is going back to back, and Morikawa is playing his third event in as many weeks. He’s had his girlfriend with him as he’s traveled from Ontario to California to Connecticut. At the RBC Canadian Open, he earned his first pay check, finishing T-14 and cashing in $184,253.
“All my friends that text me, they look up how much I made and they ask for me to take them out to dinner,” he said.
Wolff, this year’s NCAA individual champion and Jack Nicklaus Award winner made his Tour debut, albeit as an amateur, back in February at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The kid with the quirky swing showed he’s more than just an Instagram fascination when he made the cut and tied for 50th in front of the most raucous crowds on Tour.
“I heard so many times, if you can handle that, you can pretty much handle any event out here,” he said.
They were asked about their new threads, their equipment deals, and the potential of their personal brands. For his part, Morikawa believes he has a “decent” — and decently marketable — smile. They were asked how this Class of 2019 might compare to the famed Class of 2011, featuring the likes of Spieth, Thomas, Xander Schauffele and more. (It's worth noting that Wolff, Hovland, Morikawa and Suh cover three different high-school graduating classes, unlike Spieth, Thomas and company who all graduated high school in 2011.) Morikawa recently had dinner with Thomas and was both delighted and apparently surprised to find out the 2017 PGA winner was a “normal guy.”
Considering how their predecessors in recent years —Spieth, Thomas, Jon Rahm and countless others — have done away with the idea of a learning curve, these kids expect to compete.
“I'm sure Jordan Spieth and those guys back then said that they could do it,” Morikawa said. “I think we're going to say the exact same thing.”
“I wouldn't have turned pro if I didn't feel like I was ready to come out here and win,” Wolff added.
Each will have a handful of slate sponsor exemptions to play with this summer as they look to earn money, points and whatever kind of playing status they can get their hands on.
But all four also displayed some impressive maturity and perspective. Sure, they’re accustomed to winning at every level, and they’re looking to do more of it as soon as possible, but they’re already taking the long view.
Maybe they’ll win this week. Maybe they’ll rack up so many non-member points that they’ll lock up status for next year. Maybe they’ll work their way into Korn Ferry Finals. Maybe they’ll have to go to Q-School.
As much as they’re excited for tomorrow, they’re not worried about it. Because they’re already thinking decades down the road.
“What I didn't know,” Morikawa said, “was that Justin Rose, when he first turned pro, he missed 20-something cuts. … It's a long journey. We're not just here to play for a couple years. We're here for a lifetime.
“One of the best things I've heard is not from a player but from an agent,” Wolff echoed. “He kind of told me, It's not a one-year career. It's a 20-career career, a 30-year career. You're going to be playing this game for the rest of your life, because that's what you love to do. I am sure all these guys do as well.”