McIlroy Spieth Fowler Reed Represent Youth
By John Ventola
Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, and Rickie Fowler enjoyed a wonderful stretch of golf during the early part of 2015, and their outstanding skills position them for much more as the game looks for future stars to further popularize the sport over the next two decades.
Greats Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player now appear as nostalgic figures of the game at current tournaments. Ben Crenshaw and Tom Watson either played in
their final tournament, or will do so in the next year. Jim Furyk, 45, and Phil Mickelson, 44, are still competitive, but they and Tiger Woods, 39, are finding it difficult to put together a consistent four-day effort to win a tournament.
While the mid-to-upper 30s group, consisting of Woods, Zach Johnson, 39, Bubba Watson and Matt Kucher, both 36, Sergio Garcia, 35, and Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose, both 34, play steadily and have had their moments, the 20s group, particularly the youngest, have apparently taken the torch.
Woods has four Masters titles, Mickelson has three green jackets, and long-driving Bubba Watson mastered Augusta in 2012 and 2014. Furyk’s career has featured his consistency as he has won 20 championship during his time as a professional. All four are capable, but Furyk and Mickelson are facing the first glimpse of age-caused deterioration to their games, Woods is trying to recapture his former self and skills, and Watson is trying to control his long game and improve his course management.
Keegan Bradley, 28, and Jason Day, 27, join McIlroy, who just turned 26 in early May, and Fowler, 26, to represent a foursome that has consistently put up good rounds, and in the case of McIlroy and Fowler, won recent championships. Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship as a 24-year-old, and Day captured the 2014 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
McIlroy, who has captured three of the four major titles (missing only a Masters title), has picked up the trophy this year at the WGC-Cadillac tournament, and the Wells
Fargo Championship. For the second time in three years, McIlroy was named the 2014 PGA Tour Player of the Year after he captured the British Open and PGA majors last year. Long regarded as the heir apparent to succeed Tiger Woods as the game’s top star, McIlroy is, as they say, the whole package. Excellent driver, imaginative shot maker around greens, and terrific putter. He has it all, plus he exudes confidence as he strides around a golf course.
Fowler, who looks like he has never found a cap to fit him, won The Players tournament in early May, after not winning a championship in 2014. He gave an indication of the improvement in his game, and showed he is adjusting to professional golf by finishing in the top five in all four 2014 majors. Fowler was the first to accomplish this golf rarity since Tiger Woods did it in 2005.
While long-hitting Dustin Johnson is often lumped with the youngsters, Johnson is 30 years old. His game is dynamic, featuring long drives, but he often seems to lose focus and has lapses that lead to one hurtful round in a tournament. He took a leave of absence from the game over the last half of 2014, and has come back strong in 2015. If he can harness his temperament, Johnson could develop into a quick multi-winner. He won the 2014 WGC-HSBC Champions event, giving him at least one victory in seven consecutive seasons.
Jordan Spieth, who will turn 22 in July, amazed golf fans with his game and maturity as he led the 2015 Masters from wire-to-wire. The outstanding effort was no shocker to
avid golf watchers as the young Texan had finished the 2014 Masters tied for second. He won the Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge in consecutive weeks in late 2014, giving notice he was on the verge of stardom. Spieth’s demeanor and control of his game belies his young age, and surely marks him ready for the big McIlroy challenges ahead.
Patrick Reed, a former University High of Baton Rouge standout, 24, burst on the PGA scene by winning three titles over a seven-month period in his first two years on the tour, 2013 and 2014. Reed won the first tournament of 2015 when he won a title playoff at the Hyundai Tournament of champions.
Young Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama, 23, Patrick Rodgers, 22, who was still playing for Stanford last year as the top amateur player, former Florida State golfer Daniel Berger, 22, and former Alabama star Justin Thomas, 22, have their pro cards and are to be reckoned with in the future.
Tiger Woods seemed an aberration when he joined the pro ranks after dominating the college sport while at Stanford. Question was asked, how could a young pro intimidate professional golfers at their own game? While he does not any longer (thanks Elin Nordegren), he did at one time.
Now it is time for the Young Guns to have their 72-hole showdowns and see if they can garner the title of “Golf’s Next Superstar”!
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