Tiger Generation Has Taken Over in Golf
IN CASE you hadn't noticed, golf increasingly appears to have become a young man's game. There are those who will tell you that these things are cyclical, but it is beyond argument that the sport is now dominated by men and women in their twenties.
In case you are in any doubt, let's do some number crunching. World number two Jon Ram is 23. Justin Thomas is 24. Jordan Spieth is 24. Hideki Matsuyama is 25. Rickie Fowler is 29. Brooks Koepka is 27. Of the world's top 10 players, only four are the "wrong side" of 30 - Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.
And as you look at the players who occupy positions 11-20, you find more twentysomethings. Rory McIlroy is 28, Tommy Fleetwood is 27. Jason Day has only just hit 30. Tyrrell Hatton is 26.
Go a little further down the list and you will come across Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Reed, Xander Shaufelle, Daniel Berger, Branden Grace, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Cantlay, Si-woo Kim, Satoshi Kodaira, Tony Finau, Kyle Stanley, Russell Henley and Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
Almost half the world's top 50 are in their twenties. And the only fortysomethings to keep them company in the list are the magnificent seven of Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson, Pat Perez, Paul Casey, Charley Hoffman and Jason Dufner.
They used to say that tournament professionals reached their prime at about 32 years of age. Heaven help us all if that turns out to be the case with Thomas, Spieth, Koepka and McIlroy, who already have nine majors between them before they have hit 30. The entire list of golfers in their forties can only muster nine between them - and five of those were won by Mickelson on his own.
And in the women's game it is even more marked. World Number One Shanshan Feng is 28, Sung Hyun Park is 24, So Yeon Ryu is 27, Lexi Thompson is 22, I K Kim is 29, In Gee Chun is 23, Ariya Jutanugarn is 22 and Lydia Ko is just 20. Those women make up eight of the top 10. The list is completed by Anna Nordqvist, who is 30, and 40-year-old Cristie Kerr.
So what is going on?
We don't think that it takes a genius to work it out. Rahm, Spieth, Thomas, Matsuyama, McIlroy et al all have one thing in common - they all grew up watching Tiger Woods on television. And Woods, you will recall, was himself no slouch in his twenties. These young men saw a superstar whose approach to the game was unlike anything we had seen before. Woods went to the gym and worked out. And because that's what their hero did, they did it too.
Now we are not saying that the face of professional golf is changing purely and simply because all these young golfers take their physical fitness seriously because obviously talent plays a huge part. But what we are saying is that they are all magnificent specimens who have reached prime physical condition earlier than they may otherwise have done. They are all strong. And they all eat well.
On top of that, they plan their schedules properly, and they employ swing coaches, mind coaches, biomechanists, putting coaches, short-game coaches, agents - when you are employing all those people, it is in your best interests to make lots of prize money. Let's just say that it provides them with an added incentive to do well.
It was inevitable that there would be a "Tiger Generation", but their dedication and brilliance have taken most of us by surprise.
In the entire history of the game, only five golfers have achieved a career grand slam, winning all four majors - Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen. It tells you everything you need to know about the standing of the modern game that McIlroy needs just one more to join them (The Masters) and that just about every pundit worth his salt expects Spieth to achieve the feat too (he only requires a US PGA).
There is little doubt that modern equipment (clubs and balls) have helped but the group of young players we have named here would have succeeded in any era. And the one thing you can bet your mortgage on is that there are more on the way -a lot more.
So the next time you look at a leaderboard and think: "Jeez, is it just me, or are golfers getting younger all the time", don't worry, it's not you - they really are!
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