Top of golf now be­longs to youth

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - ED GODFREY’S OUTDOORS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON As­so­ci­ated Press

HON­OLULU — Leave it to the old­est rookie to best il­lus­trate how the PGA Tour has be­come such a young man's game.

Chris Thomp­son tried for 19 years to reach the high­est level of golf, and he fi­nally earned a PGA Tour card when he was 42. With ev­ery year he spent on mini-tours from Flor­ida to Ari­zona, he couldn't help but no­tice that get­ting bet­ter only meant keep­ing up.

"It's a pro­fes­sion that not many good play­ers get out of, but there's al­ways good play­ers get­ting into it," Thomp­son said.

Ste­wart Cink knows what he's talk­ing about it.

Cink and Tiger Woods ar­rived on the PGA Tour at roughly the same time and were voted rookie of the year in con­sec­u­tive sea­sons (1996 and 1997). Woods got an early start in the fall of 1996 and won two times in eight starts, so that be­came his rookie sea­son. Cink's first full sea­son was 1997.

"How many play­ers on the tour now are 25 and un­der?" Cink asked. "Forty?"

He was close. There are 29 play­ers with full sta­tus on tour who are 25 or younger. That in­cludes Jor­dan Spi­eth and Justin Thomas, who al­ready have won ma­jors and reached No. 1 in the world. It in­cludes Jon Rahm and Bryson DeCham­beau and Xan­der Schauf­fele, all of whom are among the top 10 in the world rank­ing.

When he started two decades ago, Cink said most play­ers — Woods is an ex­cep­tion in al­most ev­ery way — had to rein­vent the wheel and learn to play the style of golf re­quired on the PGA Tour.

"Now you just come out here, guns blaz­ing," he said.

More are on the way. Scott Ver­plank, who won the 1985 Western Open when he was an am­a­teur, watched the NCAA Cham­pi­onship in Still­wa­ter last spring and he couldn't be­lieve what he was see­ing. And it wasn't just his alma mater, Ok­la­homa State, win­ning the ti­tle. Just about ev­ery team that reached the quar­ter­fi­nals of match play had play­ers who looked like they were ready for the PGA Tour.

Charles How­ell III also went to Ok­la­homa State and keeps tabs on col­lege golf, "so I kind of knew what was com­ing."

"All these guys were hit­ting the ball over 300 yards and they all putt great," he said. "You get Justin Thomas come out and win a bunch. Jor­dan Spi­eth comes out and wins a bunch. So when they do that, then that's a vet­eran's job gone. That's an­other vet­eran's job gone. That's just how it works."

Not en­tirely.

Golf doesn't have a 53-man or 25-man ros­ter like the NFL or Ma­jor League Base­ball. And the beauty of golf is that no other sport can be so age­less. Re­mem­ber, Phil Mick­el­son won last year when he was 47 at a World Golf Cham­pi­onship.

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