Top of golf now belongs to youth
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."
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.