Young guns set to take over PGA Tour

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Sports - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

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 was good enough to keep 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.

“So re­ally, we started play­ing full­time the same year,” he said. “For the first three years, he was the only player younger than me. That put me at 23, 24, 25. There was no younger player be­sides Tiger Woods than me my first three years.

“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.

“They play a lot more, against bet­ter com­pe­ti­tion when they’re younger now,” Cink said. “And they’re just more sea­soned when they come out here. There is no break-in pe­riod any­more like there used to be be­cause you don’t need to learn.”

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. Woods went straight from col­lege to the PGA Tour. Play­ing on spon­sor ex­emp­tions, he made enough money to se­cure a full card in just four tour­na­ments, and then he won in Las Ve­gas in his fifth start. It took nine years be­fore that hap­pened again. Ryan Moore, the NCAA and U.S. Am­a­teur cham­pion, did it in 12 events in 2005, helped might­ily by a run­ner-up fin­ish in the Cana­dian Open.

Only three other play­ers had done that since 1980, a short list that in­cluded Phil Mick­el­son, who won as an am­a­teur.

Now? Spi­eth didn’t have a card on any tour in 2013 and ef­fec­tively se­cured his card in six tour­na­ments. Rahm got it done in three starts after he turned pro in 2016. What was the ex­cep­tion is not the norm, but it’s get­ting there.

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