Young & Dangerous: The New Face Of Golf

Five years ago it was almost impossible to think that Tiger Woods would be sitting outside the Top 50 and the events of the last two years, both on and off the course, for the former world number one would have been inconceivable.

Woods enjoyed an almost god-like stranglehold on the world number one ranking, sitting at nearly double the points of the next player.

Jason Day Jason Day: One of the new breed of golfers (Credit: Anthony Powter)

Fast-forward half a decade and the picture has clearly changed. Woods languishes outside of the world top 50 and in his place are a new breed of golfers, some of them barely in their 20′s.

Charl Schwartzel (26) won the 2011 Masters, Rory McIlroy (22) ran away with the 2011 US Open after also featuring in the hunt at The Masters, Keegan Bradley (25) claimed the 2011 PGA Championship, our own Jason Day (23) has challenged in multiple majors.

Outside of the US, Ryo Ishikawa (20) became the youngest ever winner on the Japan Tour and Matteo Manassero (18) has won a pair of European Tour titles. Germany’s Martin Kaymer (26) grabbed the No.1 world ranking after winning the 2010 PGA Championship,

Heading into this week’s McGladrey Classic, Rickie Fowler (22) has brought the focus of age back on the younger players following his maiden professional victory at last week’s Kolon Korea Open where he traded shots with McIlroy.

He may not have beaten a world-class field, but he did defeat McIlroy by six shots and has returned to the US in pursuit of his first PGA Tour title with confidence.

With golf fans awaiting the long anticipated return of Tiger Woods to world domination, golf’s younger stars are making their mark and getting noticed.

These twenty-somethings are proving a formidable force, not just to Woods’ immediate plans to return to competitive golf but to the more elder statesmen like Phil Mickelson, who at 40 years old, is more vulnerable than ever.

The new breed of golfers don’t fear Woods like many of his peers have in the past – they were barely out of nappies when Woods began his march to golfing dominance in the late 1990′s.

Confident, talented and marketable, players such as Fowler, Manassero, Day, Ishikawa and McIlroy all are bringing the buzz back to the game.

Arguably it is Fowler, at just 22, who carries more potential than most to excite fans.

If you go back to the 2009 US Open at Bethpage Black, just one player was in his 20s in the top-10 in the world rankings and that was Sergio Garcia, who just scrapped in at 29 years and 6 months.

Today, there are four players in their 20’s among the top-10 – Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Martin Kaymer and Jason Day).

The average age of the world top-10 back at the end of 2009 was 37 and now, just two years later, it has plummeted to 31.

Emerging talents such as Patrick Cantlay (19), the world number one amateur and Peter Uihlein (22) the world number two, will also progress in to the professional ranks sooner rather than later.

Cantley currently dodges the enviable question about turning professional, Uihlein plans to play the European and PGA qualifying schools later in the year, though he says he will not turn professional until after the 2012 NCAA Championships.

Bud Cauley (21), who like Fowler toured Australia as an amateur playing at the Master of the Amateurs before turning professional in June, adds to the list of growing young stars.

Cauley is set to earn his PGA Tour card without having to go to Q-School.

Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, Cauley secured a third-place finish at the Open last Sunday banking $340,000, pushing his non-member earnings to $671,150 for the season.

That’s the equivalent of 114th on the money list. If Cauley’s winnings rank among the top 125 at season’s end, he gets a PGA Tour card.

Cauley is playing at the McGladrey’s Classic this week through his top-10 finish at the Open and now has his sights firmly set on the PGA Tour. The last golfers to play their way onto the tour in such a fashion were Ryan Moore in 2005 and Woods in 1996.

Before his top-three finish last week, Cauley tied for 63rd at the United States Open, for 24th at the Travellers Championship, for 4th at the Viking Classic, for 13th at the RBC Canadian Open and for 52nd at the Wyndham Championship.

The recent results from Rickie Fowler and Bud Cauley and the continuing struggles of Woods, a 14-time major champion, is a sobering reminder to the “older” players that a new generation has arrived and they are hungry to prove themselves on the world stage.

In the mix is our own Jason Day who epitomises the new breed of golfers and acknowledges that Australian golf is also firmly on the way up.

“I think Australian golf is right where it needs to be, and there’s a lot of young, good Australian golfers coming up right now through the ranks.”

“One of us is going to win that green jacket one day.”