Roarin' 20s: Unprecedented youth movement unfolding

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June 22, 2011
Stan Awtrey, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent

This has been the Year of the 20s on the PGA TOUR.

Rory McIlroy is 22 and just won the U.S. Open with a record score. Charl Schwartzel, 26, won the Masters this spring. Martin Kaymer, 26, is the reigning PGA champion, and Louis Ooshuizen, 28, currently holds the Claret Jug.

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That's an impressive cast of players, each with the potential to win more majors, play in multiple international events, and make the FedExCup race interesting for years to come. Just hold on. There's more to come.

Incredibly enough, the abundance of good young players has only just begun. There are many talented young men who are either in college or are just finishing their amateur careers this summer, some waiting until after the Walker Cup to become a professional. Their presence promises to stir even more talent into the mix and strengthen the ranks of the 20 year olds even more.

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The hottest ticket is Patrick Cantlay, a rising sophomore at UCLA. Cantlay received a sponsor's exemption to play in this week's Travelers Championship and is all the rage after he placed 20th at the U.S. Open. Even though he's ranked as the No. 1 amateur in the world, Cantlay insists he's planning to stay in school for three more years and earn his degree like Matt Kuchar. But Cantlay knows the promise that the future holds for him in professional golf.

"Seeing Rory win, he's, what, three years older than me," Cantlay said. "That just shows me that I can compete right now pretty quickly. "

Fearless, right? That's the attitude of most of the players in this latest wave of good young players. Kevin Chappell is another UCLA guy. He's a Nationwide Tour graduate who earned his TOUR card this year. He tied for third at the U.S. Open last week in his major championship debut. He summed up the youth movement pretty well.

"Golf doesn't have an age," Chappell said. "You've seen guys succeed, 51, 52 years old. You see guys succeed at 18 years old. So the golf ball doesn't know how old you are. It's just about playing the game to the best of your ability and you can do that at any age."

It just seems like the 20s are better equipped to handle it than ever before. Don't be surprised to see more youngsters emerge from the shadows and challenge when they get an opportunity to play. Cantlay leads the next wave that's ready to hit the TOUR, but he's not alone. Here are five other top youngsters to watch:

Russell Henley: The senior from the University of Georgia will become a professional after the Walker Cup. He won the 2010 Haskins Award for college player of the year and this spring became only the second amateur to win a Nationwide Tour event. He finished 42nd at the U.S. Open, the second straight year he's made the cut. Henley has a great fighting heart and has become an outstanding putter.

Patrick Reed: The Augusta State product opted to skip his senior season and become a professional after leading his team to its second straight NCAA championship. He received a sponsor's exemption to play at the FedEx St. Jude Classic two weeks ago, but missed the cut. Reed is a long hitter who loves the thrill of being in the hunt and doesn't shy away from being among the lead dogs.

Bud Cauley: Like Reed, he would have been an automatic Walker Cup choice if he hadn't decided to become a professional after his junior season at Alabama. He made his professional debut at the U.S. Open, where he made the cut and tied for 63rd. Cauley is in the field for this week's Travelers Championship.

Kevin Tway: He's carried heavy expectations since emerging as one of the nation's top junior players. Part of that's because of his bloodline; his father is Bob Tway, the 1986 PGA Champion. Kevin carries the same sort of steady, unwavering ability as his father. He may not always be awe inspiring, but he's likely to be in contention at the end of the day.

Jordan Spieth: He may be the tail of the comet, since he's only preparing to enter the University of Texas and play his freshman season. For the last two years, Spieth has shown a national audience that he can play by contending at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Spieth isn't crazy long off the tee, but already has an exceptional short game.

Will one of these six players eventually win a major championship? It's far too early to speculate on that. But they should definitely thicken the field of young competitors on the PGA TOUR and add to what has already been an unprecedented youth movement.

Stan Awtrey is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM. His views do not necessarily reflect the views of the PGA TOUR.

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