Monday Finish: Talented crop of under-25 stars show no fear on PGA TOUR
March 17, 2014
By D.J. Piehowski, PGATOUR.COM
- Russell Henley, 24, already owns a pair of PGA TOUR wins. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
We’ve seen everything from The Desert to The Donald on the PGA TOUR over the past month, but one constant has been this: On each of the past four Sundays, we’ve seen a player under 25 making a run at a PGA TOUR title. Some succeeded, such as Patrick Reed and Russell Henley. Some came up just short, like Victor Dubuisson at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. This week, it was Scott Langley, the 24-year-old former NCAA champion, who made a run at his first win.
Golf’s recent Youth Movement has been well documented over the past few years, but this year we’re seeing more young players than ever on Sunday leaderboards. Why is that?
Earlier this week, it was two-time winner Harris English (just 24 himself) who offered this take:
"You see the guys coming out of college now, they're really not scared of winning, of closing out golf tournaments," he said. "It's the Tiger effect. He was our idol growing up. He kind of brought this game so far and everybody has gotten so much better. This TOUR has gotten so much better."
In other words, it’s not a fad. There is much more young talent coming, so let’s take this chance to get to know them a little better.
Most likely to be the next World No. 1: Rory McIlroy, 24
McIlroy, a six-time winner, is the undisputed king of the Under-25s. You know about his majors and his weeks at World No. 1. With his game rounding back into the form we saw in 2012, he has as good a chance as any to knock Tiger Woods off the top of the Official World Golf Rankings.
Most likely to tell you he’s the next World No. 1: Patrick Reed, 23
You can love or hate his “Top 5 player” talk, but Reed has done everything asked of him during his short career on TOUR, including earning his card the old fashioned way, by surviving six of eight Monday qualifiers and flat-out cashing checks. “Fearless” is a cliché, but good luck coming up with another adjective about Reed.
Most likely to swing past parallel: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, 24
You have to watch Aphibarnrat’s swing in slow motion. It’s truly fascinating.
Super Slo-Mo Swing
Least likely to convince someone they’re actually 20: Jordan Spieth, Matteo Manassero
Both players are the rare examples of star junior prospects that (somehow) far exceeded their promise. Manassero is a four-time winner on the European Tour. Spieth was the youngest winner on the PGA TOUR since 1931. Think about the fact that these guys have 30 years before they are eligible for the Champions Tour.
Most likely to teach a rookie orientation class on Escapology : Victor Dubuisson, 23
He’s now famous for hitting the two shots you see below at this year’s Accenture Match Play, but that’s not all Dubuisson can do. He won the Turkish Airlines Open in November, a field that included Justin Rose, Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson.
Most likely to fill up the press room: Ryo Ishikawa, 22
Even Spieth can’t compete with the amount of writers, television cameras and photographers that follow Ishikawa throughout the entire day. Ishikawa, one of golf’s youngest “veterans” is starting to string together some more consistent finishes in his second full season on the PGA TOUR. Hideki Matsuyama, 22, gets an honorable mention here.
Most likely to release a solo album: Russell Henley, 24
Yes, Henley is a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR and a three-time champ on the Web.com Tour (including one win as an amateur). But he’s also an incredibly talented guitar player.
Roommates most likely to be PGA TOUR winners: Peter Uihlein, 24, and Brooks Koepka, 23
The two South Florida roommates have spent the majority of their time across the pond, with Koepka racking up four European Challenge Tour wins and Uihlein winning once on the European Tour and once on the Challenge Tour. They are also similar in the World Rankings, with Uihlein at 71 and Koepka at 74.
Lowest ball flight: Scott Langley, 24
“Towering” isn’t a good word to describe the ball flight of Langley, a lefty from the University of Illinois that contended this week at the Valspar Championship. That works out just fine when a shot demands something like this…
Most improved short game: Harris English, 24
English was a solid player at the University of Georgia, but since then two things have changed and made him one of the most consistent players on TOUR. First, he learned how to be comfortable on Sundays after playing in the final group with Rory McIlroy at the 2012 Honda Classic (learning comes at a price; he shot 77). Second, he dedicated himself to cleaning up his short game in the offseason. The result: a TOUR-leading six top 10s in 12 starts this season.
Most likely to be on the PGA TOUR in 2015: Justin Thomas, 20
Thomas made the cut at the Wyndham Championship when he was 16 and went on to become college player of the year in 2012 at Alabama. He’s already off to a strong start in his rookie season on the Web.com Tour, finishing T5 and T12 in his first two events.
UP NEXT: The PGA TOUR heads to the famed Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, where defending champion Tiger Woods has won eight times. Read more in this week’s First Look
Here is a list of under-25 players in the field at Bay Hill this week: Harris English, Derek Ernst, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Luke Guthrie, Russell Henley, Morgan Hoffmann, John Huh, Ryo Ishikawa, Brooks Koepka, Danny Lee, Seung-Yul Noh, Zachary Olsen, Patrick Reed.