KAPALUA, Hawaii — Golfers in their 20s won nearly half of last year’s PGA TOUR events, but the defending champion in this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions is 45-year-old Steve Stricker.
He is the only player in his 40s here and has one of the best track records at Kapalua Plantation, with top-10 finishes three of the last four years.
Not bad for an old guy, at least by comparison. Of the 37 winners last year, 15 were in their 20s. Stricker turned pro about the time 2012 Rookie of the Year John Huh was born.
Bubba Watson will defend his Masters title this year against, among 100 or so others, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang of China, who won the 2012 Asia-Pacific Championship.
Watson blames it on Tiger Woods.
“Tiger had brought so much to the game across the world, not just in the U.S., just amazing things … ,” Watson said. “People are seeing the talent level at a younger age. Every sport now is getting younger. LeBron James at high school could have played in the NBA.”
Along with the “it” factor, Watson is one of many who believe Woods brought a new sense of athleticism and fitness to the game. People practice better and eat better, and do it earlier.
They are also introduced to much more at a much younger age. South Korean Si Woo Kim earned his card at Q-School, but cannot even become a PGA TOUR member until June 28, when he turns 18. Rory McIlroy, 23, won five times — and more than $11 million — all over the world last year.
“McIlroy now is going to the other side of the world,” Watson said, “showing them that you can do it younger, better, faster and do all these things and get in good shape.
“I think that’s what Tiger has brought to the game. He’s brought the atmosphere of becoming an athlete and not just a golfer. … We are competing at a higher level and I think that’s what makes it tougher for Tiger to win. The talent level is getting better and better.”
Stricker has proven it can also last longer and longer. Eight of his 12 wins have come in the last four years.