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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Golfers getting younger and younger

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While Dustin Johnson (a positively ancient 36 years old) is an unassailable OGWR No. 1 at present, his closest rivals in hot pursuit are all in their twenties: Bryson DeChambeau is 26, Jon Rahm (26), Justin Thomas (27), Collin Morikawa (24), Xander Schauffle (27), Viktor Hovland (23), Jordan Spieth (27), Patrick Cantlay (28) and Tyrrell Hatton (29).

There was a time that golfers did not hit their peak years until their middle thirties – not anymore. These days, there’s no doubt that the top golfers in the Official World Rankings are getting younger and younger.

Rory McIlroy (31) had a marvellous career until 2019, but has been struggling since he reached 30. You’d be mad to write him off, of course, but his slide down the rankings is alarming and must be giving him nightmares.

To be usurped by younger blood is an uncomfortable, unavoidable feeling. It has happened to every multiple champion in the history of the game. It’s a matter of when, not if. And, as the best get younger, so do the has-beens!

There is only one solution. Arm yourself to the teeth with skills and reassert yourself in ‘battle’. There is no future in fading away! History also teaches us that multiple major winners win their titles in a relatively short time span and, then don’t win again. Padraig Harrington won his three majors in 14 months, Jordan Spieth won three in three years, Rory won his four in just over three years, as did Brooks Koepka. There is no guarantee that any of them will win another. It was not always so. Phil Mickelson took almost a decade to collect his five majors. Nick Faldo won six between (1987 and 1996). Gary Player won nine over a 19-year period; Jack Nicklaus took 24 years to win his 18 over. Tiger managed 14 majors between 1997 and 2008 and took another 11 years to add an exclamation mark at Augusta in 2019. Such longevity is unique.

The game has changed. It’s all about swing speed and power now, which favours the young. There is also so much golf to be played the demands on commitment and energy are enormous. Top golfers no longer play for a comfortable living as much as to make a colossal fortune in a short time span. That means burn out comes sooner and keeping ‘hungry, ambitious youth’ at bay gets more difficult with each passing year.

The young brigade today have the advantages of computer technology and coaching techniques that did not exist less than twenty years ago. Each new generation is, and should be, able to build on what came before.

Although it is an individual sport, today’s young golf stars have a ‘team’ that can consist of a managing agent, sponsor(s), caddy, coach,  mentor, trainer, dietician and a psychologist all helping them, but still, winning at golf is never easy because it is one against the entire field of 155 – any of whom might ‘catch lightening’ to play the tournament of a lifetime to beat you. Just like Jack Fleck did in the 1955 US Open to defeat the incomparable Ben Hogan in a play-off. If you don’t know that story you know nothing!

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