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Posted on Monday, November 23, 2015

There will be plenty of fresh, new faces at the 2016 Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide. The emphasis is on "fresh."

Until Graeme McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, emerged from a three-man playoff with the victory in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba, in Mexico, the new PGA TOUR season belonged exclusively to young players who hadn't previously registered a victory. And with the exception of Scotland's Russell Knox, 30, who won the WGC-HSBC Champions, in China, the other winners are in their 20s -- Emiliano Grillo, Justin Thomas, Smylie Kaufman, and Peter Malnati.

And as of this writing, members of the most recent Web.com Tour graduating class claimed the first three events played in America -- Grillo, Kaufman and Malnati. (Thomas and Knox won TOUR stops in Asia.) Thomas, Grillo and Kaufman are all 23 or younger, by the way, part of the class of 2011 that includes 2014-15 PGA TOUR Player of the Year Jordan Spieth, who won the Masters, U.S. Open and the FedExCup title. Oh, and Daniel Berger, the PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year, also is part of that age group.

Winners of PGA TOUR events qualify automatically for a number of tournaments in 2016, including the Masters and invitational tournaments, the Memorial Tournament being among them.

What's going on with this latest youth movement?

"Things are definitely skewing younger," said Malnati, who said he was watching the inaugural East Lake Cup at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta and came away impressed by the talent he saw. "I was thinking that I don't know if I want to play against them. It's crazy to see the youth movement."

Golf always has had its youth movements. Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia were part of the last great youth movement. This one, in some ways, is not much different except that the winners as a group seem particularly green, only to prove that they are far from it. With no direct experience against Woods, whose dominance was unquestioned with 79 wins (including five Memorial victories) or Phil Mickelson (41 wins), they have no scar tissue and are brimming with confidence. So they feel ready to succeed.

As Thomas said when he was asked whether or not he expected to win so early in his pro career, the Georgia product replied, "I expected to win a lot sooner than this, honestly."

Woods, who undoubtedly inspired this group, will be 40 in December. Mickelson is 45. The last victory between them is the Open Championship that Lefty captured in 2013. The times they are changing. The faces, too. And they are young and focused and hungry.

Twenty-four players in their 20s were winners in the previous TOUR season, and in the last 14 TOUR events dating to last season, 11 were won by players in their 20s. That group also includes Columbus resident Jason Day, a native of Australia, who, like Spieth, had five wins overall.

Expect more of the same come January when the TOUR season resumes in Hawaii. 


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