Welcome to the new PGA TOUR season, which looks a lot like the just completed PGA TOUR season, and not because, as Australian Steven Bowditch joked after the Presidents Cup that his offseason "was a 12-hour flight from Korea."
No, the carryover isn't about the time-space continuum, but instead about the continued brilliance of a certain set of young players. The 2015-16 PGA TOUR schedule began last week with a victory by Argentina's Emiliano Grillo, who beat Kevin Na in a playoff in his first start as a TOUR member. Grillo, 23, is just the latest member of a very young group of players sweeping over pro golf at the moment.
The head of this posse is the guy who dominated the just completed season, Jordan Spieth. All the talented Texan did in this past season was win five times, including the year's first two majors, and he came within a handful of shots of winning the modern grand slam. Spieth already was a cinch for PGA TOUR Player of the Year honors even before he capped off his season with a win in the TOUR Championship and the FedExCup title, which comes with a $10 million bonus.
Spieth is 23, and is part of what some are calling one of the most talented classes ever assembled so early on the TOUR. Of course, they are part of the HIGH SCHOOL class of 2011. And no one should be surprised that they are very good. Spieth all but predicted their rise earlier this year, observing: “Our graduating class of 2011 has probably eight or nine tour players that will come out of it There’s what, three or four on the PGA TOUR, another couple on the [Web.com Tour] already, and we should still be in [college].”
The list of Spieth’s peers includes Patrick Rodgers (Stanford), Justin Thomas (Alabama) and Daniel Berger (Florida State). Berger two weeks ago was named the PGA TOUR’s top rookie of 2014-15 and Rodgers, who won the 2014 Jack Nicklaus Award as the top collegiate golfer, secured his TOUR card for 2015-16 without serving the now-traditional apprenticeship season on the Web.com Tour.
Not that last season was all about Spieth. Rory McIlroy began the year ranked No. 1 in the world before getting passed by Spieth. But then Jason Day rose up to win four of seven starts at the end of the year, including his first major title at the PGA Championship, and he also got into the world No. 1 conversation. They are being talked about as golf’s new “Big Three” – as if there could ever be another – but Rickie Fowler shouldn’t be forgotten, not after a breakout year that included his playoff win in The Players Championship.
Representing the older guard with aplomb was Zach Johnson, who, at age 39, won the Open Championship at St. Andrews, holding off Day and fellow Australian Marc Leishman in a four-hole playoff.
Later in the year, Johnson beat Day again, this time in the Presidents Cup in singles competition. Johnson went 3-0-1 for the American team, and so did 45-year-old Captain’s pick Phil Mickelson, as the U.S. held on for a one-point victory at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Inchean City, South Korea.
The new season, as Bowditch noted with his wry quip, started the next week. No wonder it seems like it’s a game for the young. Or, at least, the young at heart.