A Plethora of Young Golf Stars
Youth Movement Alive and Well
Amidst a flurry of phrases that I swore never to use, such as “Back in my day” and “When I was Your Age,” I worried when people began to suggest that golf was on the wane, and might disappear from the pantheon of recreation as environmental and economic issues continue to resist it. Perhaps these dire predictions come from those of my age group who followed the Big Three through the sixties and beyond, and don’t experience the same thrill. The young, they believe, just don’t have what we had.
Economic issues? Yes, golf has grown too expensive, but there hasn’t been a mass exodus away from the game. It’s an exodus to the driving range, and playing less often. New equipment sales are down, and considering what we’ve been through since 2008, that’s not surprising. Environmental considerations? We’re on it, including the recent theme coming out of the Bay area that “Brown is the new green.” But, to suggest that golf died with the retirements of the Big Three, and that the young have lost interest in the game is nonsense. Not while the young are dominating the professional tours as they never have before. In fact, the thrill of the Big Three might be gone, but golf has not stopped its momentum – the torch has been passed, and the young are now getting their Big Three experience.
For many of us, “young” used to mean that golf was a young man’s game, underscoring both “young” and “man.” Youth meant the mid-twenties and thirties, the age when Palmer, Nicklaus, and Player, not to mention a few others, were cleaning up on the world stage, and appearing week to week as the three musketeers of the PGA. The torch had been passed to them from Snead, Nelson, Hogan, as their forefathers had – Jones, Hagen…those guys we read about or view in the USGA’s hallowed halls these days.
The LPGA was established at the mid-century, but it took a while to get national perception of it off the ground. Chock full of talent, it was nevertheless a novelty at first to see a woman play professional level golf. Still, for young women, the role models were there in Wright, Berg and a dozen others, and that torch has been passed down in the very same way. Today, golf is in a happy state where pros of all ages are relevant and valid. They don’t have to feel ceremonial anymore. And, most importantly for the game’s future, there is a sizeable youth movement.
They can talk all they want about the demise of golf, citing equipment sales and numbers of people paying inflated prices to play, but two of the game’s young stars just won major championships at twenty-one and seventeen years of age. That doesn’t look like a doomed game to me. It’s not only important that Lydia Ko has emerged as a true teen sensation, but if that were not so, there would be a dozen other Charley Hull types to take her place, and believe me, they would, mindful of the fact that Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, and Paula Creamer aren’t exactly hobbling around with canes and dimming eyesight, either.
When Jordan Spieth, only a year or two out of college, semi-surprised us at the Masters, who was it that was favored? Rory McIlroy, that’s who, barely a year or two older. Even the grand old man of the tour, Tiger Woods, hasn’t even reached forty yet. If any have doubts about the torch having been passed, one need only look at the vast explosion of golf camps, youth tours and major competitions for tomorrow’s pros to know that we’re still going to be playing golf years from now.