The Rise of Young PGA Players

Spieth, McIlroy and Fowler help sport gain popularity

Calvin Williams

Sports writer

 

Last month Jordan Spieth finished just one stroke away from winning his third major of 2015 at The Open Championship. With the loss, Spieth missed his chance to be the first golfer to achieve a ‘grand slam’ in the same calendar year. Along with other big names, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, a youth movement is taking the PGA by storm and pushing out the Old Guard of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, among others.

For most UVU students it might be hard to remember just how dominant Tiger Woods was; instead, they may be more familiar with Thanksgiving weekend 2009 when his wife Elin took a nine iron to Woods’ head and Cadillac Escalade-allegedly.  In fact, this year’s incoming freshman class was only in the sixth grade when Tiger won his last major at The U.S. Open in 2008. Since then, Woods has struggled to stay healthy and is currently ranked 262nd in the official World Golf Rankings.

Mickelson is 20th in the rankings and won The Open Championship as recently as 2013.  No doubt his game is still good, but Mickelson just turned 45 and his days competing with Woods for dominance on the tour are done.

Currently Rory McIlroy, 26, is the top-ranked golfer in the world; Spieth, 22, is second; Fowler, 26, is ranked fifth, and not to be left out is 27-year old Australian, Jason Day.  Day is ranked fourth and the winner of the RBC Canadian Open the week after finishing tied fourth with Spieth at The Open Championship. In fact, eight of the top twenty golfers in the world right now are age 27 or younger. Among the four they have a career total of 22 PGA tour wins, 6 major wins, 31 top-ten finishes in majors and 147 top-ten finishes overall.

UVU co-captain golfer JT Timmons believes that the rise of young golfers is great for the sport.

“When Tiger Woods wins, that’s cool; however, seeing the rise of young golfers motivates me to do better.”

And young kids are noticing, Timmons continued. “When one of the young guys plays great over the weekend, my teammates and I are talking about it. I hear younger kids talking about it all the time.”jt_timmons

The success of young golfers is also good for business. Ryan Erickson, Manager at Uinta Golf in Orem has been in golf retail for seven years and sees a boom in business when McIlroy, Spieth and Fowler succeed.

“Anytime the game is infused with young blood it can only be a good thing,” said Erickson. “… The rise is great for sales, with Spieth and Day making a run during the British Open sales increased the next week.”

Erickson recalls that Nike Golf brand went on a slight decline when Tiger Woods play began his downturn.

“Rory McIlroy made Nike Relevant again,” he said. “I’ve noticed people are split on Tiger Woods; however, people still want Phil Mickelson to succeed and the Callaway brand is still strong Patrick Reed and local guy Tony Finau both 25, are keeping Callaway a leading brand.”

Just like the NBA, NFL, college football and basketball, the major brands – Nike, Under Armour and Adidas – are investing millions to get on polos. McIlroy has partnered with Nike, Spieth with Under Armour, and Day who is a Taylor Made (Adidas) golfer. Rickie Fowler’s flamboyant lime green, orange or baby blue outfits have actually helped Puma/Cobra Golf make its way onto country-club fairways.

David Strunk, tournament director at Sleepy Ridge Golf Club said he hasn’t necessarily seen an increase in business, but he noted the percentage of young people coming out to golf has increased.

“I believe the game of golf is now somewhat vogue because of the rise of young PGA professionals.”

In a perfect world, Woods and Mickelson would continue to play well so that golf fans could get the best of both worlds.  But there has been a changing of the guard and it shows as Spieth, McIlroy, Day, and Fowler were listed as favorites to win the PGA Championship this past weekend at Whistling Straits.

Woods and Mickelson were also left off of the U.S. roster for the upcoming President’s Cup competition.  Spieth and Fowler will both compete for the U.S. team while Day will compete for the World team.  It just goes to show that the youth movement is moving forward and having a positive impact on the game of golf.

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