- Don’t look now, but there’s a youth movement that’s threatening to take over golf, even at the PGA Tour level. That became obvious when 23-year-old rookie Collin Morikawa from Cal-Berkeley streaked to the PGA Championship last Sunday.
- With Morikawa’s win, he jumped to No. 5 in the world. Five rookies have climbed to the top 36 in the world rankings. Scheffler has reached 46th, ascending from 59th with his fourth-place tie in the PGA Championship.
- “I think golf is in a great spot,” Scheffler said. “You’ve got a lot of young guys playing well. Yeah, I think golf is in a great place.”
John Fields first laid eyes on him years ago during an amateur golf tournament hosted by the Barton Creek Country Club and couldn’t have been more impressed.
So the Texas men’s golf coach introduced himself to Scottie Scheffler and his Dallas parents, trying to get a leg up on recruiting the young talent.
He followed up on the visit by sending Scheffler a lengthy questionnaire, even asking if he’d narrowed his choice of colleges that he was considering.
“He wrote back,” Fields recalled. “He said, ‘Thank you for your nice note, but I really don’t know yet because I’m getting ready to go into the eighth grade.”
Can never start too early these days. That’s never been more true than in golf.
Don’t look now, but there’s a youth movement that’s threatening to take over the sport, even at the PGA Tour level.
That became obvious last Sunday when 23-year-old rookie Collin Morikawa from Cal-Berkeley streaked to the PGA Championship, notching an eagle on the 70th hole and winning his first major by two shots in only his second start in a major. The half-Japanese, half-Chinese prodigy already has three titles to his name after just 29 starts on tour.
He’s hardly alone in attracting attention.
The young lions, including Scheffler — the Texas ex who’s a consistent, confident birdie machine — are banging on the door. Actually, they’ve already opened it and ushered themselves in.
Morikawa’s win jumped him to No. 5 in the world. Five rookies have climbed to the top 36 in the rankings. Scheffler has reached 46th, ascending from 59th with his fourth-place tie in the PGA Championship.
Four players yet to reach their 26th birthday, including 24-year-old Scheffler, all finished among the top 10 at the PGA Championship, the most ever during the stroke-play era.
“I think golf is in a great spot,” Scheffler said last Sunday night, after the tournament. “You’ve got a lot of young guys playing well. Yeah, I think golf is in a great place.”
The other two — Oklahoma State’s Matthew Wolff and Texas A&M’s Cameron Champ — have already won on the PGA Tour. Scheffler has yet to win, but has five top-seven finishes. Playing in just his fourth major, he was in Sunday’s final pairing with former world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and never shrank from the moment.
Brooks Koepka, who was seeking his third straight PGA Championship, had said the day before that he didn’t know some of “the other guys” high up on the leaderboard and was mostly concerned with Johnson.
Koepka knows them all now, having ballooned to a final-round 74 to finish 10 strokes behind Morikawa.
The other guys are cropping up everywhere. From everywhere. Like Matthew Fitzpatrick from England. Like Sung-Jae Im and Si Woo Kim from South Korea. Like 25-year-old Li Haotong from China, who became the first golfer from his country to ever lead after a round at a major when he did so at the halfway point.
Oh, and Arizona State’s Jon Rahm, the world’s No. 1 player, is from Spain. He’s 25.
Back home Americans like Justin Thomas (Alabama), Bryson DeChambeau (SMU) and Xander Schauffele (Long Beach) are all in their 20s. So is former Longhorn Jordan Spieth, who’s trying to recover his groove. The colleges are churning them out like crazy. Wolff won six times at Oklahoma State and won the 3M Open last year. Morikawa won the Barracuda Championship the next week.
Viktor Hovland, Wolff’s 22-year-old Oklahoma State teammate, has already won on the PGA Tour, claiming the Puerto Rico Open to become the first Norwegian to win on Tour. Native Texan Abraham Ancer played at Oklahoma. Stanford’s Maverick McNealy is a former No. 1 amateur in the world, just like Texas’ junior Cole Hammer.
Hammer and Western Amateur champion Pierceson Coody were two of five Longhorns who qualified in this week’s U.S. Amateur competition in Oregon, but none played well enough to advance out of stroke play. They’re future PGA stars.
But the college kids and international players are making their presence felt for any number of reasons.
Credit terrific training from super college coaches like Fields.
Early exposure to golf. Sung jae-Kim began playing at age 3. Some get recruited in middle school.
Breakthroughs in equipment. Some of these drivers are bigger than Rhode Island.
More strength training. Rahm is a 6-3, 235-pound specimen.
Better nutrition, DeChambeau’s enormous calorie count aside.
“I think it’s just amateur golf right now. It’s so good,” Wolff said. “The best of amateur golf right now, they’re going to be the best players in the world. I think that was rare in the past.”
Morikawa, a four-time All-American, became only the fourth player to win a PGA Championship before he turned 24, joining Rory McIlroy, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods.
“It’s great company,” Morikawa said. “I feel very comfortable in this spot. This is where I want to be, and I’m not scared from it. It doesn’t stop here.”
No reason that it should. None of these young guns have any fear.
“When Scottie won the U.S. Junior championship before he came to UT, he just had a way about him that suggested he was OK being uncomfortable and still able to play good golf,” Fields said. “He is absolutely good enough to win a major championship.”
Paul Casey, the runner-up who still hasn’t won a major in 64 starts, came away impressed with Morikawa.
“Instant maturity was probably the one thing that stood out,” Casey said. “I mean, you know, those — you’ve heard him talk. Very mature in the words he chooses, the way he speaks, the way he plays golf.”
The same goes for Scheffler, who won three times as the Korn Ferry player of the year and led that tour in birdies. This was yet another stride in what should be a brilliant career.
“Definitely a step in the right direction,” Scheffler told me via an online press conference. “It was definitely a solid week out here. So good steppingstone going forward.”
The new wave may not inundate the game, but these youngsters are making their presence known.
“There’s always a bunch of guys that rock up on the scene, and Collin didn’t necessarily get the most publicity out of the group he was in, but you know, I’ve been around the block, so I know talent when I see it,” Casey said. “Talent’s — you know something good. We could just tell.”
So could Koepka, who finally conceded that point about Morikawa.
“He’s a really good player,” Koepka said. “He’s shown it over — has it been a year?”
Seems like yesterday.
Brace yourselves, golf.