Leaderboard: Roaring 20s

By Dan Reardon

Following a tumultuous fall political campaign season, the experts turned to demographics to explain the unexpected election outcome. As the PGA Tour approaches the traditional quarter pole in the 2017 season — the Masters — demographics is clearly the major theme to this point in the year.

Unlike the political world, on Tour the demographics are reversed. Experts cited the underperformance of the youth vote and the surge from the middle class in the Presidential election. Youth has dominated the winners circle in golf to date in 2017.

With 19 events finalized in the wraparound season, the average age of the weekly winner is 29.05 years of age. In those 19 events, two out of three winners were under 30 years old.

Because of the fall events for the PGA Tour, it should be expected that youth would be served. As the more veteran players used that time to escape the game, the new kids on the block collected a major share of those wins.

Justin Thomas launched his brilliant start to the season in Kuala Lumpur, winning the CIMB Classic, the first of three wins on Tour for the 2017 season. Cody Gribble (26), Hideki Matsuyama (25) and Mackenzie Hughes (26) all posted wins before the calendar officially turned to 2017.

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Despite those four under-30 wins, the fall average age skewed higher, to an average winner’s age of 31.6, thanks to very senior wins by Rod Pampling (47) and Pat Perez (41).

After the first of the year, when fields tend to be more representative, the youth vote has been even more prevalent. Again using Thomas as a launch point, eight of 12 winners had not reached their 30th birthdays, including six straight to start the year before Dustin Johnson (32) scored wins in consecutive starts. For 2017 the average age of the trophy winner drops to 27.5.

Perhaps more impressive is that of the 12 under-30 winners, better than half — seven — are 25 or younger, with Jon Rahm the baby of the group at 22 and four wins by a pair of 23-year-olds, Thomas and Jordan Spieth.

Also keep in mind that two of the marquee figures of this under-30 crowd, former number-one-ranked players Jason Day (29) and Rory McIlroy (27), have yet to crash the party. Neither has last year’s Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed (26).

One player who can put the youth movement into perspective is the godfather of prodigy golf on Tour, Tiger Woods. Amazingly, if this new generation continues to perform at this accelerated pace, they will likely still fall short of what Woods accomplished on his own before hitting the 30 mark.

Beginning with his first four wins in 1997, Woods won 44 times before turning 30. That total included eight major titles. Out of this year’s young winners, only Spieth can claim a major title at this point.

Woods has not been surprised by the early-age success we are seeing in the game today. He told the Washington Times, “I think they’re a little bit more seasoned than my generation,” Woods said. “Junior Golf is a little bit more — a little bit stronger than it used to be. Collegiate golf is even stronger. They’re getting a lot more chances to play out here on the regular Tour with sponsor invites. They’ve got plenty of experience.”

While Woods’ future still awaits a healthy return, Jack Nicklaus frames Tiger’s chances of regained success, now that he’s north of 40, as directly related to this new generation. “He’s got an issue with some really good players every year,” he told the AP earlier this year. “The thing is, those really good players didn’t have the problem of having him. So they all learned how to win. They learned how to win and gain the confidence they needed to project their careers forward. So he not only has my record to contend with, he’s got a lot of kids who are really good. You’ve got a pretty interesting next couple of years.”

Major winners top the resume annually on the PGA Tour, and last year three of those major titles went to the older generation. The first measure of what this year may bring will come at Augusta, where the last two donning the green jacket were under 30 but seven of the last 10 were not.

Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.

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