Seniors agree: Young stars on PGA Tour are in a league of their own

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

This week's 81-player field in Grand Blanc, is, by the nature of things, past its prime.

But the 50-and-older-somethings playing in this week's Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club are mighty impressed with the state of the game up on the PGA Tour, where many of the golfers are stars — and haven't even reached their prime, yet.

Bryson DeChambeau

"You can go back and throw Hogan, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, Norman, Seve, right down the list, they are going to compete in any era," said Jim Furyk, who now is playing both tours, making his Champions Tour debut this week. "It doesn't matter where you put them. They are the greatest players that lived in their time.

"What you see is a larger talent pool."

Of the top 30 players in the latest Official World Golf Ranking, 15 are 30 or younger.

Only two players in the top 30 are in their 40s, and the oldest is Tiger Woods, who is 44 and ranked 15th.

That name, of course, helps explain why there are so many young guns getting it done so early on in their PGA Tour careers.

"It's better because when they were choosing sports in high school," said Lake Orion's Tom Gillis, in his third year on the Champions Tour, "it was cool to choose golf just because of Tiger Woods. That's No. 1."

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Training, said Gillis, a touring pro for several decades all over the globe, has stepped up big-time. Golfers didn't use to believe in weight-training, but starting with the likes of David Duval, then Woods, then Brooks Koepka, and so on, it's become the thing to do.

The training and diet has never been more spotlighted than the last few months, thanks to Bryson DeChambeau, whose several-thousand-calories-a-day intake, plus the bulking up, has become all the rage.

DeChambeau has taken driving to a whole new level, routinely bombing tee shots 350 yards. En route to his win at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club in early July, DeChambeau even waited for the green to clear on a 399-yard par 4.

He swings one way: Hard.

"When I grew up on that 3 wood, I remember never swinging 100 percent," Gillis said, with a laugh, noting the old persimmon woods. "You'd miss it!"

Collin Morikawa

There's another factor, of course. The technology has changed so much over the years, from both clubs to balls.

Gillis said the new era of golf is impressive to watch, but he fears the increased bulking up and the harder swings could lead to much shorter careers.

But the early returns on some of these careers is pretty darn special. Over the last 13 months, Matthew Wolff (21), Colin Morikawa (23) and Viktor Hovland (22) already have won on the PGA Tour, just weeks of leaving college. Morikawa, in 26 starts on the PGA Tour, has two wins and one missed cut.

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There's world No. 1 Jon Rahm (25), Justin Thomas (27), DeChambeau (26), Patrick Reed (29), Patrick Cantlay (28), Xander Schauffele (26), Tommy Fleetwood (29), Tyrrell Hatton (28), Matthew Fitzpatrick (25), Abraham Acer (29), Sungjae Im (22), Hideki Matsuyama (28), Daniel Berger (27) and Jordan Spieth (27).

That's to say nothing of Rory McIlroy (31), Koepka (30), Tony Finau (30), and on and on.

"You'll see more young players not only ready to compete or to come out and keep their cards, but to win. They are ready early, at a very young age," said Furyk, who, even at 50, remains in the top 100 in the world, at 92nd.

"When I left college, it was rare that a guy got the Tour card, let alone a guy, say, like Phil Mickelson, that came out and won. Like, he won in college.

"It seems like there's more of those guys now.

"And it's actually fun to watch."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984