Schupak: Smells like teen spirit, but are today’s golf prodigies really that special?

May 10, 2024

The PGA Tour shouldn’t bother with reviving its old marketing slogan these guys are good because pretty soon none of them will be old enough to celebrate their successes with an alcoholic beverage.

First, it was 15-year-old Miles Russell, the youngest AJGA Player of the Year (displacing Tiger Woods), making the cut at a Korn Ferry Tour event (he finished T-20 in the LECOM Suncoast Classic) and nearly doing it again the following week. The high school freshman already has secured a sponsor exemption to the PGA Tour’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship in November, and the invites should be rolling in.

Last week, Kris Kim, 16, did one better, receiving a sponsor exemption into the PGA Tour’s CJ Cup Byron Nelson and shooting a first-round 64. He became the fifth-youngest player in the history of the PGA Tour to make the cut and the youngest in tournament history. Younger, in fact, than the Golden Child, Jordan Spieth. (Kim finished 65th.) Asked what he is most excited about when he gets back home, Kim responded with this classic answer: “I’ve got my driving license this year, so I think that’s going to be pretty cool.”

This week, it smells like teen spirit in the play-for-pay ranks in the form of young Blades Brown. Having already become the youngest stroke play medalist in U.S. Amateur history in 2023 (he was co-medalist) and breaking a record set by Bobby Jones 103 years ago, the 16-year-old Brown teed it up on Thursday at the Tour’s Myrtle Beach Classic and opened with 1-over 72.

Man, so cool to see @BladesBrown2026 competing in his 1st @PGATOUR event. Blades is 16 and a So. in HS. Unreal bud. Like yesterday you, Chase, Hayes and all the boys were out there playin coach pitch. Happy for all your success-go gettem tomorrow and please give your Mom and Dad…

— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) May 9, 2024

At this pace, the Tour’s going to need to expand its daycare with all these youngsters proving they have game.

And it’s not just the men – 15-year-old Asterisk Talley of Northern California just qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open later this month and another 15-year-old, Ashley Shaw, earned a two-stroke victory at the John Shippen Cognizant Cup on Monday to earn a spot in this week’s LPGA field in New Jersey.

Impressive accomplishments, for sure, but when young golfers are doing seemingly remarkable things with such regularity it does take some of the wow factor away from the feat. These stories begin to feel more dog bites man than man bites dog. This latest kiddie corps, after all, isn’t that far removed from the age of Rose Zhang, who won in her LPGA debut last year, or Nick Dunlap, who won the American Express on the PGA Tour in January as an amateur and subsequently turned pro. Before celebrating his 21st birthday, Tom Kim won twice on the Tour and earned additional victories in India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Korea and Singapore.

It wasn’t that long ago when Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson were the only players with multiple victories on the PGA Tour among players in their 20s. But Tiger Woods, besides winning eight to 10 times a year and preventing a generation from winning enough for World Golf Hall of Fame consideration, also gave rise to an influx of young, athletic talent. Talk to a PGA Tour Champions pro and he’ll tell you that in his day, he had to learn to shape shots and to flight the ball at different trajectories.

“You were almost serving an apprenticeship,” Woody Austin said. “You had to cut your teeth and get experience on Tour before you were ready to go win, and if you were any good, you’d do so in your 30s. Now, they come out of the box and they’re ready to go.”

Austin went on a lengthy rant about equipment, and he’s not wrong. The biggest factor, he said, is that the golf ball doesn’t curve anymore, and the penalty for hitting it crooked is less severe. So, newly minted pros and those still seeking their driver’s license don’t have to learn to work the ball both ways; just grip it and rip it. Another factor is that the equipment is so much easier to match. It used to take months of trial and error to find the right shaft and driver. If it used to take a player three months to determine that his driver is spinning the ball too much, it is now revealed in three shots. Now a player sets up his TrackMan or FlightScope, it spews out numbers and the whole bag can be reconfigured in an afternoon. Game-changer. Not to mention that there are data analytics experts to tell a player how to play a course and a green book that tells a player the break and read of the green. Experience is overrated.