Defending Quicken Loans National champion Justin Rose broke 70 for the first time at just 11 years old. By the time he was 14, Rose had a plus-1 handicap.
Now, at 34, Rose is watching a new generation of golfers take the PGA Tour by storm — with perhaps none more impressive as of late than Jordan Spieth.
“At the Open Championship, to come within one shot of his third straight major [was] kind of as good as we’ve seen for a long, long time from any player,” Rose said Wednesday at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Spieth turned 22 on Monday and has two major victories and four top-10 finishes to his name. By comparison, Tiger Woods had claimed a major victory and one top-10 finish by the time he turned 22.
“When Tiger was doing it, you thought there’s no way we’ll ever see this again in our lifetime,” Rose said. “It was unprecedented to see a young player go out and win majors and make it look so easy. Here we are 20 years later, and the next generation is stepping up to those sorts of feats.”
For Woods, the abundance of seemingly polished golfers in their early 20s is not a matter of happenstance. Rather, it’s a byproduct of better and more frequent opportunities available to today’s young golfers.
“I think they’re a little bit more seasoned than my generation,” Woods said Tuesday. “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.”
Both Woods and Spieth turned pro at age 20. But to his point, Spieth had 48 more PGA Tour starts than Woods did by the time they each turned 22.
Daniel Berger, also 22, is the top-ranked rookie in the FedEx Cup standings with five weeks to go before the playoffs begin. He enters the Quicken Loans National, which begins Thursday, in position to become the seventh rookie to qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“It’s a bit surreal, especially considering that, you know, a year and a half, two years ago, I was just in college,” Berger said Wednesday. “I would just be graduating from Florida State right now.”
All six rookies who managed to make the field went on to be named PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, but Berger doesn’t want to get ahead of himself.
“I’m trying to keep the expectations low,” he said. “I feel like that’s when I play my best golf.”
If Berger maintains the level he has played at all season, he shouldn’t have much trouble making the first cut in the four-event playoffs. He currently sits in 37th place and has a long way to fall before dropping outside of the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings.
The fact that half of the players currently in the top 10 on the FedEx Cup leaderboard are age 28 or younger suggests that the youth movement is more than just a matter of public perception.
Spieth currently leads the field with 3,763 points — a whopping 1,270 points ahead of the rest of the competition.
Golf is one of the rare sports in which professional longevity isn’t a rarity. However, it also isn’t uncommon for a young player or an unknown amateur to burst into the spotlight before fading into obscurity.
Still, something about the current youth movement seems sustainable. It wasn’t long ago that Rory McIlroy, 26, and Rickie Fowler, 26, were the new kids on the block, and they have stayed relevant since their emergence.
At age 22, McIlroy shattered expectations when he dominated the field during the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. His 16-under-par was eight strokes better than the closest competitor and four strokes better than the previous U.S. Open record. The following year, McIlroy became the youngest player to win a PGA Tour playoff.
Fowler turned professional in 2009 but has reached new heights this season. He said Wednesday that the two biggest wins of his career came this year at The Players Championship and the Scottish Open.
One could argue his body of work last season was even more impressive, but for Fowler, nothing beats outright winning.
“It would have been nice to get a win in the majors last year,” he said. “With making history and that top five in all four majors, it’s going to be special look back on. But winning is a lot better than finishing top five.”