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The Changing of the Guard

The PGA Tour witnessed a generational shift of new stars last season, and in 2012, expect them to shine even brighter
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
100 Years of Fuente—Celebrating a Family Dynasty, January/February 2012

In the 1969 movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Paul Newman as Butch and the Sundance Kid, played by Robert Redford, pause at the top of a mountain to consider the predicament they have found themselves in, being chased by a distant but persistent posse that doesn’t seem to get closer but never seems to go away.

“They can’t track us over the rocks,” says Butch.

“Tell them that,” says Sundance.

“They are beginning to get on my nerves,” says Butch. “Who are those guys?”

So let’s stretch our imaginations to the limit and suppose that Tiger Woods is Butch Cassidy and Phil Mickelson is the Sundance Kid, and they are actually on speaking terms. And in that scenario, at the end of the 2011 golf season, Woods might have well uttered those same words to Mickelson, except now a posse of players—some young veterans, some rookies—are no longer a cloud of dust in the distance. They are right on their heels, their thunderous hoof beats within pitching wedge range, and closing rapidly.

In every sport, aging greats must inevitably give way to the bright young prospects. These generational changes always seem particularly evident in golf. In golf’s modern era since World War II, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Byron Nelson gave way to Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and the greatest of them all, Jack Nicklaus. Those Hall of Famers gave way to Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and Seve Ballesteros, and in turn, they were followed by Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Nick Price.

Tiger Woods then blasted onto the scene as golf’s supernova, with Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and Ernie Els shining brightly right next to him for more than a decade. During that period, Woods utterly dominated with his 14 major titles and 71 PGA Tour victories. Mickelson, Singh and Els all produced multiple major wins and Hall of Fame careers. Woods is now 36, but his left leg is much older. All the others have crossed the 40-something threshold. Those four all-time greats produced one victory in 2011, by Mickelson at the Houston Open.

The time for another generational change on the PGA Tour has arrived.

At the end of the 2011 season, these were the nominees for PGA Tour player of the year: Luke Donald, Keegan Bradley, Bill Haas, Nick Watney and Webb Simpson (yes, Webb Simpson). Donald ended the season as the No. 1–ranked player in the world.

“These sort of changes have been going on for a couple of years,” says Ian Baker-Finch, the CBS television commentator and winner of the 1991 British Open. “This year it has been more evident with the younger guys showing up, like a rookie [Bradley] winning a major. You have players turning 40, Els, [Retief] Goosen, Mickelson, [Jim] Furyk. Players we’ve known for so many years are shifting into the twilight. There were always two or three young stars in every generation. Now there might be 12 to 15.”


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