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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

(continued from page 1)

Want to know a certain indicator that this generational change is in full flight?  EA Sports announced this fall that Tiger Woods will have to share the cover of the 2013 PGA Tour video game that bears his name with U.S. Open winner Rory McIlroy and mop-haired star-in-the-making Rickie Fowler.

For sure, if Woods’ personal life and left knee had not crumbled, if Mickelson had not contracted an arthritic condition, if Singh’s back hadn’t been showing chronic signs of old age, if Els’ putter hadn’t fallen off like a rusty muffler, the new generation of players might not yet have emerged from the shadow of their distinguished predecessors. But combine the deterioration of the old with the acceleration, talent and polish of the new, and it’s clear that the pursuers have made up significant ground.

That posse is led by the marvelously talented 22-year-old Northern Irishman McIlroy (see Cigar Aficionado, July/Aug. 2009), who showed resiliency by overcoming a dramatic and potentially traumatic fourth-round collapse at the Masters to win the U.S. Open at Congressional. It was a performance that would have befitted Woods at his dominating best.

Charl Schwartzel, the 27-year-old Masters winner, is poised to carry on the tradition of championship South African golf.

Martin Kaymer, also 27, seems destined to improve on the magnificent record of his German predecessor, Bernhard Langer.
Keegan Bradley, a 25-year-old American whose previous claim to fame was being the nephew of LPGA icon Pat Bradley, put on a stunning performance during his rookie year. He won the PGA Championship and the Byron Nelson, plus scored a bonus win in the PGA Grand Slam of golf against McIlroy, Schwartzel and Darren Clarke.

Bradley isn’t the lone American. The new American players are overloaded with talent. Dustin Johnson, 27, has shown enough fortitude to overcome two major championship debacles in 2010—blowing up in the final round of the U.S. Open after leading and falling victim to a rules violation in the PGA Championship—to be a winner and constant contender, and this was only his fourth year as a professional. Bubba Watson, 33, is the game’s most watchable shot maker and he has credited dealing with the illness and death of his father for taking the pressure off of playing the game. Watney, 30, has harnessed his power and improved his putting significantly, allowing him to win twice in 2011. Bill Haas, 29, son of veteran tour player Jay Haas, won the Tour Championship in style, hitting a Mickelson-like shot out of the water hazard on the 17th hole on the final day.

Fowler, 23, has yet to win on the PGA Tour but he has proven to be a constant presence near the top of the leaderboard. He scored his first pro win in the fall at the Korea Open, beating runner-up McIlroy by six shots.

Then there’s that Webb Simpson guy, a 26-year-old in his third season on the PGA who suddenly parachuted himself right into the herd of top younger players with two victories and more than $6 million in earnings.

And now consider how deep the posse’s roster is when you take into account young winners such as Jhonattan Vegas, 27, a charismatic Venezuelan; Gary Woodland, 27, a monster hitter; and Jason Day, 24, an Australian who has vaulted into the top 10 in the World Golf Rankings. Heard of Tom Lewis, Matteo Manassero, Bud Cauley, Patrick Cantlay and Harris English? You will.

Day, who won the Byron Nelson tournament last year and finished second in the Masters and U.S. Open this year, did a good job at the end of the season summing up the new generation of players.

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