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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 2)

“It’s getting tough. You look at the fields these days, there are a lot of young guys coming straight out of college or not even straight out of college but turning professional very young and playing professional golf at a high level and succeeding,” says Day. “There’s a kid over here, Bud Cauley, he’s played seven or eight events and he got his Tour card for next year. He’s 21 or 22. Just goes to show how the game is evolving and changing.”

Baker-Finch sees the younger players as having a particular trait in common—a healthy frame of mind unsullied by being hammered by Tiger Woods.

“These young guys don’t have the same scar tissue as the older guys who have been beaten by Tiger,” says Baker-Finch.

“They have been inspired by Tiger but not beaten by him. The more the young guys win, the more their confidence grows. Keegan Bradley winning a major as a rookie, that gives all the young guys so much more confidence. They all say, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ When you had Tiger winning eight times a year, Phil winning four times, Vijay winning a lot, the young guys didn’t have much of a chance. When Dustin Johnson won his first it was wow, this was an anomaly. But now they have become the winners.”

No one has improved more and made up more ground on the world’s top players than Luke Donald. He’s no youngster at 34, but in a very real sense he is a newcomer to the thin air of golf’s stratosphere. He hasn’t won a major, but he’s won big tournaments, been on the leaderboard in nearly every tournament he’s played, and when challenged for the PGA Tour money title at the end of the season by Simpson, he entered the final tournament at Disney and won it, becoming the first player to simultaneously be the leading money winner on the PGA Tour and European Tour.

Back in May, he dramatically defeated Lee Westwood in a play-off to win the BMW PGA Championship, the second biggest event on the European Tour. In doing so he took over the World No. 1 ranking and has held onto it since.

“Growing up in the Tiger Woods era, you didn’t even think it was possible [to take over No. 1],” says Donald.  “But I’ve been able to get my game to where I have been able to play consistently well . . . and all the things have worked out mathematically for me to be able to do that.”

But with Woods falling like a stone out of the world’s top 50, it was time for Donald, and a raft of other players, to rise. None did so quite so dramatically this season as Simpson. Simpson was a Wake Forest All-American who gained his Tour card for the 2009 season. He was able to retain that card his first two seasons without doing anything extraordinary. Then he started to climb the ladder in 2011 with a passel of good results to start the season. He finished runner-up in Tampa and New Orleans, the latter after calling a penalty on himself after the ball moved when he soled his putter on the 15th hole; he was forced into a play-off with Bubba Watson which he lost. Two impressive wins late in the season at the Wyndham Championship and a FedExCup victory at the Deutsche Bank Championship pole-vaulted him into the Tour’s elite with more than $6,300,000 in earnings.

“I think  I’m slow to perform,” says Simpson. “Not a slow learner, just a slow performer.”

He says he turned quality results into winning results by taking slightly more time addressing his putts. “I knew we figured out something big,” says Simpson. “I aimed the ball in a tournament round a  little quicker than I do on the [practice] green.” He estimated he was rushing himself by a half a second a putt. When he slowed down, a move imperceptible to anyone else, he made more putts, won tournaments, won loads of cash.

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