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Clash of the Generations

The 2004 PGA Tour will continue to be a battleground between the Young Guns and the pop guns
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

Ben Curtis, barely 26 years old and playing in his first major championship, won the British Open at Royal St. George's this past July. Craig Stadler, barely 50 years old, played that same week in the PGA Tour's B.C. Open and won it. Curtis and Stadler were separated by nearly 3,500 miles and nearly 25 years, but their victories spoke volumes about the nature of the game of golf. It's the story of the generational ebb and flow, of the charge of the young and the hungry against the determination of the old and the savvy. It's the story of the Young Guns and the Pop Guns.

Tiger Woods has led the charge of the Young Guns into the twenty-first century, though in truth he is an entity unto himself. At 28, Woods is not just a great player, he's the definition of the standards of the game. The Young Guns who closely followed him onto the pro golf stage, players like Curtis, Adam Scott, Chad Campbell and Charles Howell III, all hit the ball long, putt like magic and carry themselves with a steely edged demeanor and an abundance of faith in their abilities.

But Woods has also had an effect on the tour's older players: the Pop Guns, or veterans, who are counting down the years to a spot on the Champions Tour. Woods has raised the standards so high that all other players must elevate their games to keep up, especially if they want to take generous helpings of the enormous purse structure that Woods's success has helped to build.

The 2003 PGA Tour season perfectly outlined the abilities of the Young Guns and the Pop Guns. Neophyte Curtis won the British Open in stunning fashion. Champions Tour rookie Stadler did something that no player had ever done before: win an event on both the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour at the age of 50. Twenty-three-year-old Adam Scott won his first PGA Tour event and 43-year-old Kenny Perry played the best golf of his life, winning three times.

Another old-timer, Peter Jacobsen, won the Greater Hartford Open at the age of 49. Afterwards, he explained the phenomenon all quite nicely: how, when it comes to Young Guns and Pop Guns, the game comes down to the six inches between the ears.

"Tiger Woods is not the champion because he's so gifted physically," Jacobsen says. "He is gifted mentally and emotionally. He handles everything that is thrown at him. Now, you can laugh at Craig Stadler and say that physical condition is not a factor to him. It may not be a factor to him, but he knows what's going on in here, and he has it here."

Here, indicates Jacobsen by pointing his finger, is the head.

Young Guns carry around with them a spare lifestyle dedicated toward improvement and winning. They may have a wife or girlfriend, but they are unlikely to have children. There is little domestic clutter to trip over on the way to a tournament win. A Pop Gun is much more likely to have a family and interests outside the game. The chances of distraction are greater; the chances of winning, longer.

But when it comes down to Sunday afternoons and the chance to grab the trophy, the Young Guns and the Pop Guns both have it between the ears, entertaining the golf world with the battle of the generations. As the 2004 PGA Tour season begins, it's probable that the battle will continue. Here are some of the most likely combatants.

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