NEWS

Changing of the guard: Golf's new generation primed and ready

Published on

If you needed visual evidence of the imminent changing of the guard in American golf, you only needed to tune into the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Sunday from Maui.

There was two-time major winner Jordan Spieth, who won't turn 23 until the end of July, with a dominating performance that included consistent driving and short-game magic, en route to an eight-stroke victory.

KAPALUA WRAPUP: Spieth makes statement with win | Results | Gallery

Patrick Reed, who won't be 26 until August, gamely gave chase all weekend before settling for second. And Brooks Koepka, who will celebrate his 26th birthday in May, was in the mix as well, winding up in a tie for third.

And don't forget Rickie Fowler, the "elder statesman" of that group at 27.

Smylie Kaufman. Justin Thomas. Patrick Rodgers. Daniel Berger. Bryson DeChambeau. The list of talented, young Americans under 25 is growing rapidly, and that can only be a good thing for the sport, both in the present and long term.

Don't think for a moment that 2016 United States Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III isn't impressed -- and a bit enthused -- by the emergence of America's next generation of Tour players. He was there at Kapalua to witness Spieth, Reed and Koepka first-hand, and you have to imagine he put those performances in his memory bank for later this season.

2016 RYDER CUP: Reed now fifth in updated points | More Ryder Cup coverage

But what about the old guard, that group that's carried the torch for so long? Tiger Woods (back) and Jim Furyk (wrist) are nursing injuries. Phil Mickelson suffered his second consecutive winless season, while Matt Kuchar failed to win a tournament for the first time since 2011. It'd be surprising to not see some fight left in them, but as time marches on, their positions at the forefront may be slowly usurped by these younger guns.

That's just the nature of the sport. Sarazen and Hagen. Hogan and Nelson. Palmer and Nicklaus. Crenshaw and Kite. Woods and Mickelson. And now we may be seeing that next great pairing (or more than one) taking shape before our eyes.

Even though Hazeltine National is slumbering under a fresh blanket of new snow, there's already an excitement building that will reach a crescendo by the end of September.

And there's a feeling right now that the 2016 Ryder Cup will feature a lot of fresh, new faces to complement Spieth, Reed and Fowler as the U.S. tries to wrestle the trophy away from Team Europe on home soil.

But it's not just American golf that's seeing an influx of top young talent right now, not with Rory McIlroy, all of 26, and Jason Day, who just turned 28 in November, at the top of their games.

England's Matt Fitzpatrick is 21. Argentinean Emiliano Grillo is 22. Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (23) and Ryo Ishikawa (24) are candidates for huge breakout seasons in 2016.

Professional golf is primed for what could be a new golden era, and if you needed any reassurance of that, all you had to do was turn on the television Sunday.