A Quick Nine: Golfers under 25 on the brink of stardom
We've already seen the beginnings of a generational shift in professional golf with the likes of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler moving into the spotlight. But they only represent a handful of the top young talent in the sport right now.
So who may be next to join that exclusive list? Here are nine names that quickly come to mind, in alphabetical order:
Daniel Berger (22): The 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year nearly broke through with a huge final-round rally at the Honda Classic, eventually losing the playoff to Padraig Harrington. He made 17 cuts and finished 11th in FedExCup points. He turned pro after his sophomore season at Florida State, which looks to have been a very smart career move at this point.
Bryson DeChambeau (22): He's not on the PGA Tour, yet. But that's because as the defending U.S. Amateur, he's eligible to play in the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship provided he remains an amateur through July. Oh, he's also the 2015 NCAA Division I men's champion, although he decided to forego his senior year at Southern Methodist and not defend his title. And he's already made a cut on the PGA Tour. He finished 45th at the FedExSt. Jude Classic last June.
Matthew Fitzpatrick (21): There's young talent on the other side of the pond, as well. Fitzpatrick won the 2013 U.S. Amateur, and then finished as low amateur in both the 2013 Open Championship and 2014 U.S. Open. He turned pro shortly thereafter, and scored his first European Tour victory in the British Masters last fall. He's already played in three of the four majors -- and won't turn 22 until Sept. 1. Getting an invite to the PGA Championship may be just a mere formality for Fitzpatrick.
INTEGRITY PERSONIFIED: Fitzpatrick takes penality at U.S. Open
Emiliano Grillo (23): Grillo may be young, but he's already a seasoned professional. At 19, he scored his first top-10 finish on the European Tour. Two years later, he scored his first win in Latin America. But 2015 was when Grillo's name started popping up on a regular basis. In addition to a victory and runner-up finish in the Web.com Tour point standings, Grillo had his moments on the PGA Tour. He lost a playoff at the Puerto Rico Open, only to record his first PGA Tour victory later in the year at the Frys.com Open in Napa.
Ryo Ishikawa (24): The biggest question isn't why Ishikawa's on this list. It's more about why isn't he already grouped with Spieth and McIlroy? He won 13 times on the Japan Tour, including once as a 15-year-old amateur, has top-30 finishes in all four majors and has been on the PGA Tour since 2012 without recording a victory. Perhaps the American tour was a bigger leap than Ishikawa expected. Perhaps he just hasn't found that breakthrough win. In any case, he's overdue.
Smylie Kaufman (24): Winner of the 2011 Alabama Amateur, Kaufman went on to graduate from LSU in 2014 and subsequently turned pro. He got off to a slow start on the Web.com Tour, missing his first three cuts -- but then made up for it from that point on. He won the United Leasing Championship, finished sixth on the money list and earned his card for the 2015-16 PGA Tour season. And to top it all off, scored his first Tour victory at Las Vegas, earning him trips to the Masters, Players and 2016 PGA Championship.
ON TARGET: Kaufman's near-ace at RSM Classic
Hideki Matsuyama (23): Matsuyama won the 2010 Asian Amateur, earning him an invitation to the 2011 Masters, where he earned low amateur honors. Turning professional a year after becoming the top-ranked amateur in the world, Matsuyama racked up four Japan Tour victories and top-10 finishes in the U.S. Open and Open Championship. In 2014, he entered only seven PGA Tour events, but won once and had six top-25s. Matsuyama was fifth at the 2015 Masters and made the cut at all four majors, but wasn't able to match his win total from the previous season.
Patrick Rodgers (23): Rodgers drew more than a few comparisons to Tiger Woods during his collegiate career at Stanford, winning 13 times over a three-year span. A Ben Hogan Award-winner, Rodgers was the No 1 amateur in the world for a time in 2014. He recorded his first professional victory on the Web.com Tour last February and finished in a tie for second at the Wells Fargo Championship while playing on a sponsor's exemption. He'll have a full PGA Tour card this season, and a chance to show off what seems to be unlimited potential.
Justin Thomas (22): Thomas is doing all he can to shake the moniker of being "Jordan Spieth's good buddy." A six-time tournament winner at Alabama, Thomas turned professional in 2013 and won the first event in which he played: the 2014 Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship in Ohio. With full PGA Tour benefits in 2015, Thomas had seven top-10 finishes and wound up 32nd in FedExCup points, finishing runner-up to Berger in the rookie of the year race. Thomas started off the new season with a flourish, winning the CIMB Classic in Malaysia by one shot over Adam Scott.