Justin Thomas' win makes it undeniable: A new era of American golf has arrived
Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Co. represent an already successful 'next' generation
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- It is fitting that 47-year-old Phil Mickelson missed his first PGA Championship cut since 1995 in the same year that 24-year-old Justin Thomas joined Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Rory McIlroy as the only golfers younger than 25 to win the PGA Championship. That doesn't meant that Mickelson is done (I think he'll win again) and Thomas is going to go ahead and win five majors, but it is symbolic.
Only history will truly tell us when a new era of American golf was formally ushered in, but you could do worse than 2017 as a starting point. Jordan Spieth, also 24, won his third major at The Open Championship, and Brooks Koepka, age 27, won his first at the U.S. Open. Throw in Thomas' PGA, and all of a sudden you have three (well) under-30 golfers taking three of the four majors in a season.
This might not be the seismic shift Thomas' crowning and Mickelson's missed cut represent, but it's also not nothing. Americans have won seven of the past 12 majors, and five of those have been from golfers under 30. The other two were by Dustin Johnson (age 31 at the time) and Jimmy Walker (age 36 at the time).
|Golfer||Age||Major wins||Major top 10s||PGA Tour wins|
3 (2015, 2017)
The symmetry was not lost on Thomas, either. He grew up the son of a PGA professional, and he remembered being at the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla, which Tiger Woods won over Bob May in preposterous fashion.
"That's kind of the first memory for me in terms of ... being at a golf tournament," Thomas said. "I wanted to play professional golf; any kid, whatever they are doing, they think they are going to be the best at it and they want to be the best at it, whatever it is.
"But being at the PGA that week, and just hearing the roars, and just hearing everything. And what Tiger was producing out there, I mean, that was -- him and that week was the reason that I was like, 'OK, this is really what I want to do.' "
And now, 17 years later, he has done it.
"Then to have [Tiger] basically cheering me on, how he's been this week or the last couple days, it's ... bizarre, it really is," Thomas added. "I was seven years old and watching it in the clubhouse, and he hits the putt on camera, and before it can fall in on TV, I can just hear the roar outside. I'll never forget that.
"It's crazy to be sitting up here now after watching him do his champion's toast and hoping that I'm there one day, and I am."
Woods even tweeted his congratulations to Thomas.
Thomas' pals Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Bud Cauley hung around to hug him and offer congratulations. It was a nice moment that Thomas had participated in at The Open Championship when Spieth won. It is also a signal this generation is a little different than those of the past. Whether you agree with it, it is unquestionable that these golfers root for each other more than any in the sport's history.
"It's awesome, and I think they know I would do the same for them," said Thomas of the mini party on No. 18. "It's a cool little friendship we have. I know Rickie was a couple groups in front and Jordan was probably through nine or something when I finished.
"I just didn't believe Bud Cauley stayed around. He's one of my best friends. We live together in Florida. I was about 10 minutes from going to tee off, and he was walking off to go sign his scorecard. So he hung around for an entire 18 holes just to stick around and not knowing what could happen.
"I think that kind of shows, you know, where the game is right now, where all of us are. I mean, we obviously all want to win. We want to beat the other person. But if we can't win, we at least want to enjoy it with our friends. I think that we'll all be able to enjoy this together, and I know it's going to make them more hungry, just like it did me, for Jordan at the British, or whatever you want to say."
I don't know what it means in the long term, and I'm not totally sure I care. What I do know is that this generation of golfers is impossibly good. They're winning at historical ages and in dramatic ways.
This was a long time in the making. Because Woods (and Phil Mickelson to an extent) helped bring so much money into the sport, it was inevitable that it would only get better in the United States. And it has. Thomas, Spieth and Koepka are only three of dozens of young studs. Fowler, who just touched off his seventh top-five finish at a major, is certainly among that group.
American golf is in the capable hands of these baby thoroughbreds, and if the past few years have been any kind of harbinger, it will be exciting to see where they take it from here.
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