Justin Thomas leads youth movement on PGA Tour
26 SEP 2017
By Dave Kaplan
The youth movement is clearly in full swing right now on the PGA Tour.
On Sunday, young guns Xander Schauffele and Justin Thomas both came away from East Lake victorious, with each player hauling a gigantic trophy and multiple winner’s cheques.
Schauffele became the first rookie in PGA Tour history to win the Tour Championship after he rattled in this putt for birdie on the final hole of the tournament.
The 23-year-old looked more like a veteran than a rookie last week in his first Tour Championship appearance. He carded rounds of 69, 66, 65 and 68 and played his final nine holes on Sunday to a tune of 2-under-par, while fending off a small armada of some of the world’s best players.
Schauffele took home a $1.5 million cheque for the victory and earned an additional $2 million for finishing the FedEx Cup in third place. Plus, he virtually secured this year’s rookie of the year honours with his performance last week.
To be honest, that is a little surprising — considering the rocky start that the young gun got off to earlier this season. The San Diego native missed five cuts in his first 10 starts of the season and did not look at all comfortable until June, when he finished in a tie for fifth place at the US Open. That strong finish re-invigorated Schauffele’s rookie campaign and he has been one of the most consistent players on the circuit ever since, recording two victories and seven finishes of T-20 or better in his last 10 starts!
Of course, no one has had a better season than Thomas and that trend continued at East Lake, where the 24-year-old won his first FedEx Cup, despite finishing the tournament in second place.
In doing so, the Louisville native became the first player in the last eight years to win the FedEx Cup without winning the Tour Championship. He also joined his buddy, Jordan Spieth, as the second player under the age of 25 to win the $10 million payout in the last three years!
Thomas finished one shot back of Schauffele and would have sent the tournament to extra holes if his birdie putt on 18 had dropped, instead of grazing the edge of the cup.
Thomas started the week trailing only Spieth in the point race and, as many predicted, Sunday’s finale turned into a two-horse race between the two young superstars for the FedEx Cup.
Spieth struck early on the back nine with a pair of brilliant approach shots. On the 10th hole, the Texan jarred his approach shot for eagle from 93 yards. Then, on 13, he nearly did it again when he hit his approach shot from 137 yards to less than a foot! Those excellent strikes put Spieth ahead of Thomas in the projected standings for the time being.
However, the 2015 FedEx Cup champion lost some of that ground when he bogeyed 15 and then left the door wide open for Thomas by failing to make a birdie over his final three holes. JT seized his opportunity, dropping a pair of birdies on 16 and 17 — and a tap-in for par on 18 — to clinch the FedEx Cup and, in all likelihood, the Player of the Year award.
Thomas certainly deserves it.
He won five tournaments and racked up 12 Top 10s and just under $20 million in 25 starts this season! He also won his first major title, was one of two players to shoot a 59 in tournament play this season, and tied the record for the lowest round ever at the US Open with an electrifying 63 on Moving Day. After winning the FedEx Cup, Thomas showed reporters a list of goals that he had jotted down before the season started — and wouldn’t you know it, the 24-year-old accomplished nearly every single one of them!
However, he is not the only player under the age of 26 that has had success this season.
Far from it!
Matsuyama won four times on the circuit this season and Spieth added three more titles to his résumé, while rookies Jon Rahm and Mackenzie Hughes both won their first PGA Tour tournaments — just to name a few! In total, we saw a total of 18 PGA Tour events won by players aged 25 and younger this season. That shattered the previous single-season record of 10 wins by players aged 25 and younger that was set back in 2000 when Tiger Woods won nine times!
The number of young winners may seem surprising at first glance, but it really shouldn’t be. After all, four of the top-five ranked players in the world are 25 or younger and three-quarters of this past season’s major winners were under the age of 28.
Let’s face it: this trend is not an anomaly. These young guns are not only stronger and more athletic, but also more mentally equipped to succeed on the PGA Tour than ever before. They have been training their whole lives to get to this point and they are not scared of performing on the biggest stages in the world.
At the moment, there is an army of young talent on the PGA Tour and I’m not even taking into account the next wave of talented players who are set to make their débuts next week when the 2017/18 season kicks off in Napa.
Even though I have said it before, it would appear that the aphorism does bear some repeating:
The PGA Tour has truly become “no country for old men!”
Dave Kaplan is a Toronto-based freelance writer and golf fanatic who is sneaky long off the tee. He’s on a crusade to inject a youthful perspective into golf media, especially the broadcast booth. Follow him on Twitter @davykap