Insights from Peter Dixon - The 'twentysomethings'
The last five Major championships have been won by players in their 20s, all of them, incidentally, from the United States. It would be an understatement to say that American golf is in rude health.
It would be no surprise to find any of Jordan Spieth (Champion Golfer at Royal Birkdale in 2017), Brooks Koepka (US Open champion of 2017 and 2018), Justin Thomas (PGA champion) or Patrick Reed (Masters champion) holding aloft the Claret Jug on the 18th green at Carnoustie on Sunday.
Spieth, who was regarded as having an old head on young shoulders from the moment he burst onto the professional scene, was asked on Monday why this group of ‘twentysomethings’ had come to the fore over the past 13 months.
“I think the deeper fields we’ve experienced in junior and amateur golf led to quick transitions onto the PGA Tour,” he said. “So when it took five years to transition guys into winning ten or 15 years ago, it’s taking guys five months now. Whether it’s five times faster, ten times faster, you’re that much quicker and more prepared for majors.
“It’s a natural transition into a kind of fearless golf at the highest level. The game is getting athletic, but as far as the mental side of it goes, guys have just been playing against better fields on better courses because of the junior and amateur circuit.”
The younger players in the field this week may wish to reflect on the fact that The Open has tended to favour more experienced players in recent years. Dating back to Royal Birkdale in 2008, the last ten Champion Golfers have been made up of three players in their 20s (Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Louis Oosthuizen), three in their 30s (Zach Johnson, Stewart Cink and Padraig Harrington), and four in their 40s (Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Darren Clarke).
It is also worth remembering that Tom Watson was 59 (yes, 59!) when he was defeated in a play-off at Turnberry in 2009 and that Greg Norman, another player in his 50s, was a frontrunner throughout the four days at Royal Birkdale in 2008.
The advantage of links golf for the older players is that the distances many of their younger rivals hit the ball are somewhat neutralised by the fast and hard-running nature of the courses. Suddenly it’s not just about how far they can hit the ball off the tee, but where they are landing it.
In every sense competing on courses such as Carnoustie this week, particularly when the balls are running so far along the ground, is as much about the thinking side of the game as the physical. This is where experience can be brought to bear. It requires patience in abundance to cope with bad bounces and shifting weather conditions, and the understanding that there is often more than one way to play a shot. Rarely do players get such a chance to use their imagination.
This is what makes The Open such a fascinating and unique challenge. The game of golf is blessed with a young group of players who expect to be serious challengers each time they step on to the first tee. They are exciting to watch, brave and extremely talented. At The Open, however, they are not always in the ascendant.
Before play gets under way on Thursday, it is impossible to choose a winner from the field of 156. There are favourites, of course, but there are also a number of players in their 40s who could be serious challengers. One goes by the name of Tiger Woods. Remember him?
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