Photo Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports.

PGA Tour: Are the youngsters taking over?

At 23-years-old, Patrick Reed became the youngest player to win a World Golf Championship event by claiming the WGC-Cadillac Championship.  Reed said he believes he is a top-5 player in the world, and his confident attitude is helping him succeed on the PGA Tour.

The plethora of young talent winning on the PGA Tour has me thinking, is a generational shift occurring in the golf world?  I think the appropriate answer to this question is, yes and no.

A “yes” answer takes into account the health of both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.  These guys are easily the best players over the last 20 years, and one of the main reasons for their success is they have stayed relatively healthy.

However, Tiger is currently dealing with a serious back problem.  The last couple of weeks he was in contention heading into Sunday, but back spasms forced him to withdraw from the Honda Classic, and to shoot a final round 78 at Doral.  Tiger said his back is restricting his movement, unlike his knee injuries, which allowed him to move despite intense pain.

Phil Mickelson has also experienced back problems, which forced him to withdraw from the Farmers Insurance Open in January.  It is unclear if his back is affecting his game, but Mickelson is having a lackluster season.

If Woods and Mickelson cannot dominate the game because of their health, then the youngsters will have more opportunities to win tournaments and takeover the game.

A “no” answer takes into account the longevity of a golf career.  A golf career is measured in decades, so anytime a player gets hot (i.e. Patrick Reed, Harris English, Jordan Spieth), we should understand Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have been scorching fields for the last 20 years.

Mickelson has been winning golf tournaments since 1993, and Woods has been winning since 1996.  The guys in the Under-30 list have 15 to 20 years of excellent golf ahead before they can approach Tiger and Phil’s record.

Part of the problem is the comparison to Tiger and Phil.  They have set the bar so high that a Hall of Fame career does not seem as impressive as it should.  Two players who are on Hall of Fame trajectories are Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia.  Their accomplishments are better measuring sticks when discussing the young talent on the PGA Tour.

Scott and Garcia both experienced success in their 20s before navigating mid-career hurdles.

Scott won six times between 2003-2008, but missed 10 cuts in 19 starts on the PGA Tour in 2009.  He has found his game over the last four years, winning four times including the 2013 Masters.  Scott has not reached the Hall of Fame plateau of 15 to 20 wins (including a major), but the 33-year-old is fast approaching HOF status.

Garcia won seven times from 2001-2008.  He went through a three-year winless drought before claiming the 2012 Wyndham Championship.  Garcia has not come back as strongly as Scott, but his game is close, and we should expect to see the 34-year-old win again on the PGA Tour soon.

Below is a list of the notable players in the Under-30 club.  While these players will win plenty of tournaments over the next 15-20 years, it is better to think of their careers in the context of Scott and Garcia instead of Woods and Mickelson.  The new generation will dominate the game, but the accolades will be spread among several players who will be trading places at the top.

Notable players under 30-years old:

Dustin Johnson – 29-years-old, eight PGA Tour wins.

Rory McIlroy – 24-years-old, six PGA Tour wins including the 2011 U.S. Open and 2012 PGA Championship.

Webb Simpson – 28-years-old, four PGA Tour wins including the 2012 U.S. Open.

Keegan Bradley – 27-years-old, three PGA Tour wins including the 2011 PGA Championship.

Scott Stallings – 28-years-old, three PGA Tour wins.

Jason Day – 26-years-old, two PGA Tour wins.

Harris English – 24-years-old, two PGA Tour wins.

Russell Henley – 24-years-old, two PGA Tour wins.

Rickie Fowler – 25-years-old, one PGA Tour win.

Jordan Spieth – 20-years-old, one PGA Tour win.

Tags: Adam Scott Dustin Johnson Harris English Jason Day Jordan Spieth Keegan Bradley Patrick Reed PGA Tour Phil Mickelson Rickie Fowler Rory McIlroy Russell Henley Scott Stallings Sergio Garcia Tiger Woods Webb Simpson