Tiger Woods is set to make his PGA Tour return at the event he hosts, The Genesis Invitational, on Feb. 15. There has no bigger figure in golf since one of the greatest ever turned pro in 1996, winning three times on Tour and The Masters by the time April of 1997 came to a close. And it was a rocket ship attached to him from that point on.
At the time, such a successful debut was far from common. Many, like three-time PGA Tour winner and current PGA Tour Champions member Jerry Kelly, had to grind their way to find success at the highest level of professional golf.
Over the past few years, however, that has appeared to change. Young guns like Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Ludvig Åberg, Tom Kim, and a host of others have come to the PGA Tour and enjoyed immediate success, including Morikawa winning two major championships in his first two full seasons on the PGA Tour. Even more recently, Nick Dunlap became the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson in 1991 at The American Express.
How did that change, though? What led to this surge of young golfers being able to come in ready to compete right away with the PGA Tour's best?
Jerry Kelly calls young PGA Tour players' success part of the 'Tiger Effect'
Jerry Kelly recently sat down with FanSided on behalf of the 2024 Cologuard Classic by Exact Sciences, an upcoming event on the PGA Tour Champions and spoke to how things have changed from when he rose to prominence, and how Tiger Woods' ascent played a role in what we're seeing now.
"I feel like I know exactly what led to that. The roadmap for a PGA Tour professional in the past was not 18, 19, 20, wasn't even 24 [years old]," Kelly said. "I was a young 28-year-old rookie. I wasn't an old man by the time I made it to the Tour, but I was 28. And most of the success were people in their 30s even into their 40s. And then along came Tiger Woods, and absolutely shifted the entire game -- a 19-year-old playing at a higher level than everybody else. And that is a direct roadmap for those people to watch him at that age, when they're 4 or 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years old and do exactly what he did. And these guys are not coming up saying -- a lot of them are not saying 'I want to be Tiger Woods'; 'I want to be better than Tiger Woods. He's the guy that I have to beat."
The early-age development undeniably jumpstarted by Tiger in the world of golf has also changed the landscape of the developmental stages in the game, which Kelly also addressed.
"When you reach for something like that, that's what you get at a very young age. Now they're playing in absolutely world-class tournaments. The college structure is very different, much more competitive. There's direct routes to the PGA tour through that. You don't have to go through Q School where some lifer who's been at it for you know how many years is great at Q School but he keeps on having to go back there a young guy beat him there and a six-day tournament is kind of tough. But you know when you've got access and now you can play the Korn Ferry for a year, it really shows what you have and come out polished. And some of them are coming out polished before they even have to do that. But it is all the access, which always has to grow to more and more people."
At the end of the day, though, that preparedness and the growth of resources for young golfers can always be traced back to Tiger.
"So that's why you're seeing this happen right now; this is 1,000% the Tiger Effect. These are the kids that grew up watching Tiger."
And if you needed any more indication of the type of impact that Tiger Woods has had on the game, Kelly provided something that says it all.
When asked to help me build "Frankenstein's Golfer" from current players with the best driving, best approach play, best short game, and the best mental game. Kelly took Rory McIlroy's driving, Scottie Scheffler's approach play, and fellow PGA Tour Champions member Steve Stricker's short game. For the mental side, well, I'll let him tell you.
"And the mental, that fourth aspect of that perfect player, that's still Tiger Woods over anybody."
Jerry Kelly spoke with FanSided as the player host for the 2024 Cologuard Classic by Exact Sciences, a PGA TOUR Champions tournament that will take place at La Paloma Country Club in Tucson.
The mission of the Cologuard Classic by Exact Sciences is to raise awareness of colon cancer, highlight available screening options, and recognize those who have been affected by the disease.
The Cologuard Classic by Exact Sciences helps kick off National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March.
This year, over 230 survivors and loved ones from 3 countries and 28 states will attend the tournament where they will be recognized for their continued fight against the disease.
Tune into the 2024 Cologuard Classic by Exact Sciences on the Golf Channel from March 8–10 to help increase awareness of colon cancer and the vital importance of early detection through screening.