Monday, March 14

Identifying Golf’s True Young Guns

NICK WATNEY RALLIED AT DORAL with a final-round 67 to win the WGC-Cadillac Championship by a shot over Dustin Johnson. It was Watney’s third and most significant PGA Tour victory. He faltered in the final round at last year’s PGA Championship. This time Watney struck the clutch shots and, more importantly, sank the clutch putts to close it out.

The young talent is highly touted—and for good reason. With Watney and Johnson dueling at Doral—and players such as Martin Kaymer, Hunter Mahan, Rory McIlroy, Matt Kuchar, Francesco Molinari and Rickie Fowler in the mix—the youth movement is on the rise. In Miami, another title went to a young gun.

(Photo: Dustin Johnson)

But here’s what I realized. Nick Watney isn’t that young. He’s 29. And he’ll be 30 shortly after he makes his last loop through Amen Corner at the upcoming Masters. He seems young because we haven’t noticed him much until the last two years. Just like Sergio Garcia seems ancient at 31, a mere 16 months older than Watney.

It’s easy to be enamored with the fresh faces, but the winners in this year’s first dozen events are closer to Tiger’s age. Here’s a list of the winners and their ages:

Hyundai Tournament of Champions: Jonathan Byrd, 33
Sony Open in Hawaii: Mark Wilson, 36
Bob Hope Classic: Jhonattan Vegas, 26
Farmers Insurance Open: Bubba Watson, 32
Waste Management Open: Mark Wilson, 36
AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am: D.A. Points, 34
Northern Trust Open: Aaron Baddeley, 29
Mayakoba Golf Classic: Johnson Wagner, 30
WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship: Luke Donald, 33
The Honda Classic: Rory Sabbatini, 34
WGC-Cadillac Championship: Nick Watney, 29
Puerto Rico Open: Michael Bradley, 44

The average age of winners thus far this PGA Tour season is 33. Think Luke Donald. Toss out the 44-year-old Michael Bradley and it’s still 32. Think Bubba Watson.

So here’s what I’m thinking about this young-gun business: You have to be young in a golf sense. (Not just younger than Tiger.) I don’t think Nick Watney fits, even though he’ll probably get carded at Safeway until he’s 47. I’m arbitrarily making Martin Kaymer and Dustin Johnson the cutoff. If you’re their age (26) or younger, you’re a young gun. It you’re older than Kaymer and Johnson, you’re just a gun.

That includes you Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan, Camilo Villegas, Aaron Baddeley, Adam Scott and Molinari brothers. But don’t feel bad. At least I didn’t call you old guns.

−The Armchair Golfer

(Photo credit: zzazazz, Flickr, Creative Commons license)

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