There are some older guys keeping wary eyes on the PGA Tour’s crop of new young stars.
The Wells Fargo Championship has its share of both this week at Quail Hollow Club. One of the young phenoms – Patrick Reed, 24 – is tied for second behind Robert Streb after Thursday’s first round.
One of the veterans, Charlotte resident Webb Simpson, a grizzled 29 despite his apple-cheeked countenance, is tied for fourth.
Reed is one of several young chargers making their marks on the PGA Tour and have wasted no time in doing so. He’s joined by Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler – all of whom are eager to help fans forget about the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson era that seems to be nearing its close.
None of this precociousness has gone unnoticed by the more experienced players.
“I think they’re different,” said Simpson, who turned pro when he was 22 and won three years later. “They’re a little more fiery competitors. They seem to love the moment and being in contention on Sunday more so than guys my age did. They’re more competitive than we were and they don’t need any more confidence. They’re full of confidence.
“I had my eyes wide open for two years. I was just trying to take it all in. Here these guys are trying to win Masters – and doing it.”
Spieth, 21, won the Masters in April in just his second try. McIlroy, at 26, is the world’s top-ranked player. Fowler, 26, won last week’s Players Championship. Reed has won four tournaments in the two-plus seasons he’s been on the PGA Tour full time and is in contention to make it five this week at Quail Hollow.
“The amazing thing about this group of players is that we’ve come on tour and we’ve been ready to win from the start,” said McIlroy, who like Fowler won his first tournament as a pro at Quail Hollow. “We don’t play with as much fear as some of the rookies used to in the past.
“I don’t know if we’ll do anything that golf hasn’t seen before.”
Spieth wasted no time in winning the Masters. He almost did it sooner, finishing second the year before in his first try. He turned pro after playing one season of college golf at Texas.
“When I came out I was 24,” said J.B. Holmes, 33, the defending champion at Quail Hollow. “There weren’t a lot of 20-year-olds. It’s the guys coming out who are ready to play. It’s good for the tour and always fun to have some competition come out.”
“It’s a learning process when you get out here, but there’s always a couple of exceptions to the rule who handle all that stuff really well.”
And as long as they’re winning at this age, seize the moment, Adam Scott said.
“There’s never a bad time for a group of guys with a lot of talent to come along,” said Scott, who won the Masters in 2013 at 32. “I hope they stay hungry for it and push themselves.
“A guy like Jordan, his window is now and he should push as hard as he can because you don’t know how long it will last. Some people are lucky and have 20-year careers and play good for that long and other people don’t. (Spieth) could be in the prime of his career right now. Make the most of it.”
McIlroy wouldn’t go so far as to compare his group to young stars of other eras: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player in the 1960s and ’70s or, more recently, Woods, Mickelson and Ernie Els.
“I don’t know if we’ll do anything that golf hasn’t seen before, (but) the potential is there,” said McIlroy. “We could be fighting it out for tournaments for the next 15 or 20 years. It should be fun.”