CROMWELL, Conn. (AP) — Players eager to leave the PGA Tour for riches that only Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund can provide is a move Rory McIlroy calls the “easy exit.”
This may be too easy an explanation.
Even so, it’s hard to argue that the choice might be easier for some players if they consider a decade-long trend that lit up even more when Matt Fitzpatrick won the US Open.
The last five Grand Slams have now been won by five different players in their twenties, the first time golf has seen such a stretch in the majors’ 162-year history.
Fitzpatrick (27) won his first major a month after Justin Thomas (29) won the PGA Championship for the second time. This was preceded by Scottie Scheffler (29) winning the Masters. Last year’s majors ended with Jon Rahm (26) winning the US Open and Collin Morikawa (24) winning the British Open for his second major.
There have been two other instances in the past decade where five consecutive majors have been awarded to players in their twenties, but that involved multiple winners. Brooks Koepka won the US Open in 2017 and 2018 with Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed winning in between. Martin Kaymer won the 2014 US Open, and McIlroy and Jordan Spieth combined to win the next four.
It is still unclear about LIV Golf how the guaranteed riches and 54-hole events will affect the long-term level of play, how motivated players will be to grind and practice.
Koepka joining the Saudi-backed group, along with Bryson DeChambeau and his fanatical search for revolutionary ways to play the game, has shed a new light on the lineup of LIV guys. Both are still in their best years, even though their world rankings have plunged amid injuries. Ditto for Reed and Abraham Ancer, who has only one victory on the PGA Tour.
All four are between 28 and 32 years old. This is no longer the “pre-Champions Tour” that McIlroy recalled in February.
McIlroy says he can relate to some of the older players, from Mickelson at 51 and Louis Oosthuizen, who at 39 has just completed a debilitating year of back-to-back majors finalists. Oosthuizen has the career Grand Slam of silver medals to go with his pitcher of silver burgundy from St. Andrews in 2010.
“A lot of these guys are in their late 40s – in Phil’s case, early 50s,” he said. “They would tell you themselves that their best days are behind them. That’s why I don’t understand for guys who are the same age as me. Because I’d like to believe that my best days are still ahead of me, and I think theirs are too.
“So that’s where you feel like you’re taking the easy way out.”
Spieth, who has had a bad three-year stretch and is slowly coming out the other end with wins in each of the last two years, would seem to agree.
“I think saying it’s the easy way out is probably not what they’re thinking,” Spieth said Tuesday. “But that’s kind of what it looks like to me.”
The lure of money is powerful, especially if some of the absurd amounts of money mentioned in various reports are true. The Daily Telegraph pegged Johnson’s signing fee at $150 million, which even over four years could probably only be matched to a dominant year on the PGA Tour, on and off the course.
“They’re not going there for a format change,” Spieth said.
Everyone has a price, and everyone has a reason. Oosthuizen might be this generation’s version of Byron Nelson, who played golf to earn enough money to retire to his ranch. Oosthuizen moved to an 86-acre ranch in Florida horse country near Ocala.
DeChambeau is never easy to relate to except he wants to be different. Name another player who can prepare for the Ryder Cup and a World Long Drive competition (and succeed in both).
Easy money? Yes. The easy solution?
“Hmmm, that idea hadn’t occurred to me,” Patrick Cantlay said Tuesday in a way that suggested he didn’t see it that way. “I think the reasons why different guys go or don’t can vary greatly. So I think lumping them all together in the same decision-making process would be a mistake.
“I don’t necessarily think all the guys who go there say they conceded trying to be the best player in the world or the best they can be.”
Golf has never been more difficult than it is today. A big part of that is Tiger Woods and the generation of players he inspired to train and work for. Technology – not just equipment – has allowed young players to develop great swings from an early age.
The competition is relentless, as is the work ethic.
This is seen more than in the recent series of major tournaments won by players in their twenties. Ten of the top 12 players in the world rankings are in their twenties. Their average age is 27.25 years.
McIlroy is the oldest. He is 33 years old. He thinks his best years are still ahead of him.
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