Professional Golf Has Become A Young Man’s Game

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth / Jamie Squire/GettyImages

Once Bjorn Borg retired from tennis, his main rival John McEnroe lost the motivation that had earned him 7 Grand Slam singles titles by the ripe age of 25. While the elder version of John was able to win doubles titles, he never returned to his peak form following Borg's departure.

Thought of as a young man's game in those days, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, & Rafael Nadal came along and changed such sentiments over the past two decades. Strangely, golf has become tennis' inverse at some level; now that younger golfers are better than ever while older ones aren't as prominent.

It’s no secret the game of golf is younger than ever before.

It’s also no mystery the legend of Tiger Woods preempted the emergence of youngsters at the game’s highest level.

In the year 2000, Woods was a skinny 24-year-old who defied all odds by having the greatest season golf’s ever seen; winning 9 events including 3 majors. That said, many of Woods’ peers endured years of heartache before their game(s) peaked; Mickelson was 33 when he captured his first major (of six total), Vijay won his first (of three) at 35, and Zach Johnson was 31 and 39 when he secured his pair of major championships.

Still, the traditional success of Woods’ peers during the 15-time major champion’s heyday (from 1997 to 2009) shouldn’t detract from Woods’ influence on the overall game. Before turning 30, Woods won 46 of his (eventual) 82 PGA Tour titles including 10 majors. Yea, it’s safe to say Woods’ career paints a picture that’s far different than the careers of legends before him; whether we’re talking about Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, or Gary Player.

Known for being a track that’s catered to the most experienced, Augusta National played differently in this year’s Masters. Of the 11 players that secured top-10 finishes, Max Homa is the oldest at 33 while Ludvig Aberg is the youngest at 24; not to mention the average age is 29. Despite being a small sample, the fact that Tommy Fleetwood and Max Homa (both 33) represent the oldest players in the 2024 Masters’ top-10 is a telling departure from the norm.

Until somewhat recently, golfers in their early thirties (or 30 to 32) were thought of as players who hadn’t reached their peak; they were still getting better and yet to accomplish their greatest achievements. The widespread belief that a golfer’s pinnacle age is 33 no longer exists; and it may not even be close to that.

Take Jordan Spieth (30), Justin Thomas (30), and Collin Morikawa (27) as prime examples. From 2015 to 2017, Spieth compiled a Hall-of-Fame-worthy resume; winning 10 PGA Tour titles including 3 majors before turning 24.

Since hoisting the Claret Jug four days shy of his 24th birthday in July 2017, Spieth’s won just 2 regular Tour events and is entering this season’s PGA Championship with very little confidence; thanks to a missed cut at Augusta last week.

As for JT, the native Kentuckian also missed the weekend at Augusta National; not to mention the two-time PGA Champion very recently canned his (former-) caddie Bones and has just 3 (of his 15) Tour victories to his name since turning 27. Then, there’s Collin; a two-time major champion in his own right who has 1 measly win since his 25th birthday; capturing 6 of his 7 PGA Tour/DP World Tour victories in the first quarter-century of his life.

Even though Brian Harmans' (37) and Lucas Glovers' (44) are still kickin’ in today’s game, their kind is dwindling rapidly. We also have the middle-tier (/aged) guys; including Brooks Koepka (33), Bryson DeChambeau (30), and Wyndham Clark (30).

All in all, however, a golfer’s prime isn’t what it once was.

I’m not saying a golfer’s prime mimics that of a tennis player’s or football player’s, but I am saying that 29 is the new 33.

Without getting too sensitive, let’s take a gander at the career of four-time major champion Rory McIlroy (now 34). Very similar to the early success of American tennis legend John McEnroe, Rory burst onto the scene with 4 major titles before turning 26. Unless Rory figures out how to roll the rock (again), the chances of him grabbing multiple major titles from here on out are slim.

Given the wild, up-and-down nature of this crazy, maddening game that’s only gotten deeper and younger, it’s best to hit it while it’s hot; or win when you’re able to before it’s too late.

Presently, two-time Masters champion Scottie Scheffler is in his sweet spot. While 27 may not seem old, it’s proven to be old for a number of his closest competitors.

RBC Heritage power rankings. light. Next. 2024 RBC Heritage Power Ranks

Yes, Scottie looks like a guy who could be an exception to the new norm; but he surely isn’t banking on that. Whether we, as golfers, like it or not, golf is a bombers' game for the time being; most importantly elite golf isn’t kind to those who are Rory’s age or close to his.

We better get used to it.