The Future of Golf is Here

Golf fans around the world — casual and hardcore alike — were blessed with an amazing weekend of golf for the 144th annual British Open. The tournament was held in St. Andrews this year at “The Old Course” which is known as the birthplace of golf. All the elements were in play throughout the extended five days. The weather was a roller coaster as usual, especially on Saturday when play couldn’t get rolling until 6 p.m. local time. That forced the tournament to move back a day, with round three to be played Sunday and round four — the final round — to be played Monday, the first time that has happened since the 1988 Open.

The weather was not nearly the top story line of the weekend, though.

There was the retirement of long time starter Ivor Robson, the voice of The Open. Robson has been announcing the players off of the first tee since 1975, making this year’s Open his 41st time starting the field off the first tee. Robson, who also starts European Tour events, always pronounces any and every name that comes his way correctly. He has become to most recognizable voice in the sport by far, and his retirement should be respected and celebrated by the many chilling moments he brought us as thousands teed off in their quest for a major. That said, his retirement wasn’t the biggest story line either.

There was certainly the Tiger Woods “lure” that is still existent at any major nowadays. Although Woods has failed to make the cut at three of his last four major tournaments, he’s still the face of golf when it comes to the rise and fall of a once-dominant player. Fans are curious about not when, but IF Woods will ever remotely gain back the form that made him the most polarizing and important player that golf has ever seen. Whether you like Woods or not, it’s impossible to argue that a competitive Woods would not benefit the tournament. So he was watched, for the first two rounds anyway, very closely, fans hoping to see even a glimpse of the old-Woods. Woods failed to make the cut, though, and destroyed any hoopla about his presence being in the last two rounds.

We can always talk about Phil “Lefty” Mickelson, who won The Open Championship in 2013. The 45 year old has always been a fun, aggressive golfer which makes for awesome drama. He was making a run on Monday until he tee’d off of the impossible 17th hole, pulling it straight onto a nearby balcony:

Lefty is always a fun story line to follow, though, no matter the major.

How about the Dustin Johnson story line that unfolded in front of our shocked eyes on Sunday and Monday? The man that had led the field through some crap weather faulted on the best scoring day, Sunday, scoring three over par to drop him five strokes off the lead. We have become used to Johnson struggling on Sunday, but this was not even the last round. He slipped in a way that totally took him out of contention 18 holes earlier than we usually expect.

The eventual playoff competitors Marc Leishman, Louis Oosthiuzen and eventual champion Zach Johnson all had nice storylines attached to their names as well. Leishman’s wife had a huge health scare that forced him to miss The Masters this year, and for good reason. Leishman obviously made the right decision to be with his family, and the scare gave him a new appreciation for golf and life. Oosthiuzen won this tournament at St. Andrew’s in 2010, and was trying to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win back to back Open titles at the same course. Johnson won the Masters in 2007, and has tried to claw his way back into major contention ever since. He was so choked up after winning The Open this year that he could barely do the post match interview. It was genuine as ever, and was a great moment to close the tournament.

All of these story lines could not match up to one massive story that every golf fan should have followed this weekend: the youth movement that we witnessed at the British Open this year.

It would be a travesty to NOT start off with 21 year old sensation Jordan Spieth. Spieth, who spent one collegiate year at the University of Texas before turning pro, is the newborn face of American golf after his extraordinary performances at the Masters and the U.S. Open. He won both of those events, one in a blowout, the other in comeback fashion. That means that Spieth was trying to go for the third leg in golf’s Grand Slam, and be the first player since the great Ben Hogan in 1953 to win the first three majors of the year.

He was certainly in contention on Monday, and was not short on the drama factor. He started the day one shot back of the leaders, who we will get to in a minute, and was hanging tough through the first seven holes. The eighth hole brought issues on the green, where Spieth misjudged a lag putt’s speed, and ended up getting a big, fat double bogey on the hole after an ugly four putt.

Spieth would slowly come back though, with birdies on holes nine and ten. His real magic came on 16, the third toughest hole on the course. Spieth chipped onto the front of the green, and stared down a long birdie putt. Right when he made contact, it was clear the ball would find its way to the hole. It dropped in, and the legend of Spieth’s major heroics continued.

Although he would bogey 17 — the impossible hole — and par 18 to finish one shot from joining the playoff, the world got to see Spieth’s immense talent on display yet again. At only 21 years old, it’s clearly not out of the realm to think of Spieth has golf’s next ambassador. He has charisma, a flair for the big moment, and skill. He was not the only young gun to show his talent off at St. Andrew’s, though.

Paul Dunne was one of the leaders that Spieth started the day behind, and like Spieth, Dunne is a young player at the age of 22. There is one thing they do not have in common too: Dunne is an amateur. That’s right, an amateur was tied for the lead after 54 holes, a feat that is rare. Amateur’s cannot win any money off of tournaments, but the experience they gain is everything. Although Dunne shot six over on the final day, he made a name for himself by straddling the top of the leaderboard overnight.

Another amateur had a better final day, and also gained valuable experience playing The Old Course. Jordan Niebrugge finished tied for sixth place, coming in at 11 under par for his four round total. Niebrugge did not get as much hype as Dunne going into the final day, but was consistent as ever to finish with a top ten place. Another young golfer at age 21, Niebrugge can be another player to take the game into its next steps.

We have yet another amateur golfer to talk about in Ollie Schniederjans, who was a former number one amateur in the world. Schniederjans was sitting at four under par going into Monday, but had himself one of the best days of the competitors, shooting five under par to finish tied for twelfth place. The 22 year old played at prestigious Georgia Tech and should be able to find himself in contention again some day.

Ashley Chesters is a European amateur that also made the cut, and also finished twelfth with Schniederjans to open a few people’s eyes. Chesters shot an impressive three under par to move up the leaderboard on Monday.

The point of pointing out all of the amateurs in the thick of competition at a major, is simple. While many have believed golf has been in a transition period since Woods and Mickelson’s down years, the game might have finally broke through with a new wave of talent. The amateur level gets better and better, but producing major competition is almost unheard of. These amateurs are not the only quality players amongst young people, and it’s obvious more talent is out there. Kids are getting more practice than ever, working harder than ever, and it’s producing better scores than ever. This has allowed amateurs to come into high level competition and stand a chance.

There are still young professionals like Spieth that are speeding up the process, though.

Hideki Matsuyama is another young name to follow. He’s a professional, but at only 23 years old, he’s still looking for his first major. Of course, another pro some have watched closely is 26 year old Rickie Fowler. The flamboyant dresser is a professional as well, and is looking for his first major. Fowler has a lot of talent and has come so close to winning a major lately.

Of course, we can not have this conversation without Rory McIlroy. McIlroy has become a “forgotten” star after his British Open absence because of an Achilles injury. That said, McIlroy is one of the most talented golfers out there, having won four majors already (one U.S. Open, one British Open, and two PGA Championships). He is one of the biggest hitters on the tour, and is always in the news for on-course and off-course events. He should get better in the next few years, and try to challenge double digit majors in a few years.

Another reason to like McIlroy’s star status? He is the story of one of the best commercials ever created.

The youth’s robbery of The Open’s main storyline was no fluke. It was merely the perfect stage for the future of golf to introduce themselves.