A group of young guns is emerging on the PGA Tour, flexing their muscle and exerting a powerful influence that will change the landscape of professional golf for the next decade and more. Each is seeking to etch his name in golf history, and all have the talent to do so. Currently twelve players under the age of 30 are included among the top twenty in the World Golf Rankings, and we will take a look at them all as the 2022 tour season gets under way. Can one of these mega-talented young stars approach the seemingly unattainable records of Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods? To put it in perspective, Jack Nicklaus recorded 73 tour wins in his career (30 in his twenties), with 18 major titles (7 in his twenties). Tiger Woods has accumulated 82 wins on tour (46 in his twenties) including 15 major titles (10 in his twenties). Let’s take a look at the first three to see where they currently stand, and consider the possibilities.
John Rahm (27 years old/No. 1 in the World Rankings)
John Rahm is currently at the top of the official World Golf Rankings, and it should really not come as a surprise. With power and precision off the tee, steely nerves and singular focus, Rahm has recorded 6 PGA Tour Wins in the span of just 4 years, including a major title (2021 US Open). Born in Barrika, Spain as ‘John Rahm Rodriguez’, he was an exceptional golfer from an early age, earning a golf scholarship to Arizona State University where he won 11 college golf tournaments before graduating in 2016 (second only to Phil Mickelson, who recorded 16 wins at ASU). He waited to turn pro until the conclusion of the 2016 US Open, having received an invitation to compete as the #1 ranked amateur in the world, and recorded a top 25 finish. The following week he finished 3rd at the Quicken Loans National Tournament, gaining an invitation to The Open at Royal Troon where he made the cut, and followed that up with a runner-up finish at the Canadian Open the very next week. Adding two top 15 finishes in the fall secured his tour card, and Rahm exploded onto the golf scene in January 2017 with a remarkable come from behind victory at the Farmers Insurance Open (Torre Pines–against a powerhouse field). He continued his success, recording four more wins between 2018 and 2020, and then took home the U.S. Open title in 2021, where he fired a final round 67 to defeat Louis Oosthuizen on the difficult South Course at Torre Pines. And with two Ryder Cups under his belt already, expect Rahm to be a pillar of the European team for many years to come. To get close to the bar set by Jack and Tiger however, Rahm will need to pick up his pace quite a bit with at least fifteen more wins and four or five major titles in the next few years. It can be done though, since he won’t turn 30 until November of 2024, giving him 3 more full seasons to beef up his record. Jack won 19 times from 1971-1973, and Tiger recorded 22 wins between 1999 and 2001. The problem is that Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy are still in their prime, along with a host of youthful superstars who also want to make their mark on the game.
Collin Morikawa (24 years old/No. 2 in the World Rankings)
When talking about young guns on the PGA Tour, Collin Morikawa jumps right to the top of the list. Known for precision iron play, Morikawa evokes images of Johnny Miller at the top of his game. When you add his accuracy off the tee and a beautiful putting stroke, the possibilities are unlimited. Morikawa was born in Los Angeles, California. Like Rahm, Morikawa started playing golf very early and proved himself to be a talent. He received a golf scholarship to play at the University of California, Berkley, where he excelled on the collegiate golf stage, winning numerous amateur championships and rising to #1 in the World Amateur Golf rankings in 2018. After graduating from college in 2019, Morikawa turned professional and immediately recorded a top 15 finish at the Canadian Open after receiving a sponsor’s exemption (a field that included Brooks Koepka, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson). The following week he made the cut at the US Open (held at Pebble Beach), closing with a final round 69. He then finished runner up at the 3M Open, recorded a top 5 at the John Deere Classic the very next week, and secured his card for the 2020 season by winning the Barracuda Championship. After making the cut in all nine of the tournaments he entered in 2019, Morikawa started the 2020 season by making the cut in his first 11 events before the season was put on hold due to COVID 19. When the season resumed, Morikawa recorded a runner up at the Charles Schwab Challenge, the 21st consecutive cut he had made from the start of his PGA career, with a chance to challenge Tiger’s record of 25. Unfortunately, his streak ended at 22 with a missed cut two weeks later at the Travelers, but Morikawa wasted no time with what might have been, and notched a second tour win two weeks later in a playoff with Justin Thomas (the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village). The following month Morikawa won the PGA Championship, his first major, firing a final round 64 (tying Steve Elkington’s record for lowest final round at a major) and ended the season with a sixth-place finish at the Tour Championship. The 2021 season was even more spectacular, as Morikawa added two more wins, including his second major title at the Open Championship, a top 5 at the US Open, top 10 at the PGA Championship and a top 20 at the Masters. With 5 wins including 2 majors under his belt already, and six full seasons before he will turn 30, Morikawa has plenty of time to make Tiger and Jack take a serious look over their shoulder.
Justin Thomas (28 Years old/No. 5 in the World Golf Rankings)
It may come as a surprise that Justin Thomas is still in his twenties, since he made his first appearance on the PGA tour way back in 2009. Thomas was just sixteen years old, and still in high school, when he teed it up at the Wyndham Championship, where he opened with a first round 65 and made the cut. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, he was taught the game almost as soon as he could walk by is his father, Mike Thomas, the head golf professional at Harmony Landing Country Club. In 2011, as a freshman at the University of Alabama, Thomas received the Haskins Award as the outstanding college golfer of the year, and opted to join the PGA Tour in 2013, after Alabama won the National Championship. He recorded his first tour victory in 2015 (the CIMB Classic), and added 13 more titles over the next five years, including a major (2017 PGA Championship) and the Players Championship in 2021. Known for his length off the tee, Thomas can roll it on the green as well (ranked 5th in putting in 2017 while recording 5 wins). He only has one more full year in his twenties though, so 2022 needs to be a big one for him if he wants to keep Tiger and Jack in his sights. Keep in mind that Vijay Singh won nine times in ’04, and with his power and putting stroke, Thomas can most definitely make a statement.
Stay tuned as we next look at Bryson DeChambeau (28 years old/No. 8 in the world), Jordan Spieth (28 years old/No. 15 in the world, and Patrick Cantley (29 years old/No. 4 in the world).