published Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Youngsters ready to tackle Augusta

Harris English hits out of a bunker on the second green during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in Augusta, Ga.
Harris English hits out of a bunker on the second green during a practice round for the Masters golf tournament Tuesday, April 8, 2014, in Augusta, Ga.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — It's already been a season of success for youngsters on the PGA Tour.

This 2014 Masters, which starts today, could change the lives of any of these young guns.

Everyone knows who is not here this week -- 14-time major champ Tiger Woods is out after back surgery -- but any one of the more than a dozen first-timers at Augusta National could be in the mix.

Say hello to Jordan Spieth, the 20-year-old from Dallas, who is one of four teenagers to ever win on the PGA Tour since 1911.

Spieth may not old enough to buy a round of drinks at the Wild Wing Cafe on Washington Road. But he is the No. 13 ranked player in the world.

The youth movement in golf has been coming since Woods last won a major in 2008 and his air of invincibility vanished. Young golfers who grew up wanting to be him are now beating him, repeatedly.

Nine golfers under the age of 30 have won in this season's wrap-around season. Woods won 11 majors in a span of 33 major tournaments ending with the 2008 U.S. Open. Since then, 19 different golfers have won 22 majors.

"The game is getting better, younger, and vastly spreading to different and more places," said Spieth, who is finished runner-up in the 2012 Carpet Capital Collegiate while playing for Texas. "I think that we'll continue to see younger and younger players step up and be able to win early such as we have.

"Because of the inspiration that guys like Tiger and Phil have done, we have watched them win this tournament for a number of years and have made us want to come here and win this tournament."

There are 32 players in the field who have yet to reach their 30th birthday. Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel are the only members of that group with major championship wins.

Patrick Reed, who has three career PGA Tour victories and is second on the FedEx Cup points list this season, looks to join that exclusive club.

He boldly claimed to be one of the top five players in the world after winning the WGC-Cadillac Championship one month ago before softening his stance. But he's had that sort of bravado since leading Augusta State to two NCAA championships, including the 2010 title at The Honors Course in Ooltewah.

"I'm very confident," Reed said. "I try to treat it like it's just another event. Because if you start throwing stuff out of proportion, then you start getting the nerves up and you start doubting yourself and things start to go south."

Former Baylor School golfer Harris English is 24-years-old, has two victories on tour and is making his Masters debut. His University of Georgia teammate Russell Henley also has two career victories. They'll be the last off the first tee today.

The other 20-somethings to win this season are Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Chris Kirk, and Scott Stallings.

"It's just part of the evolution of the game that the younger players," ESPN golf analyst Curtis Strange said. "There's periods where you just have young guys winning, and the next year it's guys in their 40s winning. Just give the young guys their due.

"Usually, it takes a few years on tour before a player can win, but that seems to be less and less the case."

Everybody in the game is taking notice of the youth movement. Their impact on this championship will be determined by Sunday at dusk when one of them could be the winner.

"I've been watching these young guys and it's amazing how they hit the golf ball, how well they play," Arnold Palmer said. "I've never ceased to be pleased and surprised to see the physical conditioning that these young people are coming in with, to see their ability, to see how they play the game."

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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