OK, Rickie Fowler, you’ve got next.
Jon Rahm, you’re way ahead of schedule, but no one can see your ceiling.
Doug Ghim, anyone? Beau Hossler?
They’re all lining up and no one had better get in their way. They found that out the hard way when hard-charging, hard-to-like Patrick Reed bolted to his first major golf championship on Sunday with swagger and a dagger of a putter.
Once again, the legion of young great golfers with no fear and no limitations continues to show up front and center. Sorry, Tiger. Phil, the Champions Tour isn’t far away but your championship days may be.
“That was a testament to where golf is now with the next generation,” CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz told me Monday. “The younger brigade has taken over the game.”
So who is the next to lay claim to a major title? Has to be the neon orange man himself, right? Fowler thinks so.
The 29-year-old Oklahoma State product fell short of a major again — by one shot — for his third runner-up finish in a major, but he’s getting closer and closer to joining that exclusive club. But then, how exclusive really is that club?
There are so many great golfers in this kiddie corps generation that the list seems to run a mile deep and at least that wide. Raise your hand if you’re in your 20s and still don’t have a major championship trophy.
You can put your hand down, Rahm. You’re only 23 and still brushing up on your English after arriving at Arizona State with little knowledge of the native tongue but with lots of game. Your best days are on the near horizon.
But start with the brash Reed, the newest Masters champion after shooting a solid 71 for a one-stroke victory over Fowler and two shots better than Jordan Spieth, who’s already reaching legendary status with his miracle run ending in a 64, one off the course record.
Reed didn’t even make the cut here last April. He’d broken par just twice in his previous 12 rounds but turned in three rounds in the 60s before his career-altering Sunday.
I guess he was right, after all. He is a top five player as he proclaimed in 2014 to the agreement of no one. He may not be embraceable, but he’s hanging onto that trophy. He’s the ripe, old age of 27 but now has a major championship he can call his very own after never having played well at Augusta National. He climbed to 11th in the world.
“You look at the excellence that was on full display,” Nantz said. “It was extraordinary. One, two, three, four. All in their 20s. Sure, some guys in their 40s could pop up, but the torch has been passed. The game of golf is healthy, and it doesn’t need one player to carry it.”
Sure, the golfers formerly known as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson didn’t finish in the top 10. Or the top 20 for that matter. Tiger never caught his stride and came in 32nd. Mickelson tied for 36th and admitted, with his 48th birthday coming in two months, that he may be running out of chances to try to win a U.S. Open and complete his career Grand Slam.
In his fourth attempt, Rory McIlroy, who faded so badly Sunday with a 74 as he did in 2011 when he closed with an 80, failed to earn his Slam. As for Spieth, he just needs a PGA title but at 24, we’ll spot him some time.
The top four finishers at the Masters were all 29 or younger. Reed now has his first major championship, Fowler’s on the verge, Spieth has three on his résumé and may be the next Jack Nicklaus on these sacred grounds, and Rahm, the Spaniard, ranks fourth in the world with five PGA Tour victories already at age 23.
That doesn’t even count Alabama product Justin Thomas, Spieth’s buddy who won last year’s PGA Championship. He had a 67 on Friday but could do no better than a tie for 17th. And there’s Brooks Koepka, the 27-year-old bomber from Florida State who was absent here with a torn wrist tendon but won last year’s U.S. Open and ranks ninth in the world.
How many might they claim before they’re done? Heck, how many can they capture before they’re 30? The ages of the reigning major champions, starting with Reed, are 27, 24, 24 and 27. And the Ryder Cup in Paris can’t get here soon enough because all those winners — Reed, Thomas, Spieth and Koepka — will be there to beat the Europeans.
The youngsters are taking over. In a big way. And there’s always the new influx of talent like Texas’ own Ghim, who had three eagles here and was the low amateur, and Hossler, the former Longhorn who came within inches of winning the Houston Open and qualifying for his first Masters.
And just how far away can Fowler be? Not very.
But neither is Rahm as he and Spieth and Thomas and now Reed carry the flag forward.