As the PGA Tour inches closer towards their return to Shinnecock, many questions start to arise after each tournament. This week James Caruana and I discuss who might some of the talented young golfers be on the PGA Tour. In addition, we discuss four more pressing issues in golf.
1. Who are the five most gifted golfers age 25 or younger?
Caruana: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Xander Schauffele, and Emiliano Grillo. The first three are in a league of their own. Schauffele and Grillo both make cuts and record top tens, but are not likely to make a run in a major.
Townes: Spieth, Grillo, Schauffele, Rahm, and, as a wild card, Aaron Wise. I think all five of these guys are gifted for their age, of course, but Spieth and Rahm are capable of winning a major sooner than later. Spieth finished third at the Masters while Rahm finished fourth.
2. Competitive edge or mental sharpness, which is more important and what golfer comes to mind based on the answer you chose?
Caruana: Mental sharpness is a huge key in golf. Most players when they talk about mistakes in their rounds they talk about losses in concentration. The player that comes to mind is Spieth. His run in 2015 is the closest thing we have seen to the dominance of Tiger Woods in the 2000’s. That year took a lot out of him with the stress and the pressures of potentially being golf’s next Tiger. The last two years he definitely took a step back from that dominance along with his hairline. It is hard to maintain that level of concentration every week, which is what makes Tiger’s run all that more impressive.
Townes: Competitive edge is something that separates the elite athletes in every sport. You see it with LeBron James, Mike Trout, and, at one point, Sidney Crosby in their respective sports. Competitive edge separated Woods when he was atop the mountain of golf too. Almost every golfer is mentally sharp, but what separates the winners in each tournament is competitiveness kicking in in those pressure moments.
3. Who will be the next guy to win his first major and will it happen this year?
Caruana: Rickie Fowler finished second at this year’s Masters and keeps getting into contention at the big tournaments. He has eight top ten finishes in major championships and in 2014 he finished in the top five of all four majors. Fowler is not one to shy away from the spotlight and it seems like he will get his major soon.
Townes: The popular choice here is Fowler since he has been at it since 2009. I will go in another direction with Rahm. He finished fourth at the Masters, which is his best finish in a major competition yet. According to the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), the Spaniard ranks fourth on the PGA Tour, Fowler is seventh on that list. Rahm has four top 10 finishes and won a tournament this year too. He at least has some experience this year in a pressure moment and pulling through whereas Fowler has not won anything this year.
4. Has Phil Mickelson run out of time to win a US Open and what are his chances at winning at Shinnecock?
Caruana: Mickelson’s struggles at the US Open have been well documented. His six second place finishes there are almost more well known than his major championship victories. That being said, he is returning to Shinnecock this year where in 2004 he finished second. After that, the Open moves to Pebble Beach, Winged Foot, and Torrey Pines. Mickelson has had success at all of these courses and it is hard to believe that he will not be in contention at one of these in the next few years. I want him to win the final piece of the Grand Slam, but there is a part of me that thinks he will be in contention one more time and come up short again.
Townes: I will answer this with an emphatic NO. Mickelson does have 12 cuts made along with six top 10 finishes this year. He has familiarity with the Shinnecock golf course, but the new modifications could throw him off. Being a creature of habit is not always the best thing. The US Open usually favors big time swingers too and I believe long distance hitters in between the 290 to 310 yards range with good short distance work should be favored. Mickelson drives at 283.3 so it is a no for me.
5. Will Tiger Woods win his first tournament, since 2013, this year? Will he win another major?
Caruana: Tiger gets a win sometime this year, but I think he needs a few non-major wins before we can really throw him into the mix. If he can stay healthy, the Open at Pebble and Torrey are two spots where I could see it happening. Tiger loves Torrey Pines and it would be something special if he pulled out a win there thirteen years after his duel with Rocco Mediate. As long as the back is fine I think we will see him get major number fifteen.
Townes: I absolutely loved Woods in his prime, but he does not display many of the features from his glory days. He lacks the mental fortitude to comeback in a tournament when he falls behind. His lack of focus shows as he settles for pars when he has a shot at birdies. Above all, Woods competitive edge (see my answer to question two) comes and goes. There used to be a time in which he stepped on the course and wanted to annihilate those attempting to compete with him. I just do not see that from him on a consistent basis anymore.