Over the past five years, all eyes in the golf world have been on young stars such as Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, and Jason Day. Now, there is a new young star on the rise, and his name is Justin Thomas. Justin Thomas was a standout golfer at the University of Alabama, earning medals at both the SEC and NCAA Regional Championships. He also won the Haskins Award while still a freshman, which is given to the most outstanding collegiate golfer each season. He continued to build on this success on the professional stage, graduating from the Web.Com Tour and immediately making his presence known on the PGA Tour. Thomas is a fan favorite, aweing spectators with long drives and creativity around the greens.
He has continued to build his resume, successfully defending his title at the CIMB Classic in late 2016. Since that win, he hasn’t looked back. The twenty-three year old just captured his fourth career win on the PGA Tour last week in Hawaii — already his third win of the season. Even more impressive, Thomas shot a 59 in the first round of last week’s Sony Open, making him the youngest player in PGA Tour history to break 60. Thomas also broke the 72-hole scoring record on his way to a seven-shot victory over a strong field including Justin’s close friend and rival, Jordan Spieth.
After sweeping the “Hawaiian swing.” Thomas is currently first in the season long FedEx Cup race and riding some major momentum. His next appearance will be at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February. With an entire season ahead of him, it’ll be interesting to see how Thomas’ already record-breaking year plays out.
Another player garnering a lot of attention in today’s golf world is Daniel Berger. Like Thomas, Berger is also a product of the junior golf circuit who has had success on tours such as the American Junior Golf Association. Berger attributes much of his success to his father, who was the head coach of the Men’s United States Tennis Association. Berger learned tennis from his father and played in both tennis and golf competitions growing up. An early tennis background has allowed Berger to thrive as not just a golfer, but also as an athlete. Many young golfers have emphasized this point by following strict workout regimes and emulating other professional athletes. Because of his unique athletic upbringing, Berger has developed a unique backswing followed by a massive rotation of the hips to square up his club and deliver a pure strike. Berger’s swing has analysts and commentators scratching their heads, while he excites old time golf fans with his scrappy and efficient game.
Berger had a successful collegiate career at Florida State University and turned pro by the age of twenty. Berger, like Thomas, quickly got through the Web.com Tour and rapidly rose through the ranks on his way to the PGA Tour. Berger’s eccentric swing and flawless short game has translated to major success on the world golf stage. He had a standout rookie season, qualifying for the Tour Championship, finishing eleventh in the FedEx Cup, and winning the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award for 2015. He followed up his rookie year with a strong sophomore campaign; Berger started the year by recording a tenth-place finish at The Masters, his first top ten finish at a major championship. He then recorded his first professional victory at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, outlasting Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker.
Contrary to the Tiger Woods era, young stars such as Spieth, Thomas, and Berger can be described best as “friendly rivals.” This generation has grown up contending against each other and have emphasized maintaining camaraderie in their battle for the top spot in golf. While Woods often intimidated his competition with his long drives, stoic demeanor, and cold-blooded desire to win, these young players are truly redefining the professional athletic environment. With millions of dollars on the line each week and all the pressure in the world on them, the “young guns” still find time to jokingly gamble during practice rounds, hang out off the course, and most paradoxically, beat each other when they have to. The pedigree of the professional golf has never been higher and it is truly entertaining to watch these young stars carry the game on their backs their own way.