Golf’s next youth wave is here

In 2003 the NBA was in desperate need of new young stars. Which is just what that historic draft delivered.

LeBron James was the No. 1 overall pick, Carmelo Anthony was third, Chris Bosh was fourth and Dwayne Wade was fifth. Even before James, Bosh and Wade teamed up in Miami the quartet helped flip the league on its head.

It appears that perhaps the PGA Tour is in the midst of receiving its youth boost in the form of a dynamic mid-season rookie class.

No, golf isn’t quite in dire need of youth infusion but it could use a healthy dose of different. Which is exactly what the latest crop of college golf stars are bringing to the table.

Matthew Wolff took the golf world by storm over the weekend with his dramatic win at the 3M Open on Sunday. He didn’t just hold off the sport’s new villain (Bryson DeChambeau) but also had to survive an incredible final round from fellow rookie Collin Morikawa.

DeChambeau eagled the 18th hole to take a 1-shot lead over the rookies and was already calculating how much the air density would change during a playoff, when Wolff sunk an eagle putt of his own to win. Morikawa’s eagle attempt just lipped out and he had to settle for tie with DeChambeau for second.

Wolff is just 20 years old. Just a few months ago he won the 2019 NCAA Individual Men’s Golf National Championship with a 10-under performance. In just his fourth PGA Tour start — third as a professional — he won on Sunday with a score of 21-under.

He shot 62 on Saturday and followed with a final round of 65. In the final paring. On the PGA Tour.

While the win doesn’t secure him a spot in this month’s British Open — like a victory at this week’s John Deere Classic would – it does lock up his tour card for the next two seasons.

No Korn Ferry Tour (formerly the Web.com tour or the KFC Tour for No Laying Up Fans), no Q-School. The California kid with a swing that looks like a mix of Happy Gilmore and Jim Furyk has locked up his dream job just months out of college.

Morikawa was just inches from achieving the same status. Instead his weekend rounds of 64 and 66 and a score of -20 for the week provided him special temporary status.

The 22-year-old former Cal star can now enter all non-playoff events for the remainder of the season rather than relying on sponsor exemptions like the one that got him in the field last week.

In addition to the second-place finish in Minnesota, Morikawa has made four straight cuts on tour, including at the U.S. Open. as an amateur.

Thanks to his performance over the weekend, along with a T-14 in the Canadian Open, he will have a chance to lock up his tour card for the next two seasons as well. He just has to finish with the equivalent point total to the No. 125 in the FedEx Cup standings. According to Golf Digest, Morikawa currently has 334 points, which would put him through at No. 114.

Morikawa and Wolff weren’t the only fresh out of college stars to put on a show Sunday. Wolff’s Oklahoma State teammate Viktor Hovland posted a 65 on Sunday to finish 13th.

Hovland won the 2018 U.S. Amateur Championship to earn his way into this year’s Masters and the U.S. Open. He finished 32nd in Augusta, Ga. and 12th at Pebble Beach, Calif.

His U.S. Open 72-hole score of four-under topped Jack Nicklaus’ for the best by an amateur. The Norwegian also finished 13th two weeks ago at Rocket Mortgage Classic.

The fourth member of golf’s college quartet Justin Suh also made the cut this weekend in Minnesota. It was the first made cut in four PGA Tour starts for the 22-year-old USC star, who was a former World No. 1 in the Amateur rankings.

Like Morikawa, Hovland and Suh could earn their tour cards by earning enough points to be in the top 125. Hovland has a better shot than Suh with his made cuts early on.

But likely they both will need to finish inside the top 200 of the FedEx Cup standings to earn their way into the Korn Ferry Tour playoffs, which would then require a finish inside the Top 25 over three events to reach the PGA Tour.

This group is the shot in the arm that regular season PGA Tour events need. No chance I’m watching the 3M Open on Sunday if DeChambeau runs away with it. But watching the two young bucks duel it out with each other and him was enough for me to fit in the final holes on a jam-packed day of sports.

All four are in the field this week at the John Deere Classic. Morikawa and Hovland are the betting favorites according to Golfodds.com at 16-1. Wolff is third at 20-1.

Hopefully for golf fans Hovland, Suh and Morikawa can use the final weeks of the season to earn their way onto the PGA Tour full-time next season. Otherwise their tremendous talent and fearless attitudes will have to be put to use to on the Korn Ferry Tour, or even the European Tour (known as the Brooks Koepka route).

Whether they all qualify this season or down the road, it’s safe to say that notice has been served to the rest of the PGA Tour that the Class of 2019 is coming.

(Photo: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

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