Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Brooke Henderson earned her first LPGA Tour victory on Sunday in record setting fashion. Along with two top 5’s in LPGA majors, she has to be considered one of the elite young golfers on that Tour, not to mention a very marketable commodity. Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson and Brooke all achieved early success by foregoing a college education and turning pro as teenagers. They’re amongst the biggest stars on Tour. Will their success encourage more teenagers to follow that route and should the LPGA do more to accommodate them?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I think it’s inevitable that more young girls will start trying to forge professional golf careers and skip college. Perhaps what the LPGA Tour should do is allow them to join at age 16 (if they pass certain criteria), but give them a 4-year limit to earn a certain amount of money or achieve a minimum number of victories. Then, if they don’t achieve these goals, rescind their memberships, forcing them back into the minor leagues, or ideally, to then seek a college education through academic or athletic scholarship. In other words, we’ll give you a shot, but you have to succeed to stay.
Peter Mumford, fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Commissioner Whan probably blew it by a few months but ultimately got it right. 18 is an arbitrary age limit when you’re dealing with someone like Brooke Henderson who clearly demonstrated that she could more than hold her own with the bulk of the LPGA. The issue will always be on those with marginal talent whose parents, agents, sponsors all think she is ready, when perhaps she’s not or never will be. With an age limit in place, the Tour protects itself from a slew of wannabes. It’s easier to deal with exceptions like Brooke than to open the floodgates to children who would be better off staying in school.
Matthew MacKay, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTours): Pretty sure that horse has left the barn, and there will soon be a flood of teenagers trying to make a go of it in women’s professional golf. It’s simply becoming a young woman’s game and there are plenty of girls playing the game at a level that will allow them to compete on the LPGA tour. Brooke is one of the exceptional circumstances where she can become a superstar very quickly, but there will be many who figure they can start earning some dough before the next wave of youngsters comes along.
Craig Loughry, GAO Director of Handicapping (@craigloughry): This is a tough one, the woman’s career is quite a bit different than the men’s. For the exceptional few I’d like to see the route be a little easier, but I wouldn’t want to define that. After all, it is a Tour of members, and opening it to non-members can be a sensitive issue. But let’s look at Brooke, what if the Tour granted her status earlier this year and then she won as she did last week. The Tour would look brilliant, would probably create a positive relationship with the player and perhaps loyalty that could benefits the LPGA Tour later on. Instead they let her Monday qualify (which is a fairly open route for non-members), scamper for sponsor exemptions, made travel and planning fairly difficult for her. But she won. So, in the end she really did earn her keep and no matter how you look at it, that’s the point, you earn your spot whether through a money list, Q-school or Monday qualifying, which I suppose is the way it should be. Brooke is classy she will only look forward and not hold any grudges against the Tour.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: A 14-year-old qualified for the railroad Open this week in Vancouver. To protect these children from Earl Woods wannabes, the 18-year-old threshold seems a bare minimum.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): One would think that Brooke Henderson’s failed attempts at getting an exemption on the LPGA Tour — until yesterday —would deter fellow youngsters from dropping out of school and going all in professionally. She has had an exhausting season, using up all of her sponsorship exemptions and needing to Monday qualify into events. The LPGA needs to get off of its high horse and help these girls out. One idea could be to set up a transitional stage for players under the age of 18 that allows these girls to compete in 1/2 of the events and earn a spot for themselves against the world’s best. It will be immediately apparent who is ready and who is not. It’s time to abandon this hogwash arbitrary minimum age requirement. If you are good enough to win against the best in the world, I think you should be given a decent chance.
Jim Kenesky, PGA (@jimkeneskygolf): I believe Brooke Henderson will do more for Canadian Golf then Mike Weir. At such an early age, she has the potential to impact the Canadian golf scene for many many years. Mike Weir had about a 10 year span while Brooke will be looking at 25 years if she stays healthy. I think the LPGA Tour has it right by making sure the teenage prodigies are proven and have all the tools in place. They’re simply protecting themselves, the players and their future assets. Like any Tour, membership is earned and there has to be a precedent set in order to become a member. The impact of these young players will be great on the game and I’m sure we will see many new young girls fall in love with Brooke and golf.
The PGA Championship rearranged the standings at the top of the World Rankings with Jordan Spieth moving into the number 1 spot, followed by Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. Is this a new Big 3 with everyone else picking up scraps?
MacKay: I think Dustin Johnson has as much talent as any of those guys, but whether he has the mental fortitude to make it a Big Four is the big question. Beyond those four guys, it’s a pretty big chasm. Rickie Fowler has had a great year but he can’t compete consistently with the big boys. Over time it’ll be Rory that rises above.
Mumford: Who else is even in the conversation? This is a trio that has way more similarities than differences and for that reason will be challenging each other for years to come and getting Tiger-like coverage. Rickie Fowler comes closest to fitting the mould but until he wins a major, he’s still choking on dust from the Big 3.
Kaplan: This is the new holy triumvirate of golf — my generation’s Nicklaus, Palmer and Player. These three are going to duke it out for the next 25-30 years and make you forget all about Tiger Who?
Deeks: The depth of talent is so great in international golf right now that the top 10 rankings are going to continue to be quite volatile over the next few years. It may be Spieth-McIlroy-Day at 1-2-3 for a while, but Fowler, Johnson & Johnson, Rose, Bubba, Stenson, Kaymer and several others are right behind, and will be jockeying back and forth. It’s a great time for professional golf. Too bad the lamestream media in Canada are all but ignoring it.
Loughry: I’m saying yes, these three are that talented and that far above the rest of the Tour. Need facts? Check their stats in the last 12 Majors. Enough said.
Kenesky: For the most part, they have the complete package. There seems to be no glaring weaknesses in each of their games. These three players will be in and out of the number 1 spot for the next little while and I don’t think anyone else will move in. Look down the list and you will see guys that just don’t have the game to compete at all venues. It’s an exciting time for golf and very quickly we’re forgetting about “Take all the air time” Tiger Woods.
Quinn: The scraps will be well shared given the field. This is the best top 20 — internationally — in professional golf in decades. The big three, big 12, is going to be fun to watch over the next calendar year, ignoring the pseudo-season finale.
Recently, Lee Westwood and then Sergio Garcia were labelled “the best player in the world without a major”. Their time may have passed and there are others who should aptly wear the title. Who do you think the best player in the world without a major is now?
Loughry: No doubt the best player without a Major is Dustin Johnson. He’s the most talented of the names I’d put in that bowl; Stenson, Garcia, Snedeker, and even Kuchar. And as mentioned, there is a real good chance DJ and the others have a Major-less career.
Kaplan: Robert Griffin III, of course. He’s both the best quarterback in the world without a championship and the best golfer in the world without a major. But, jokes aside, it’s either Dustin Johnson or Branden Grace, who has all of a sudden risen to best-of-the-rest status.
Quinn: Dustin Johnson is the best player out there, in the stupid ‘hit it 380 on average ‘ universe. If I was Gretz, I’d fire him now, but he may just work out some day.
Deeks: The rankings suggest it’s Dustin Johnson, but I really wonder if he’s got it upstairs to win a major. So my pick would be Fowler, followed by Stenson. Seems odd that Stenson who’s four years older than Sergio, looks like he’s got a better chance at a major, but I agree with the premise that Sergio’s time has passed him by.
MacKay: Dustin Johnson is easily the best player to not yet win a major. Crazy talent, just needs to put everything together for one big week. I could see him winning a major next season by 5+ shots.
Kenesky: There are currently three guys sitting at 7, 8, and 9 in the World Golf Rankings. DJ, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson. Any one of them could share this label. However, like most people I would have to say Dustin Johnson. The guy is just so dominating off the tee at times and powers his way around golf courses. There are so many venues in the past couple years that he should’ve won on and has come away empty handed. I’m not the biggest DJ fan but I do believe once he breaks through we’ll be talking about the BIG 4 and not the BIG 3.
Mumford: Every time Dustin Johnson tees it up I figure he’s going to win. He just looks unbeatable – that is until he beats himself. If he couldn’t putt or was a bad chipper, it might be easier to understand than to suggest he doesn’t have the head for big pressure situations. The absence of that tool ultimately is what separates the best from the rest. So, until he proves he has the head to win majors, I can’t put him in that ‘Best without a Major’ category. Rickie Fowler is the top bridesmaid followed closely by Brandt Snedeker and Jimmy Walker.