Currently at a major crossroads, the sport of golf teeters between national relevance and wilting obscurity. The competition issue is that its two greatest stars of this generation are reaching the end of their careers. In fact, only recently has the sport had viable options, both from a competition and marketing perspective, to take over the reins of the sport. Currently, incredible star potential exists in the pipeline and the games future depends on when these players are able to rise to the level of their predecessors.
Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the two most successful golfers over the past two decades. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that both players have reached their peak performance and are entering into the decline phase of their professional careers. Throughout their careers, they have combined for over 100 PGA tour wins and 19 Major Championships since joining the tour in 1996 and 1992 respectively. For the past 18 years, the rivalry between Woods and Mickelson drove both ratings and sponsorship dollars. Unfortunately, PGA executives are now faced with the startling reality that, until recently, little thought had been placed into the future of golf without these players. The PGA Tour, for the better part of the past two decades, has been branded primarily with these two players. Tournaments around the country scrambled to get these athletes to compete knowing how reliant the ticket sales are on their participation. How quickly the next generation of golfers take control of the sport will be the main determining factor in the future of golf.
Fortunately, there is hope for the game of golf. In fact, young stars that for years have shown incredible promise seem to be ready to take over the sport. I believe the future success of golf is tied to the future success of the players listed in the table below. The rest of this blog post will outline the five players listed below, their relative strengths, and why I believe they are ready to take over the world of golf.
The players chosen below are based on the following factors:
1) They are under 28 and have not entered the prime of their career
2).They offer the best future branding opportunities for the game of golf
|Name||Age||Professional Wins||Major Championships||Career Winnings|
|Rory McIlroy||26||17||4||40.8 Million|
|Jordan Spieth||21||5||1||14.5 Million|
|Rickie Fowler||26||3||0||18.3 Million|
|Jason Day||27||7||0||20.7 Million|
|Patrick Reed||25||4||0||9.1 Million|
Rory McIlroy: This 26 year old Northern Irishman has matured a lot since his self-destruction during the 2012 Masters. He is widely considered to be the heir apparent to Tiger Woods for more reasons than the fact that Nike is also his primary sponsor. With four Major Championships to his credit, this world number one player is always a threat to win in any tournament he enters. McIlroy’s success also has the potential to lead a surge in the popularity of golf in Europe and around the world.
Jordan Spieth: The dominant winner of the 2015 Master’s Tournament, Spieth nearly broke every Masters scoring record on his way to his first major. This 21-year-old Dallas native helped the University of Texas win the NCAA Championship his freshman year before turning pro and becoming the second youngest player to win the Masters. He is also the third youngest player to obtain multiple PGA Tour wins. Under Armour showed incredible foresight with the signing of this young rising star and received incredible advertising during his epic performance at Augusta. He is the complete package that golf needs him to be. His worth to the game of golf has the potential to not just be measured in wins or tournaments; Jordan has the ability to be the next great American golfer. His dominance at the 2015 Masters was reminiscent of Tiger Wood’s first Masters win in 1997.
Rickie Fowler: The stylish 26-year-old American is still searching for his stride on Tour. He has been runner-up at multiple majors and is searching for his first Major Championship. Rickie won the 2015 Players Championship in remarkable fashion going 5-under through the final four holes to force a playoff. He is sponsored by Cobra Puma Golf and is known for his outrageous style on the course. He is the perfect fit for Cobra Puma who operate differently than most major golf brands. Cobra Puma’s desire to go against the grain of golf’s traditions matches perfectly with Fowler’s style. Rickie’s style brings in another demographic to golf and adds some flair to a sport that for many years has been “50 Shades of Khaki.” Every time I go to the golf course to play, without fail I always end up seeing three or four kids dressed in Rickie’s classic all orange style or in one of his other patented looks.
Jason Day: Originally from Australia, Day has contended for Majors but has yet to close one out. Most recently, he won the 2015 Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Day is the oldest athlete on this list; fortunately he is still young enough to take the reins of the sport and has the potential to be one of the faces that the game can build around. Taylor-Made Golf sponsors him and his success has the potential to boost the game in Australia much like prominent Australian golfer Adam Scott did. Up to this point, Day’s career has been limited by injuries but if he stays healthy he still has time to make a significant mark on the game.
Patrick Reed: Probably the most unknown of the names on this list, Reed has made a point of making a name for himself by being out-spoken in the media. He is also, according to a survey done by ESPN, one of the most hated players on Tour and possibly golf’s next “Villain.” While his attitude has yet to translate into wide success, he is still only 25 and has the talent to be successful on tour. Every sport needs a bad guy and Patrick Reed seems ready to take on that role for golf.
These five golfers are, in my opinion, the future of golf. With Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson moving towards the end of their careers, golf needs McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler, Day, and Reed to take control. The nature of golf means that anyone can win on any day. As time moves on, Woods and Mickelson will find the fountain of youth, put together 4 good rounds, and could rake in a few more wins or majors. The new faces of the sport are already in the top 15 in the Official World Golf Rankings, so they have had success. Now is the time to take that success to the next level and begin a new age for golf; an age characterized by competition being dominated by younger players who can connect more easily with the next generation of golf fans and further grow the game. The future of golf demands it. As the main demographic of golf fans gets older, the success of the younger players on tour is needed to foster the next generation of golf fans.