PGA Tour becoming a game for kids

PGA Tour becoming a game for kids
Veteran golfer Pat Perez tees off on the 11th hole during the first round of the Humana Challenge at the La Quinta Country Club on Jan. 22. (Todd Warshaw / Getty Images)

Pat Perez is a veteran pro golfer who, at age 38, now winces every time he sees a pairing sheet.

One of his fears at this week's Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines was getting teamed with a player who calls him "Sir" or "Mister."

"I'm tired of these young kids," Perez joked Tuesday.

Last week, he played with Brooks Koepka, the 24-year-old who ended up winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

"I'm hitting six-iron and Koepka is hitting wedge," Perez said. "Who is going to win that contest?"


"He did," Perez said. "But I did inspire him for two days."

Perez says Koepka is part of the new youth movement that is taking golf to a different plateau.


Rickie Fowler, still a rising star at only 26, is almost too old to qualify for this club, which probably starts at everyone below 25-year-old Rory McIlroy.

McIlroy is currently the world's No.1 player, most think by a long shot.

McIlroy isn't in the field at Torrey Pines, but his irrepressible youth and vigor are well represented this week by three Americans trying to grab his vapor trail: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Koepka.

"The distance, the youth, the fearlessness, it's a different group," Perez lamented. "It's a different game than when I came out. We had Tiger [Woods], but it just wasn't the same. These kids are hitting it a mile."

Spieth and Thomas, 21-year-olds born three months apart in 1993, are part of America's new wave movement.

They are friends who shared a practice round Tuesday that would have reminded some parents of chasing children around a playground.

Spieth, the former University of Texas star, actually sprinted down the steep hill separating the tee and green on the South Course's beautiful par-three third hole. The thought of John Daly trying that brought visions of ambulances and paramedics.

Veterans Colt Knost (29) and Steve Wheatcroft (36), almost like nannies, tagged along behind Spieth and Thomas.

Spieth is on the fast track to becoming "the next great American golfer," and Thomas, you can tell, wants to be just like him.

Thomas, who played his college golf at Alabama, is not only a tour rookie enjoying early success. He is also a fascinating study in physics.

Imagine a player as tiny as Corey Pavin hitting the ball farther than Pavin ever dreamed.

The diminutive Pavin carved out a nice career, which included a U.S. Open championship, by overcoming his short-drive-comings with guile and shotmaking.

Thomas is different. Listed in his PGA Tour bio at 5-10 and 145 pounds, he would be the last guy picked in a long-drive contest — and then win it.

His beyond-300-yard distance is almost beyond belief.

"It makes no sense why I hit it as far as I do with my size and my height and everything, it really doesn't," Thomas said after Tuesday's practice round. "I guess that I'm efficient with what I have. And swinging hard doesn't hurt either."

Thomas routinely outdrove his playing partners by 20 and 30 yards. And that included Spieth, who outweighs Thomas by 40 pounds.

Thomas is off to a fast start in his rookie season, with five top-25 finishes in eight starts.

He's been even better since the golf calendar flipped to 2015, finishing tied for sixth at the Sony Open in Hawaii, tied for seventh at the Humana Challenge and tied for 17th last week at Phoenix.

Thomas played those tournaments in a combined 40 under par.

Spieth already boasts 18 top-10 finishes in his young career, including a tour victory. He is ninth in the latest Official World Golf Ranking.

This is also Spieth's third year on tour.

It's not outlandish to think that Thomas could earn his breakout win this week at Torrey Pines. He finished tied for 10th last year after receiving a sponsor's exemption.

He keeps hearing the same question: "When are you going to win?"

Thomas has a ready answer: "I'm trying.… I wasn't trying to finish whatever I was. It's tough to win."

The good news for Perez, who finished tied for second last year at Torrey Pines, is that he'll be teeing off Thursday with guys closer to his age bracket. Charlie Beljan is 30 and Paul Casey is 37.

"Casey?" Perez said. "He'll hit it by me. But that's fine."

Perez can at least make it around Torrey without getting embarrassed off the tee by a player who lists "SpongeBob SquarePants" as an early influence.

"As a kid I liked cartoons," Thomas said. "It wasn't too long ago I was watching that stuff."

To which Pat Perez might respond: Ouch!