In every sport, the changing of the old guard to a new group of defenders occurs about every seven to ten years. Age finally catches up to the élite; while continuing to empower the stronger, faster, and hungrier players. Eventually, the young lions surpass their aging heroes and carry the torch forward. The real question in golf is when does this occur?
Who will be on top at the end 2014? Rory, Phil or Tiger?
During the past few years, the world of golf appears to have shifted its focus towards younger players and that 2014 will be the year for major changes in the world rankings. However, pundits who follow golf would agree that this potential shift is not an actual power struggle. It is more like the media creating hype by pitting old bulls like Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Phil Mickelson against the young lions like Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, and Keegan Bradley.
The reality of golf at the professional level is that it is all about the hype! It is no different from any other sport; however its slower evolution does restrict the potential for financial gains experienced by teams like Manchester United or the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Golf is starting to generate a world craze and continues to grow in popularity, but the glacial pace can be frustrating. As new emerging players try to break into the ranks of the élite, they will find it extremely difficult to sustain the prowess required to stay at the top because golf is not a sport dominated by youth.
In 2013, there were approximately 160 world events. In 2014, this number is expected to expand as new markets in Asia, specifically China, develop. Of the 2013 events, 19% were won by those in their 20s; 80% were won by those in their 30s; 31% in their 40s and 1% in their 50s. Therefore, professional golfers in their 30s and 40s won 71% of tournaments.
In the PGA last year, the numbers were even higher. Of the top 25 on the money list, 28% were in their 20s, 60% were in their 30s, and 22% were in their 40s. Thus 82% of the top PGA 25 money list were in their 30s and 40s. The percentage of top ten money winners goes even higher!
Lastly, the world rankings demonstrate that the young guns may be stronger than the 2013 numbers demonstrate, but that is largely because players like Rory McIlroy had a great season two years ago and it was carried forward to 2013.
Regardless, the numbers are very consistent. In professional golf, the bulk of the world-class players are in their 30s. The next strongest group are in their 40s. How do you promote golf when the players are mature, focused and generally avoid the spot light off the course? Where players are friends and animosity is rare? Despite recent events, golfers are generally considered gentlemen and conduct themselves accordingly.
Interestingly and to the chagrin of some, the age of the élite players is getting older, not younger. Players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker have dominated the top of the golfing world for the past 10 years. They move up and down the world rankings, but at the end of each year they are at or near the top! How is this possible? The thought of older players dominating the top of a sport is virtually impossible or is it?
Golf has changed over the past 20 years, but not as the media would suggest. Older players continue to dominate for many reasons and three seem to top the list:
- Technology has improved exponentially, thus allowing older players to hit the ball farther without any extra effort;
- Players have a greater understanding of a regimented training program. They embrace proper training methods and therefore extend their playing career; and
- Their ability to travel the world in hours versus days has improved their quality of life. The ability to move from event to event is grueling, but now they have the ability to travel home faster for that much-needed rest during their golfing season.
The media, promoters and financial investors would like the world to believe that an epic battle is being waged for golfing supremacy and partly they are correct. However, not in the manner that fits the traditional sporting world.
A shift is occurring in golf. More, older players in their 40s are still very competitive, some younger players in their 20s are breaking through, but the bulk of the élite golfers are still in their 30s. The unmentioned shift is the dominance of older players. Golfers between 35-40 years old are more competitive than ever. As the élite players get older and they see not reason to relinquishing their title without a fight. As the world prepares for the upcoming golf season, they should be ready to see the same names at the top of the leader board and not be duped by the media hype hailing for a changing of the guard!
I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!