On a weekend in which the PGA Tour birdie record was broken and the winning score was 29-under-par, it was a birdie on one of the most difficult holes of the week that separated Chris Kirk at The Sentry. Kirk hit the shot of the tournament on the 71st hole at Kapalua, leaving his approach from 209 yards inside three feet. The win is Kirk’s sixth career victory and second since he took time away from the game to focus on treatment and recovery from alcoholism and depression.

While Kirk emerged victorious on Sunday, the story of the week was the pair of youngins he battled on the weekend. Akshay Bhatia and Sahith Theegala, two of the PGA Tour’s most promising up-and-coming talents, put on terrific showings at Kapalua. Bhatia was one off the 54-hole lead and played in the final group on Sunday before a 71 dropped him to T-14 finish. Theegala led after a Thursday 64, battled over the next two rounds to stay relevant, and closed with a Sunday 63 to threaten victory and ultimately finish runner-up. Had his putt on the final hole dropped, he very well could have found himself in a playoff for the biggest win of his career.

At 26 and 21 years old respectively, Sahith Theegala and Akshay Bhatia are on a short list of young players you’d expect to make the next steps in their careers in 2024. Theegala has far more experience to this point, but both players have one Tour win to their names and have plenty of room to improve. Theegala is especially exciting given that this will be his third full season as a PGA Tour member. He’s proven to be one of the best short game players on tour, ranking as a top 10-player in both Strokes Gained: Putting and SG: Around-the-Green, but has been a lackluster ball striker to this point in his career. The Plantation Course allowed him quite a few opportunities to lean on that short game, and he combined that with one of his better iron performances out of his recent starts.

Theegala has a win to his name, the 2023 Fortinet Championship, but you know he has bigger prizes in mind this year. To reach those heights, his improvement will have to come by raising his game from tee-to-green. Elite short game can get you to a certain point, basically to where he is now, but he’ll need to take that next step with his longer clubs if he hopes to be a reliable threat moving forward.

For Bhatia’s part, it’s clear that his whole game is still a work in progress. He flashes elite traits in all facets of the game, but he struggles with consistency just about everywhere. A relatively new broomstick putter has brought more stability on the greens, but there is still work to be done.

Along with Ludvig Åberg, both Theegala and Bhatia figure to be some of the most exciting young talents on the PGA Tour this season. They join the likes of Cameron Young and Sungjae Im as players aged 26 or younger who have flashed on the top circuit in recent years. With his elite driving ability, Åberg is likely the player you’d bet on making the biggest jump this year, but all five players have something to prove. For some, it’s more victories. For others, it’s consistency. Theegala made the first wave of the year, but the race to see which twentysomething can make the most noise in 2024 is just beginning.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.