Golfweek’s Brentley Romine reported that the PGA Tour is developing a program to reward top collegiate and amateur players with playing opportunities on its various Tours. If true, it’s a major change of direction for the organization – and it reflects the changing composition of the PGA Tour.
The PGA Tour is getting younger. The mean and median age of players in the OWGR top 200 has dropped three years since 1998.
This represents a real change for the Tour. Since its inception, the PGA Tour’s business has thrived off of the longevity of their star players. The longer a star’s career, the more fans they will attract. More fans equals more viewers and more marketing dollars. In a sport without teams, fans latch onto star players, who are critical for the PGA Tour’s current setup.
Phil Mickelson is a model example of the traditional PGA Tour star. Phil has now ranked in the top 50 of the world rankings for 25 years. Over his lengthy career, he has become a golf icon, generating millions of dollars for the Tour through marketability. Mickelson is the headliner of a generation of golf superstars that spent decades contending on golf’s grand stages.
A young Phil Mickelson
Today, the skill gap between the top amateurs and pros is smaller than ever. As a result, the future superstars of the game will be younger and their careers may prove to be shorter than their predecessors. The longstanding belief that a golfer’s prime was their mid-to-late 30’s may no longer be true.
What is causing this youth movement? One answer is driving distance. At last year’s Tour Championship, 13 of the 30 competitors ranked within the top 20 in the SG: Off the Tee category. Looking at driving distance specifically, the top 30 players in the FedExCup had an average driving distance rank of 47. The median driving distance rank clocked in significantly lower at 36. Only three players ranked 100 or worse in driving distance, Billy Horschel (100), Webb Simpson (117) and Kevin Na (157). The average age of the players who made it to the Tour Championship was 31 years old, with a median of 30.
22-year-old Aaron Wise made it to East Lake in 2018.
Looking back at 1998, the top 30 players on the PGA Tour Money List had an average driving distance rank of 73rd. The median rank was slightly lower at 67. In 1998, eleven of the top 30 players on the money list ranked 100 or worse in driving distance. The average and median age of the top 30 players on the money list in 1998 was 36.
Twenty years ago, the PGA Tour had a wider variety of players and skill sets. Today’s game is getting younger and longer. The dominant facet of today’s game, distance, is a byproduct of youth, speed and flexibility. If speed is going to be a prerequisite for the Tour, the average age will continue to skew younger.
It makes it imperative for the PGA Tour to identify stars at a young age and get the most out of their marketing appeal. The PGA Tour can’t wait for the stars to develop on their tours. Their long-term success will hinge on the fans knowing who the next big thing is before they make the Tour.