Golf’s Winners Getting Younger and Younger

May 6, 2020
Justin Ray

In the last few months before the professional golf hiatus, the sport’s youth movement was on full display.

On the PGA Tour, Viktor Hovland, age 22, broke through with his first win in Puerto Rico. A week later, 21-year old Sungjae Im won The Honda Classic. Throw in Patrick Reed and Tyrrell Hatton and each of the last four PGA Tour winners were in their 20s.

The European Tour was getting ransacked by the kids, too. In December, 18-year-old Rasmus Højgaard won in Mauritius, becoming the second-youngest winner in the Tour’s history (Matteo Manassero). 24-year-old Lucas Herbert won in Dubai, only to be outdone by a pair of 21-year-olds – Min Woo Lee in Victoria and Sami Välimäki in Oman.

“The game is getting younger” has long been a popular refrain in golf, whether through wishful thinking by commentators willing a generational change in the sport, or through more calculated observations. But this has become more than just a talking point overheard on a telecast: the numbers say the youthful shift in golf is tectonic.

Let’s start with the PGA Tour, where there have been eight wins since World War II by players age 20 or younger. Four of them have come since 2010 (Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Joaquin Niemann and Matthew Wolff).

Over the last four seasons, nearly one-fourth of PGA Tour wins have been by players age 25 or younger. In the previous thirty seasons before that (1987 to 2016), just 10.3 percent of winners were under age 26. Take a look at how that percentage has steadily climbed in recent seasons:

Percentage of PGA Tour Winners age 25 and Younger

2005 to 2008: 7.9%

2009 to 2012: 8.8%

2013 to 2016: 17.4%

2017 to 2020: 24.7%

Since 1985, there have been five PGA Tour seasons where the average winner’s age was under 31.1. All five of those seasons have come since 2014, including the record-setting 2016-17 wrap-around campaign, where the average winner was just 28.8. That season, a staggering 42 percent of tournaments were won by players age 25 or younger.

Since the beginning of the 2012 PGA Tour season, there have been 49 wins by players age 23 or younger. That is more than three times the amount there was from 2001 through 2011 (16).

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From 1985 through 1995, the average winner’s age on the PGA Tour was 32.4. In a generation, that number has dropped more a year and a half. The average winner’s age since the beginning of the 2015 season is 30.8.

The trend has been reflected in the major championships, too. The 2010s featured 21 winners in their 20s, the most of any decade from 1950 onward. The average major winner’s age from 2010-2019 was 30.7, also the youngest in any decade.

On the European Tour, each of the five youngest winners in history have come since 2009. That list includes Hojgaard, the first player born in the 2000s to win on either the PGA or European Tours.

The numbers are even more dramatic – in terms of percentage and age – when it comes to the women’s game.

From 1950 through 1999, there were six LPGA victories by players age 19 and younger. From 2000 to 2009, there was a significant uptick, with seven wins by teenagers.

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That was a drop in the bucket compared to the last decade, however. The 2010s saw TWENTY EIGHT wins on the LPGA Tour by players age 19 or younger. Lydia Ko accounted for half of them on her own – but in all, eight different women won as teenagers during the decade.

For nearly forty years, Sandra Post was the youngest major winner in LPGA history, taking the 1968 LPGA Championship just 19 days after turning 20. But since 2007, there have been eight major championships won by players younger than Post, the most recent being Brooke Henderson at the 2016 Women’s PGA.

Regardless of Tour, the consensus the information provides is clear: golf’s winners are getting younger. The changing landscape across the sport is a trend to keep an eye on when competition returns.

TIGER WOODS STAT OF THE WEEK

From 1985 through 2000, there were ten PGA Tour wins by players age 21 or younger. Tiger Woods had five of them.