Enough Tiger—2010 Will Explode With Talented Youth

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 19, 2009

NAPIER, NEW ZEALAND - NOVEMBER 12:  Anthony Kim of the USA applauds after his win following the second round of The Kiwi Challenge at Cape Kidnappers on November 12, 2009 in Napier, New Zealand.  (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Phil Walter/Getty Images


At this point, this whole Tiger debacle is nauseating.

I’m tired of wondering why, tired of questioning my allegiance as a fan vs. my morals, and especially tired of wondering who deserves more blame: the media or Woods.

In this midst of Tiger’s golf calamity, I couldn’t help but feel this mounting, electrifying anticipation as to who will step up in Tiger’s ‘indefinite’ absence. People like my Dad, who use the name “Freddy Couples” as a swing technique, are ardent believed that some of these ‘old timers’ have a chance—Mickleson, Furyk, Stricker, Perry.

But let’s defy the norm.

The aggressive swings and gritty, on-course dynamic of Anthony Kim, Camillo Villegas, Kevin Na, Hunter Mahan, and most recently Rickie Fowler, will propel these youthful, talented golfers to stardom.

Six years ago I hit balls next to Anthony Kim—I can still hear the thunderous explosion of dollar-size divots. He’s the Ray Allen of golf—he’s got game.

But, he’s also got an attitude. His tiff with Robert Allenby was an insignificant media creation, reminiscent of something else in the media recently (cough). But the truth is, Kim is tenacious. He doesn’t just hit the ball, he pulverizes it. He rarely leaves putts short. He’s designed a meticulous pre-shot routine that works for him.

You can call it arrogance: I’ll call it driven. The hype permeating from his initial wins has subsided and since then, he has proven he can consistently compete at the highest level. But this year, Kim will reveal that he can consistently win as well.

Rickie Fowler is only a year older than me. Crazy right? I competed in the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation), State Regional Tournament in 2006 with him and the day before the event, I putted next to Fowler on the practice putting green; we were the last two people at the course with only a distant lamp illuminating the crisp, lightening fast, undulating green.

It was a transformative night for me.

Fowler's clean, pure strike of his Scotty Cameron putter to his brand new Pro-V1X’s was mellifluous. One stroke after another, his balls would die in the cup. If all that weren't enough, I had the pleasure of hitting balls at the driving range a stall over from him prior to my practice round.

What I found intriguing, and was truly a sign of his level of expertise, was that even on the range he hit every shot to a target. Straight was not enough. He'd hit a low fade that began on the left side of the range and ended on the right. He made a mockery of the rest of us, but in my mind, I felt like I received a free golf lesson. I knew then what I know now—Fowler has a gift.

For guys like Mahan and Villegas, similar to my appreciation for O’Hair and Na, they swing the club with a distinct power and strength. They have mastered their mechanics to such a level of preciseness that they can swing just about as hard as they want off the tee, carefree, which is why they bomb it 300+ yards consistently.

Their confidence in length off the tee has propelled a newfound, diligent work ethic around the greens, which manifested itself this year and will only get better. Kim’s 1.727 putting average earned him the No. 2 overall ranking in Putting Average in 2009. Kevin Na scrambled 64 percent of the time in his 91 rounds throughout 2009, ranking him No. 6 overall.

Though there are a multitude of reasons why Tiger has been able to dominate on the golf course, one of the most significant remains his experience under gripping, pressure-filled situations. Believe it or not, Tiger has lost with the lead—reference Y.E. Yang—and collapsed with victory in sight.

But losing breeds foresight.

People often approach their elders with "meaningful" life questions because they believe their elders have acquired wisdom and knowledge through their vast experience. Kim, Ogilvy, Mahan and rest of the young bunch, may not have the knowledge of Trevino, Nicklaus and Palmer.

But they have made their mistakes, and will continue to make mistakes. Yet they have reached a level of comfort on tour, with their individual games, and in those terrifying, win-or-go-home moments will blossom in 2010.