Hi there, and welcome to Part 6 of our 18-part series, Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15, which we're using to preview the new calendar year of golf that resumes in the United States with the start of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on January 9. In this installment, we look at the possibility that the youth movement of 2014 continues.
Rory McIlroy won two majors, bringing his total to four, as well his first World Golf Championships event. He won the European Tour's flagship event -- in the same week he announced his marriage to Caroline Wozniacki was off, no less -- and its money title for the season-long points race for the second time in three years.
Jordan Spieth closed out the year with wins in consecutive starts some 9,000 miles apart, destroying McIlroy and practically the entire world top 10 by a combined 16 shots. He became the first American in 21 years to win the Australian Open. He had the lead on Sunday at the Masters at 20 years old.
Rickie Fowler didn't win anywhere in the world in 2014, but made history nevertheless. He became the third player -- after Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods -- in major championship history to score top-five finishes in all four majors and the first to do that and not actually walk away with one. That was while making a pronounced change to his swing under the watchful eye of Butch Harmon.
Jason Day won his first World Golf Championships event, too, outlasting Victor Dubuisson to win the Match Play. He also won in his home country at Royal Melbourne in Australia in the World Cup of Golf, as an individual and with Adam Scott in the team portion.
These four guys are in the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Add in FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel (No. 13), Hideki Matsuyama (No. 16), the aforementioned Dubuisson (No. 18), Chris Kirk (No. 20) and Patrick Reed (No. 23) and there are plenty of twenty-somethings playing golf at a very high level.
Clearly, McIlroy is on a completely different level than the others. He's on his own march toward history, possibly completing the career grand slam at the Masters. However, the young guns chasing his ranking and his resume are poised to make a bigger mark on the game in '15.
Spieth could thwart McIlroy at Augusta National. Fowler will need to learn to close, but has found a game that's good at any major. Day is already consistent in the majors, but hasn't reeled one in yet. Dubuisson and Reed could ride their Ryder Cup debuts to greater heights.
As golf has become more of a distance game, athleticism -- and, yes, youth -- takes on more importance in deciding success. These guys all have it. Now, with the exception of McIlroy, it's about harnessing their natural gifts, refining their mental talents and becoming the next generation of great champions. It would seem 2015 has all the makings of that transitional year.
Then again, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, new dads Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson and others will have something to say about that.
Read all of the Devil Ball Golf 18 for '15:
- Who could win their first major in 2015?
- Lefty's U.S. Open chances
- Wrap-around schedule: gift or curse?
- The best major venue of the year?
- Who will reign over the LPGA?