Michelle Wie had six top fives in majors as a teenager, something we'll likely never see again. But Lexi Thompson is off to a good start, tying for 10th in last year's Women's Open at age 15. Both feats turned heads, but we've become used to women accomplishing sports greatness at a young age. The surprise is how these sorts of precocious achievements are now happening in the men's game.
All over the world, would-be junior golfers are making their mark. Ryo Ishikawa, 19, has won nine times in Japan, and Matteo Manassero(below), who finished 20th at the Transitions, at 16, became the youngest to make the cut in the Masters and then the European tour's youngest winner when he took the Castello Masters in 2010. Seung-Yul Noh, also 19, finished 40th at last year's U.S. Open, 28th at the PGA Championship and may be the best player we know the least about. At last year's Byron Nelson, 16-year-old Jordan Spieth stole the show with his talent and his composure.
Why now? Better swings, equipment and athletes make for better golfers at a younger age. That's logical enough, but I think it is something else—familiarity. In the past teenagers have not done well in Tour events for no other reason than intimidation. But golf is now on TV around the clock, and even the best players are made to look human. Suddenly aware that their heroes are not infallible, these young men have jumped the highest hurdle, discomfort. Today's teen golfers play as if there is no tomorrow, but of course for them there will be many.
Brandel Chamblee is a 15-year PGA Tour vet and Golf Channel analyst.