Match play reveals youth wave sweeping pro golf - Tucson Local Media: Sports

Match play reveals youth wave sweeping pro golf

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Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 12:00 am

Shaggy-haired kids in tight jeans, wearing white belts and checkered Vans, clustering outside ropes to get a glimpse of the on-stage talent, racing and jockeying for better viewing position, cheering when they see the entertainers, who look a lot like they do.

The latest downtown emo concert?

Nope, it’s a golf tournament.

During the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play Championship last week, it was pretty obvious that golf — that stereotypically “older” sport – has evolved past its country club roots, and has found a new audience, one that may only know Arnold Palmer as a tasty mix of lemonade and iced tea.

That audience directly reflects the youth of the players now dominating golf.

Rory McIlroy, a professional golfer from Northern Ireland, is 19 but looks 14. He has the shaggy hair, the white belt and the tighter pants befitting his age group, and looks like he would be just as at home holding a Guitar Hero controller as a nine iron.

Camilo Villegas, a Columbian, is a well-tanned 27, confident, and if the number of young women following him from green to green is any indicator, is developing a following that could culminate with a Tiger Beat teen-idol spread one day.

American Dustin Johnson is 24, 6-4 and looks every inch the college student that his stint at Coastal Carolina University would suggest.

In fact, out of the 64 competitors at the match play championship, the top-ranked 64 worldwide, 38 were under the age of 35, many under the age of 30. Tournament champion Geoff Ogilvy is 31.

This new breed of golfer not only looks different, but also has drawn a different crowd to golf.

Alongside the slacks-and-cigar set still prominent at the tournament, flip-flop wearing fraternity boys, yoga pants-draped sorority girls, skate-company-aficionado teens and hip-hop style-influenced NBA fans were all enjoying the sun and the birdies.

Even the older golfers have recruited younger fans, as evidenced by devotees of the 38-year-old Phil Mickelson. Drinking beers at 10:30 a.m. and dressed in full-body white jumpsuits with Mickelson-extolling phrases drawn on in permanent marker, three college guys made wisecracks throughout Mickelson’s walk to the fairway, but fell stone silent during his shot. When the shot was made, loud cheering and thumbs up made their way to the appreciative golfer, who shot back a smile in return.

That mixture of the old respect and the new fun could be seen everywhere at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club the past week, with neither crowd seeming to be upset by the other.

In these trying and divided times, that’s a breath of fresh air.

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