Chris "Boomer" Berman teams up with Tim Wakefield and J.J. Henry in the Travelers Celebrity Pro-Am on Wednesday afternoon in Cromwell. Berman lost his wife six weeks ago in a car crash.
CROMWELL — Speaking of a fellow classmate of the current generation of golfers in their 20s, Jordan Spieth praised Brooks Koepka for his U.S. Open victory.
"You see the body moving faster and out of sync, and he wasn't," Spieth said. "It's a perfect example of what I think this generation is like."
Athletic, determined, talented, motivated – and winning.
Fifteen players in their 20s have 18 of the 32 victories this PGA Tour season, with the stop this week being the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands. Justin Thomas, 24, who's in the field, is the leader with three.
"Guys aren't afraid to be aggressive and to score," Rory McIlroy, the No. 3 player in the World Golf Rankings, said Wednesday. "The depth of talent out there is as deep as it has ever been. There are a number of factors. The teaching is better, the knowledge is better. Yeah, there are just more [talented] players."
"I just came out of [the fitness center], and it's packed," said Spieth, making his debut in the first round of the Travelers Championship Thursday. "Guys are in there doing anything from warmups to full workouts."
He, Thomas and reigning champion Russell Knox credit Tiger Woods as the impetus for this current generation of talented players in their 20s. Eight of the top-12 players in the world rankings are under 30: No. 2 Hideki Matsuyama, 25; No. 3 McIlroy, 27; No. 4 Jason Day, 28; No. 6 Spieth, 23; No. 9 Rickie Fowler, 28; No. 10 Koepka, 27; No. 11 Jon Rahm, 22; and No. 12 Thomas, 24.
McIlroy, Day, Spieth and Thomas are in the 156-player Travelers Championship field.
"When Tiger was young and in his prime, I wanted to do everything like him," Thomas said. "If I was putting, I'd think if I made it I'd beat Tiger. He definitely was a reason for where I am now."
Knox, 32, said the Tiger influence impacts the game's younger players in other areas. "College golf programs have improved significantly," Knox said. "Junior tournaments, like everything's going in the direction of improvement. Technology has improved, coaching has improved, so people are just ready to come out and win in their 20s now."
Videos; detailed analysis of swings, golf balls and equipment; and motivational coaches are some of the ways players of this generation have improved.
Still, the tour game is more than videos and clubs. Whether it's Thomas hitting that 300-yard 3-wood to reach the par-5 18th in two, which led to an 8-foot eagle putt Saturday, or Koepka rolling in birdie putts at 14, 15 and 16 on Sunday at the U.S. Open, the game demonstrates it's not all about distance. The skills, ability to adapt to conditions and the proper blend of aggressiveness, finesse and imagination to put the ball into the cup the least number of times determine winners.
Jim Furyk, 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, 47, has a unique view of this young class. "I get to rub elbows with them," he said. "You could see it coming a few years ago of how many good, young 21-, 22-, 23-year-old players we have. They're more prepared. They're ready to win at an earlier age than we were two decades ago, three decades ago.
"I mean, when I came out in the early '90s, it was rare that more than one guy out of college would get a card. No one could. Phil Mickelson didn't quit school [Arizona State] early to turn pro. He won a tour event when he was a junior in college and stayed for his senior year. So those things didn't happen, but these kids are coming out younger, at an earlier age and getting more prepared."
Talent does not reside, of course, only in those in their 20s. Dustin Johnson, 32, won three consecutive tournaments, Genesis Open, WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match play, and is the top-ranked player in the world. Players also in this little older group, like Sergio Garcia, 37; Henrik Stenson, 41 and Mickelson, 47, can compete with anyone.
"I think it's underrated what Phil did [physical training]," Spieth said. "Phil put a lot of time in the gym. He put a lot of time in doing band work, and he got himself in the best shape in the last 10, 15 years within the last few years."