There are even more explanations for the shifting balance of power. "I had to learn how to win on Tour," says Watson. "It took me five, six years to do that. These players are winners when they come here."
Leonard, winner of the 1992 U.S. Amateur and the '94 NCAA, amplifies the point. "College golf has become so competitive now that young guys come here with a huge advantage," he says, "and the summer amateur events are so good you're playing high-quality golf year-round. It's practically like being a touring pro. The Nike tour has also been a huge factor because a lot of players join the Tour having already won a professional event."
With this kind of experience many young players come to the Tour with a confidence that floors the old-timers. "These kids aren't afraid of anything," says Lanny Wadkins, a 26-year veteran. "They aren't afraid to win, and they aren't afraid to dominate."
Adds Appleby, "Nobody feels like they have to pay their dues for 10 years before they can win out here. I mean, if you don't hit the ground running, you're going to get run over." Indeed, for a player like Appleby the success of his peer group has expanded his belief in what can be achieved. "Seeing what Ernie and Tiger have done in the major championships is a good boost," he says. "It takes away the intimidation factor that much more."
Nobilo makes another point. "When you talk about equipment changes," he says, "there have been two major developments: the, metal driver with more advanced shafts, and the lob wedge. Older players didn't grow up with either, while these kids did. Their games are built around the advantages that come with them. They're so much more aggressive off the tee. They just kill it. If you grew up with a wooden driver and steel shaft—like a lot of us did—there will always be something in the back of your mind holding you back. Because of the lob wedge, around the greens they all have shots that in the past only the very best players could dream of pulling off. To some degree they're playing a different game than we are."
A different game. That's how British Open golf is often described, usually followed by the warning that youthful exuberance is punished, while prudence, which comes with experience, pays off.
Says Wadkins, "Troon takes more local knowledge than almost any other British Open course." Says Watson, the five-time champ, "Over there the game is not played as much by air. A lot of it is by land, with the roll."
Says Duval, "There's a lot less to it than people think. The big thing is how hard the turf is. You can pick that up in a practice round or two."
This gang of twentysomethings enjoys dispelling old notions. Listen to Stankowski, who tied for fifth at the Masters, dish on the revered majors. "They're regular golf tournaments to me," he says. "All the talk about more pressure, more intimidation—that's all self-inflicted. I don't think they're a big deal at all. They're a little more interesting, a little more exciting maybe. But if you don't make a big deal out of 'em, then they become like any other tournament. If they're like any other tournament, then anyone can win 'em, and it doesn't matter if you're in your 40s, your 30s or your 20s."
Actually that last bit isn't entirely true. These days it certainly helps to be in your 20s.