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About a dozen years ago, during the Heritage Classic pro-am, a big kid caddying for one of the amateurs claimed that he was a pretty good stick. So Nick Price, the professional in the group, surprised the boy when they reached Harbour Town's 4th hole, a 200-yard par-3. "O.K., let's see what you've got," Price said, handing him a club and a ball. The youngster calmly teed up the ball, made a smooth, professional-looking swing and knocked the ball on the green. That boy was D.J. Trahan, who is now a rookie on the PGA Tour. He finished 38th at last week's Colonial. "I was 12 or 13, and it was really cool," Trahan says, recalling Price's challenge. "It was something you wouldn't expect."
Everyone expects big things from Trahan, who after he was done caddying went on to win the 2000 U.S. Public Links and lead Clemson to the 2003 NCAA championship. He is also one of the answers to a question that's been a hot topic on the PGA Tour the past few years: Where are the great young American golfers? The answer: As with Trahan, they're right under our noses. Witness Sean O'Hair, the lean 22-year-old who turned pro while still in high school. He officially arrived two weeks ago when he shot a 14-under 266 to finish second to Ted Purdy at the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.
"We have tons of young talent out here, players who will have massive careers," says veteran pro Paul Azinger. "I had lunch with Trahan two weeks ago and asked how old he was. He said, 'Twenty-four.' I said, 'Wow, I've played the Tour for 24 years.'"
There was a dearth of homegrown twentysomething talent for a while, although as fortysomething pro John Cook says, "There's one guy in his late 20s who's still pretty good," referring to his pal Tiger Woods, who'll turn 30 in December. But who will replace Woods as the best U.S. player in his 20s? There is no shortage of candidates. Nine of the top 40 players on the 2005 PGA Tour money list are Americans in their 20s. So are 17 of the top 100 and 21 of the top 125. Call them Generation Z, because apparently we were snoozing as they were coming into their own. Trahan, who had back-to-back top 10 finishes this month in New Orleans and Charlotte, and O'Hair are simply the latest in a wave of young Americans to blindside the Tour in recent months. Consider:
? Lucas Glover, 25, is fourth on Tour in top 10 finishes this year, with five.
? Charles Warren, 29, has earned more than $527,000 this year, nearly enough to guarantee his card for 2006.
Any discussion about young Americans starts with Charles Howell who, at 25, has won nearly $10 million, and Jonathan Byrd, a two-time Tour winner. Then there's Ryan Palmer, the 2004 Disney winner; Zach Johnson, the '04 BellSouth Classic champion who was 19th on last year's money list; Vaughn Taylor, the survivor of a wild playoff in the '04 Reno-Tahoe Open; Ben Curtis, the '03 British Open champion; and Hunter Mahan, who had a strong second half in '04, a year in which he won more than $800,000.
Another foursome of young U.S. players with star potential--none older than 26--awaits its chance to make a mark. Bill Haas, the son of Jay and an All-America golfer at Wake Forest, is considered a can't-miss prospect, as is Bryce Molder, a former Georgia Tech standout who is playing on the Nationwide tour. Boy wonder Casey Wittenberg, the 2003 U.S. Amateur runner-up who turned pro after a season at Oklahoma State, is playing the Tour on sponsors' exemptions. The best of them all may be Ryan Moore, the UNLV senior who was named the 2005 Ben Hogan Award winner this month after dominating last year's amateur scene with victories in the U.S. and Western Amateurs and in the NCAAs.