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Young Guns of Golf

American Way Magazine
May 2011

By

PGA Tour golfer Rickie Fowler, 22, resplendent in bright green shoes, white pants, a vibrant duo-toned green and pink shirt, topped by a green hat, ponders the seemingly simple question for several seconds.

Strangely, for a person whose job it is to answer questions before or after every golf round, Fowler answers the simple query of the last time he wore khaki pants on the golf course, with a question of his own.

"On the PGA Tour?"

Told that's the question of the moment, Fowler doesn't hesitate this time, "Uh, never."

Asked if he even owns a pair of khaki, the standard uniform for golfers of all shapes and sizes for decades, elicits another quick reply, "nah."

Fellow PGA Tour Young Gun Hunter Mahan, 29, has a similar take on the American pro golfers who are committed to taking golf into the next decade and beyond.

"Before Tiger (Woods)  came along it was more of a khakis and blue shirt type of sport. Guys aren’t afraid to be different now. Not everybody who plays golf is a white collar person."

Young, fashionable, hip, rich and good-looking. Fowler, Mahan, along with Anthony Kim, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson are poised to be the face of the American PGA Tour for decades to come.

Brash, carefree, fearless and already hugely successful. They are proving with each holed putt, fist-pump or pointed finger into the crowd, along with another trophy lifted high into the skies that this isn't, nor will it likely ever be again, your father's, definitely not your grandfather's professional golf tour.

They all pay homage to the patron saint of recent golf coolness and brashness, Tiger Woods. But it's the Woods whose signature video games they played growing up, certainly not the Woods who once laid waste to the pro golfing landscape, vaporizing all foes in a seemingly long ago decade.

Between the bold Fowler clothing colors, clearly visible from a fairway away, to Mahan's ever-present sunglasses, Johnson's long sidebar, Kim's growing posse and Watson's pink shirts and golf shafts, they are easy to spot, hard to forget and memorable for a next generation of golf fans.

It's the future of golf coming faster than the hot rod cars Fowler liked to launch high in the air on a California dirt track while growing up.

Here's an insiders look at the 2011 PGA Tour Young Guns.

ANTHONY KIM: Korean-American Rebel: 

Raised in Los Angeles, schooled in Palm Springs, attended college in Oklahoma, lives in Dallas. Kim has built quite a well-traveled circle of experiences in his brief golfing career, but the one constant has been brash confidence backed up by stellar play with off-course activities backed up by questions on his dedication.

Kim, 25, does not question either assertion, but has no doubt where he is headed in his career.

"I know for myself personally that the sky is the limit if I just keep grinding away and have a good attitude."

He has already won three PGA Tour events, but was slowed in 2010 with thumb surgery. Even while rehabbing his injury, the allegations of off course partying with his four longtime buddies who are his Dallas roommates has not stopped.

"I take it as a compliment because people obviously think I have enough talent and ability to win golf tournaments and still have a good time. At the end of the day, I’m still about winning golf tournaments and at the end of the day that’s all that matters."

"A lot of the stories are completely overblown. They are half ridiculous. I’m not even in the same state as the story. At times my focus has lacked. I haven’t practiced every day. I’ve come from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. But I’m always trying to learn from the game."

Kim, whose parents are Korean, said his carefree lifestyle stems from moving from Los Angles at age 16 to Palm Springs, where he lived without a lot of adult supervision. He attended school and practiced golf, heavy on the latter, and didn't see his parents and other family often.

"A lot of us younger guys have a different background. Whatever background you come from, show them that side and more people will be drawn to that and pick up the game.

"Nobody doesn’t want to be cool. The conscious is people do things because it’s cool and they want to be cool.  If we could make golf little bit younger, more appealing to the public, why not?"

Despite the publicized public setbacks, Kim is confident his brash golfing talent will still carry the day.

"I want the career I’m going to have. My future is still very bright."

RICKIE FOWLER: High-Flying Golf Daredevil

Rickie Fowler grew up in Southern California, the son of a motocross dad, who was part of a winning Baja 1000 team, and an Asian-American mom, who instilled discipline and filmed all his adventures.

By the time he was in high school, Fowler rode regularly with his dad, getting his motor bike off 50-foot ramps with little trouble. But he wasn't bad at golf either, first being taught by his granddad, then by an old-school club pro who saw Fowler's immense talent.

He starred at golf factory Oklahoma State University, where he was as famous for sliding face first down a frozen hill in a memorable YouTube clip as going 7-1 in the amateur Walker Cup international matches and winning national Player of the Year honors as a college freshman.

"I did a bunch of crazy stuff when I was growing up," Fowler admits when asked to explain his non-traditional background in one of the most traditional of sports. "I'm a little bit different. I'm an adrenaline seeker.

"I have some fast cars I like to get out and get up in the air and have fun."

The dazzlingly bright outfits with the flat brimmed hat, popular with the skateboarding and motocross crowd, are all part of his marketing plan, www.rickiefowler.com, which is featured prominently on the back of his hat.

His signature line, 'it's go time,' signed with most twitter postings captures the face of a new pro golfing generation.

"I want to attract people to golf, bring in fans, be a draw," he said. "Golf is cool, sometimes people just don't realize it."

Just don't mistake his coolness and hip style for lack of caring on the course.

"We're not out here to mess around, we're here to win. Nobody is out here screwing around. We're here on the big tour for a reason."

In just 2 1/2 years on Tour, he's already collected four top three finishes and $4.2 million dollars in prize money alone, not to mention millions more in endorsements.

That's big air in any sport and proof the neon golfer is not screwing around indeed.

HUNTER MAHAN: Mirrors to the Future

Catch California native and longtime Dallas resident Hunter Mahan on the golf course and the first thing you'll notice is the sunglasses. Unless it's the belt buckle or the surfer dude blond looks.

Mahan may be in danger of losing some Young Gun cred as he's actually nearly 30, gasp!, and recently married, albeit to a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. But he's still eager to be part of golf's generational change.

"You had players like Davis Love and Fred Couples who dominated golf for a long time, but now the Young Guns are coming on and I think it's the changing of the guard a bit.

"I think the young players and their style are the evolution of the game today."

Mahan has already won three PGA Tour events, tying him with Watson and Kim's, success, but said he wants to be successful in other ways as well.

"Golf should be fun and we need to make it fun. You can have fun on the course. You don't have to be mute. Sometimes the game changes as things start to change and it doesn't have to be so stiff."

At age 29, Mahan claims to be one of the first to adorn the belt buckle as a PGA Tour fashion statement.

"My first year out here I had a Cadillac belt buckle I got at the flea market and the guys started calling me Cadillac. We're lucky we're in a sport where our face isn't covered or we don't all wear the same uniforms."

Typically, today his belt buckle is the symbol of a corporate sponsor, but he still has plenty of individuality when it comes to cars.

"I have a 1972 GMC truck which I had lowered, a 1969 Chevy Nova with a flat back and a new paint job to make it look like a Camaro, plus my Yukon, a Mercedes C63 and a Dodge Truck 2005.

"I usually drive the Nova, the Mercedes and the Yukon with the others at home."

Mahan is plainly driven to succeed on the course and off.

DUSTIN JOHNSON: Single, Hip and Talented

If the sideburns and front soul patch of an earlier era doesn't give it away, then the white alligator belt from an upscale fashion designer probably does. Dustin Johnson is young, cool, fun-loving, single and doesn't really care who knows about it.

"I like to have fun as much as possible. I don't mind people thinking I'm single and fun-loving, that's OK with me, " he said.

Recently, a CBS golf commentator said Johnson looks like he's sleepwalking on the course and called on him to wake up and reclaim his immense talents and ability.           

He infamously lost both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship last year despite taking leads to the final round, the later tournament when he admitted he didn't read the rules ahead of time and cost himself the tournament title on the 18th hole. 

"During the days you struggle, it's not as fun. You might try to look like you're having fun, but you're not and those might be the days he thinks I'm sleep walking," he said. 

At 16, he was scared straight into a path which led him to professional golf. He was in a car with four other friends when the older brother of one of the friends committed a break-in where a gun was stolen. Later, the older brother coerced Johnson to buy ammo for the gun because he had a fake ID and a month later the brother killed a man with the same gun.

Because he claimed to be coerced in the affair and testified against the older brother of his friend, Johnson was able to avoid jail or a criminal record, but he saw how quickly his career could go from cool to creamed.

"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "You learn from your past, everyone makes mistakes, so as long as you learn from them and move on, I think that's all you can do."

Since then, he's claimed four PGA Tour titles and at age 26, just hired one of the Tour's legendary caddies to help guide his career.

"I think kids these days are starting to realize that golf is a cool sport and you've got more athletic guys playing the game."

BUBBA WATSON: Country Cool

Watson grew up in the tiny town of Bagdad, Florida with the legal name of Gerry Bubba Watson, but since his dad was also named Gerry, he has gone by Bubba most of his 32 years. The self-described biggest kid on the PGA Tour, who lists his hobbies as playing video games and collecting Nike shoes, said he's worked hard to have fun and never grow up.

"I was athletic growing up so I though the game was fun. I didn't think it was cool, it was fun. You can never perfect it. So why would you like to try and perfect it."

The king of the 21st century twitter and the latest and greatest video games, Watson said he only does fun events, not dangerous or scary.

His quest for unconventional fun in 2004 led him to put a pink driver shaft in his longest club which he swings mightily from the left side.

"I like bright colors and I like to have fun and it seemed like fun to me, so why not?," he asked.

"We're trying to grow a great game and raise money for charity, so that would be a good thing."

Why not indeed? From sideburns to sunglasses, pink shafts to power clothes, golf's next pro tour wave is intent on living life out loud and laughing all the way to the bank.