Youth will be served in golf for 2013

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland jokes with girlfriend Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki (not pictured) as he poses with the trophy after the fourth and final round of the DP World Tour Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates in Dubai November 25, 2012. (REUTERS)

The theory is that if psychics are so bang on all the time, why aren’t they consistently winning lotteries?

Transferring that to my own profession, if sportswriters in general and golf writers specifically had the talent to predict with any degree of accuracy, then why aren’t they cleaning up at the track?

Yet, with this being New Year’s Eve, we’ll be subjected to a plethora of predictions from both psychics and sportswriters.

Already, I’ve read that Tiger Woods will win a major in 2013 and the Americans will win the Ryder Cup two years hence, apparently because Tom Watson is captain. Forget that we have no clue about which players will comprise the U.S. team, but let’s not be nit-picky.

Usually, the psychic sports scribes look more foolish than fearless, but it’s all in fun so let’s not be too judgmental on the last day of the year. Besides, there is one aspect of the year just past that does indicate what’s to come.

It may not be as sensational as epic meltdowns of the past year, such as Adam Scott’s collapse that handed Ernie Els the British Open or the Europeans’ dominance in Ryder Cup singles that wiped out a huge American lead.

Youth will not only have its day, but it’s already having its day, meaning that there are more new faces climbing towards golf’s upper tier, making any prediction of who will win a future major or Ryder Cup more about luck than clairvoyance.

The fast-track emergence of young golfers compared to generations past can quickly produce a breakout season that adds extra names to the list of favourites we have traditionally chosen for years.

That trend goes back farther than this year. A year ago at this time, we were discussing Rory McIlroy’s convincing 2011 U.S. Open win at the tender age of 22 being a highlight of the previous 12 months. Needless to say, McIlroy’s the star of the 2012 highlight reel, as well.

From a Canadian perspective, it was Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., tying for fourth at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open at 23 and going on to make the cut in all five PGA Tour events in which he played, including the U.S. Open, and earn another top-10 at the Open.

If early 20s isn’t young enough, Lexi Thompson, then 16, became the youngest LPGA Tour winner ever when she took the 2011 Navistar LPGA Classic and added a Ladies European Tour title. It was little wonder then that the LPGA broke with tradition and granted her membership.

This year, the youngsters kept coming in a big way and they were even younger than their predecessors from the year before.

Lydia Ko became the youngest player ever to win a professional event by taking the New South Wales Open in Australia at the age of 14, but her claim to fame didn’t last long when Brooke Henderson of Smiths Falls, Ont., won a Canadian Women’s Tour event, also at 14.

The difference between their ages at the time was minute, but their respective accomplishments were glaring for two young teenagers.

Henderson grabbed national attention here as she prepared for her first LPGA Tour event at the CN Canadian Women’s Open, where she missed the cut, but Ko, now 15, never broke stride and took Thompson’s place as the youngest person ever to win a tour event.

Ko, who also won the U.S. Women’s Amateur, is also the first amateur to win an LPGA event since JoAnne Carner did it in 1969, but success wasn’t just limited to her and Henderson.

There will also be a teenager playing the Masters after China’s Guan Tianlang qualified by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur at 14. Of course, Andy Zhang of China was 14 when he played and missed the cut at this year’s U.S. Open, where Beau Hossler, 17, briefly held the lead.

As the year wound down, Toronto’s Rebecca Lee-Bentham, who first made it to the LPGA Tour at the age of 19, came back to Q-school where she shot a final round 67 to tie for first and earn another shot.

There’s little doubt that there are bumps in the road ahead for most or all of these youngsters. Both Hadwin and Lee-Bentham were candid about their difficult 2012 seasons, but Hadwin nearly got his PGA Tour card through the Tour money list and again at Q-school.

Rough patches are part of the development process, so the players mentioned above are not immediate threats to the established stars, with the possible exception of Ko. Between them and the elite of the PGA and LPGA Tours are players a little older who are knocking on the door.

We’re living in an era in which McIlroy and Yani Tseng are the No. 1-ranked male and female the world at 23 and more are coming from around the globe.

This New Year’s Eve, we can’t ring out the old in golf, but it is definitely a time to celebrate the new. That’s not only a big story from 2012, but one that will continue next year and beyond.

Tiger had better win a major or two this year if he’s to catch Nicklaus in that department. It will only get tougher as the talent pool gets deeper as the years go by.