Golf's new generation hungry for success in 2014

 

Every year it gets tougher. With good reason the established stars remind us that fields get deeper and deeper.

Several of the biggest names in the game begin their 2014 season in Abu Dhabi this week with the knowledge that a new generation of players are thirsting to replace them at the top of the game.

Who are the new generation?

  • Tommy Fleetwood: 22, English, 4 professional wins
  • Matteo Manassero: 20, Italian, 4 wins
  • Victor Dubuisson: 23, French, 2 wins
  • Peter Uihlein: 24, American, 1 win

This was more than evident talking to some of the most promising youngsters at last week's Volvo Golf Champions event at the superb Durban Country Club in South Africa.

Tommy Fleetwood, Matteo Manassero, Victor Dubuisson and Peter Uihlein are all the right side of 25 and were in the Champions field courtesy of victories on the European Tour last year.

These are players, along with the PGA Tour's Jordan Speith, 20, and Hideki Matsuyama, 21, who will shape a future that also includes Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, 24.

Fleetwood hopes to spend his 23rd birthday contending for the title in the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship  this Sunday. He will not lack for confidence after a fine third-place finish in Durban.

Currently ranked 89 in the world, the Southport youngster is a man in a hurry after landing his first victory at the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles last summer.

"I'll consolidate in 20 years' time," Fleetwood told BBC Sport. "I really have to kick on and make the most of the opportunities that I've got. You can't let anyone overtake you in this game.

Tommy Fleetwood of England (right) and Victor Dubuisson of France during the final round of the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions at Durban Country Club on January 12, 2014 in Durban.

Victor Dubuisson (left) and Tommy Fleetwood during the final round of the 2014 Volvo Golf Champions

"I've got to make sure I'm a better player at the end of this year than I am right now."

Fleetwood feels well equipped to build on his maiden victory, which came at the home of this year's Ryder Cup.

"I've learned that I can win. That's a massive thing," he said. "You always feel like you can win but proving you can is huge."

This is his third full season on Tour and Fleetwood resembles a sponge soaking up the ways of the professional game.

"I was lucky towards the end of last year to play with Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia," he added.

"Just watching those guys play, you just realise what they can do. They don't make mistakes and are so strong at all aspects of the game.

"Everything I've done in the last six months has been huge motivation to make sure that I keep going."

Fleetwood's maturity is matched by the 20-year-old Manassero, who claimed the fourth title of his career when he won the BMW PGA Championship in May.

The following week he was fourth in Sweden but last week's 10th place in Durban was the Italian's first top-20 finish since then.

Manassero has switched club manufacturers for 2014. Like McIlroy a year ago, he has ditched the Titleist brand that helped him to so much youthful success - in favour of Callaway.

"I definitely thought about the possibility of making a wrong decision and maybe wasting a season," Manassero admitted.

I really have to kick on and make the most of the opportunities that I've got. You can't let anyone overtake you in this game.

Tommy Fleetwood

"But it was very easy to wash that thought away and think about the positive things. Sometimes innovation makes you concentrate more and makes you happy about teeing it up and going to the range."

A more significant change, perhaps, will be an altered mental approach. "It doesn't seem like I can last the full season being free with my mindset and being able to play with relaxation," Manassero told BBC Sport.

"This is a downside that I definitely need to improve because the season is very long. With all the competitions, you have to last for at least seven months with your game.

"But, more than your game, your mindset always has to be flat [level-headed] and not with peaks and downs.

"I'm going to try not to waste mental energy. You want to be able to relax. This will be my way to last an entire season without being stressed and tired."

Manassero is targeting the match against the United States at Gleneagles in the autumn but knows he has much to do to make it into Paul McGinley's European team.

"I can say that the Ryder Cup is in my mind for sure," he said. "I haven't started the first few months of qualification well, but there is so much golf to be played.

"From now until September we are going to need nine months of high-quality golf. If I make the team, I will probably be the happiest man in the world."

Manassero claimed the fourth title of his career when he won the BMW PGA Championship in May 2013

Manassero claimed the fourth title of his career when he won the BMW PGA Championship in May 2013

There is every chance that should the young Italian play in his first Ryder Cup in September, Dubuisson will be one of his team-mates. The 23-year-old's fifth place in Durban lifted him to the top of the European points list. 

Victory at the 2013 Turkish Airlines Open and finishing third at the season-ender in Dubai have made him Europe's most exciting prospect. His challenge is to sustain the momentum for large portions of the coming year.

Now ranked 30 in the world, the quiet Frenchman can look forward to a Masters debut in April and a place in all four majors.

That is also the target for Uihlein, who does not discount earning a place in the American Ryder Cup team while based on the European Tour.

The former US Walker Cup star is ranked 63 in the world and is on the cusp of securing a place in next month's WGC Matchplay in Arizona.

"I have just gotta put the pedal down and keep working at it," he said. "I'm trying to get into Augusta, trying to get top 50 in the world. Short-term, I am trying to make it to the Matchplay and then get to the Masters."

They are a cosmopolitan bunch, but share in common a desire to succeed. Fleetwood, Manassero, Dubuisson and Uihlein are part of a coming generation that will be impossible to ignore.

Members of Team Europe pose with the Ryder Cup after the final day of the 39th Ryder Cup at the Medinah Country Club September 30, 2012

Will any of the new generation earn the opportunity to compete in this year's Ryder Cup?