ORLANDO, FLORIDA | Cameron Young is about to arrive as a PGA Tour winner one of these Sunday afternoons. Soon. Mark it down. In pen, not pencil. When he does, it will surprise exactly no one. He will do so with all the subtlety of a speeding bullet hitting a watermelon.
The powerful slugger from Wake Forest seems as if he has been around a lot longer than he has – maybe it’s the thick, lumberjack-worthy beard – but at 25, he still is pretty much a newbie, learning golf courses, gathering experience, making a few mistakes, doing all those things that second-year players do.
Young is off to a start in 2022-23 that is too slow for his liking – he earned his first top-10 PGA Tour finish at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational – but nonetheless has been picking up early-career momentum at a startling pace. It wasn’t all that long ago he was a young kid with a nice ACC college resume and no tour on which to play. It was this portion of the PGA Tour schedule in 2022 that Young’s world began to spin in a new orbit.
He started crashing the bigger events, and made good use of his opportunities. He got a late start at Arnie’s invitational last March, made it into the Players field, and earned a spot in the Masters, his first. He just kept showing up and proving himself (he looks to avenge a missed cut in Augusta), though it was somewhat dizzying. By the end of 2022, Young was exhausted, understandably, having played 25 official events.
Heading into the first round at the Players, he is fresh again, rested and filled with purpose. In February of last year, Young was outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking; at the Players in 2022, he was trying to crack the top 50. This week at TPC Sawgrass, he is 16th in the world, a rising star among more established ones, a player ensconced in these $20 million and $25 million (this week) mega-events.
He doesn’t forget his path to get there. In truth, Young isn’t far removed from Monday qualifying at Korn Ferry Tour events where more than once he’d fire 6-under par and find himself trudging back to the airport. His current status is one he does not take lightly.
“I’m very fortunate to be where I am,” Young said. “There are so many things along the way that could have gone just slightly wrong and I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
“Grateful” is a word he uses a fair amount. As a PGA Tour rookie in 2021-22, Young did more than ease into his new job. In 25 starts, he was a runner-up five times — five times! — and was right there at the end at a pair of 2022 majors. At the PGA Championship, he crept up on the leaders at Southern Hills, and almost caught them, narrowly missing a playoff between eventual winner Justin Thomas and Young’s college roommate, Will Zalatoris.
“I think mainly it was huge for me just to get kind of more comfortable out here. Not in a golf sense, but on a personal level, too.” – Cameron Young
In July, at the venerable 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews’ Old Course, the home of golf, Young made a Sunday dash and lost by a shot to another hot Cam, one Cameron Smith of Australia.
Young did finish a crazy and fulfilling rookie season with one nice trophy for the shelf at home. He won the Arnold Palmer Award, given to the tour’s top first-year performer. And the capper to his starry year was a berth in his first Presidents Cup in a winning U.S. effort at Quail Hollow in the fall.
“I mean, as a rookie on the PGA Tour, those aren’t necessarily the dinner tables you kind of picture yourself sitting at when you’re starting out,” Young said last week at Bay Hill. “I think mainly it was huge for me just to get kind of more comfortable out here. Not in a golf sense, but on a personal level, too.”
Funny, but when Young fell just shy of a playoff at his first PGA, he sat on a bench in the spacious Southern Hills clubhouse afterward, staring blankly into his locker, trying to replay his finish. Having finished T3 (RBC Heritage) and T2 (Wells Fargo Championship) at two strong venues coming in, Young clearly appeared ready to win on a big stage, but didn’t.
His eyes never leaving the locker ahead of him as a lone reporter stood to the side asking him questions, he showed a wise maturity that belied his years as he spoke. Sure, he rued a double bogey on his 70th hole of that PGA where he bunkered an approach, knocked it out, then three-putted. But instead of feeling cursed after missing a playoff by a shot, he vowed to get just a little bit better to fill in that tiny gap between him and victory.
“If I keep putting myself in a tie for the lead, or one back with nine holes to play, one of those times I’m going to shoot 5-under on the back, and that’s going to be good enough,” Young said that May afternoon at Southern Hills.
Two months later at St. Andrews, he made the turn in contention again. Only this time he fired 31 on the back nine, just as he’d predicted, making eagle at the famed par-4 finishing hole, where he curled in a 15-footer in the center of town. There is no setting in golf quite like it. Young shot 65; Cameron Smith shot 64.
Again, no trophy.
“Cameron’s bank account was down to a few thousand dollars.” – David Young
At Bay Hill last week, Young was asked which major close call from 2022 hurt more.
“I think they’re just very different,” Young said. “At the Open Championship, I was right there the whole week (he led on Thursday), and at the PGA I kind of felt like I snuck up and all of a sudden, had a chance to win.
“Neither of them really hurts anymore. I understand at this point how well I played, and how much opportunity that’s provided me moving forward. I’m not necessarily still upset about either of them. I think I’m able to look back and realize that I played some great golf and had some good opportunities. The more of those I have, the better.”
With all the talk of a new PGA Tour schedule going forward, of designated events and those not designated, of who’s in/who’s out, and of possibly limiting avenues for those young players on the outside trying to get through, consider Young’s path to the Tour, and how traveling it strengthened his resolve once there.
In the summer of 2020, in the midst of COVID-19, Young was a talented young golfer out of Wake Forest with no place to play, essentially. He had status in Canada, yet the Canadian events were canceled. Young practiced a bunch, made some mini-tour starts and attempted some Monday qualifiers on the Korn Ferry. It was like trying to break into Fort Knox. Those Monday one-day qualifiers could be absolutely maddening, and he had failed in his first five or six.
In a qualifier in San Antonio one time, Young recalls looking up at the board to see four players at 9-under. Every plane ticket purchased might have been better spent on lottery tickets.
“Cameron’s bank account was down to a few thousand dollars,” said his dad, David, the recently retired gentleman head professional from Sleepy Hollow in New York, where Cam took up the game, at age 4.
David’s son was leaning toward not spending money to go to Omaha, Nebraska, for one more Monday KFT attempt. It was Cam’s wife, Kelsey, who wisely proposed this to her young husband: “If you stay (home), you have zero chance; if you go (to Omaha), you have some.”
He bought the plane ticket.
The Korn Ferry playoffs were about to start, and this would be Young’s last Hail Mary to toss in 2020. He nearly overslept his time that morning, too. But he raced to the course, played, and of course, finally got through, earning a spot in the Pinnacle Bank Championship. A top-25 finish at a Korn Ferry event gets a competitor to the next week. This was Young’s starting run: T11 (Omaha); T14 (Portland, Oregon); T6 (Boise, Idaho); T2 (Columbus, Ohio).
That great stretch earned Young special temporary membership on the KFT. And early in 2021, he won the KFT’s Advent Health Championship and Evans Scholars Invitational, back-to-back. He finished 19th in the final KFT standings and was on his way to The Show in 2022.
Cam Young realizes there is a good deal of attention on him this season as he tries to land that first PGA Tour victory. He will continue to be the steady ship, level when the seas are rough, just trying to work his way into a good position for Sunday.
David Young always knew his son had a world of talent – Cam was all the buzz coming up through the New York Met Section, where David taught and presided – but until you go up against the very best, you just never know. One of David’s best memories a year ago was when he and Cam’s mother, Barb, left the Old Course after the first round of the Open. They started up at the huge yellow leaderboard that looms large above the grandstands at 18, the two of them, just staring at the name with the two-shot lead atop all the other names: Young.
Said David, “We were looking at each other going, ‘Are we sure this is really happening?’”
David points to a few factors that led to his son’s terrific first season on tour. Cameron always has had prodigious power, but last year he tamed the dispersion range with his driver. Cam finished third in distance, averaging about 319 yards, and was 19th in total driving. David also pointed to a pivotal day at RSM late in 2021 when his son was paired with two players who missed greens but got their balls up-and-down all day, continually pitching and chipping to tap-in range. Cam would be presented with similar scrambling opportunities, but was chipping to 5 and 6 feet and leaving much tougher par putts. It was one of those “red-lightbulb” moments to work harder on his short game. He did. In 2021-22, he finished 33rd in scrambling.
“For us, knowing that if he kept doing the things he was doing, he was going to be the best golfer he could be,” David said last fall as his son picked up his Arnold Palmer Trophy for being top rookie. David is Cam’s only teacher, and stepped down at Sleepy Hollow to travel with his son on the PGA Tour.
“Until you get here, you don’t know if that’s good enough or not. People keep asking me, ‘When did you know?’ Well, when we got out here and did it.”
Cam Young realizes there is a good deal of attention on him this season as he tries to land that first PGA Tour victory. He will continue to be the steady ship, level when the seas are rough, just trying to work his way into a good position for Sunday. One of these times, by the law of averages, things are going to fall his way. Sometimes you play your best and don’t finish on top. And other times, you may not be at your best, but it is good enough. Fickle game those Scots invented.
“I feel like I did play really nicely last year,” Young said. “I think there is some emphasis put on me trying to win for the first time, which of course I am. But I think, for me, I have to look at it as, I could win a golf tournament this year and not necessarily be any better than last year. I don’t know if it is a mark of improvement for me, in that sense.
“I think, obviously, you have to play some tremendous golf to win out here. I played some tremendous golf last year. I just happened to get beat by one guy a few times.”
Good thing that Cameron Young has high expectations for himself at golf’s top level, because so does everyone else, it seems.
“I think he’s going to play this game for a while, if he’s healthy,” said Zach Johnson, the 2023 U.S. Ryder captain, who got to know Young as an assistant on last fall’s Presidents Cup team. Chances are, Young might play for Johnson in Italy this fall at the Ryder Cup.
“Cam and I were kind of the workhorses on our team. He probably still hits more golf balls than anybody out here.” – Will Zalatoris
“I really appreciate his cadence, his demeanor, his rhythm … his ‘emotional’ posture, I would say. He’s right here (holding his arm out level). He’s probably going to be 6-under and not 6-over when you see him, given what he’s doing lately, but you can’t tell. I think that’s a great quality. Cam seems to be a man who really trusts what he is doing.”
Added Zalatoris, Young’s Demon Deacons roomie at Wake with whom he battled at Southern Hills, “Cam and I were kind of the workhorses on our team. He probably still hits more golf balls than anybody out here.
“The PGA was a cool moment for us to share. We didn’t talk a lot that day, as we were grinding to win, but afterward, we sent each other some nice texts. We said, ‘Hopefully we’ll be grinding it out on another Sunday like this one, only one of us will be hoisting the trophy.’”
Young is onboard. Sounds like a plan.
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