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A summer day dream on the state of the game

Akshay Bhatia is recognizable by his slim figure, flowing curls and large glasses. Raj Mehta, Getty Images

AAs most of us take a midsummer break over the Fourth of July weekend, it's a good time to pause and reflect on where we are and where men's professional golf is headed in the coming weeks and months.

There is a lot to consider, including:

Akshay's moment

Despite his three-putt bogey on the 72nd hole on Sunday that lost the Rocket Mortgage Classic by one stroke to Cam Davis, 22-year-old Akshay Bhatia is on his way to becoming a star.

The left-hander is instantly recognizable by his slim frame, long dark hair spilling out from under his cap and large glasses, but it is his playing style that sets Bhatia apart from other players.

Despite letting his second win of the season slip away on the final green Sunday, Bhatia seems to be enjoying the moment rather than being deterred by it.

“I know how to finish a golf tournament,” Bhatia said. “I've done it before, but today was not my day.”

Whatever else he said was well received.

“Honestly, I'm just a little nervous,” Bhatia said. “I'm only human.”

Bhatia is ranked 10th in the Presidents Cup points total, and it could be beneficial for Bhatia and the Americans if he can find a spot on Jim Furyk's U.S. team in Montreal in September.

Not so young anymore

Cameron Young's attempt to finally win his first PGA Tour event doesn't seem to be getting any easier.

Young looked uncomfortable and unhappy at the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Sunday as another opportunity slipped away. With seven second-place finishes and no wins in three years on the PGA Tour, Young has put himself in a strange position from which he can't seem to get out.

Cameron Young ranks 128th in strokes gained while putting. Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

During the final round on Sunday, the TV commentators compared Young's body language to Bhatia's, and the difference was dramatic. Young has never been one to smile on the course, but his frustration was palpable, even without knowing that he had broken the shaft of his driver out of frustration during the round.

What is the problem?

Young ranks 128th in strokes gained putting and his wedge play is average.

The bigger problem may be what's going on inside him. He seems to be fighting against himself. Young is immensely talented and if he wins, he could win several more. Getting that first win won't be any easier, though.

If there is such a thing as over-exerting oneself, Young is probably guilty of it.

Passage of time

It was 11 years ago that then-19-year-old Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot at the John Deere Classic to win his first PGA Tour event and mark the beginning of a career that would eventually be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Spieth is back at John Deere this week, trying to find the missing spark in his game while being reminded again of how quickly time can pass.

It doesn't seem that long ago that Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas were the young stars of the PGA Tour, as popular as they were promising. They are still among the biggest names in the game, but now that they are in their 30s, married and with young families, the trajectory of their respective careers has stabilized.

One wonders if they now see a guy like Ludvig Åberg and wonder how they are going to beat him as consistently over the next few years as others saw them do when they arrived.

In total, they have won 34 tour events, including five majors and two Players Championships – more than enough reason to celebrate on their outings together.

But it has been a year since Fowler won the 2023 Rocket Mortgage Classic, his first victory in five years, it has been more than two years since Thomas' last win, and Spieth has won only twice in the last seven years.

What came so easily to them in their early twenties doesn't seem to come so easily to them today. But that doesn't mean they're done winning. Each of them is capable of winning several more times, and they've been nibbling around the edges this year.

It's just a recognition of how things are changing in the game. You wonder if they see a guy like Ludvig Åberg now and wonder how they can beat him as consistently over the next few years as others saw them do when they arrived.

Further changes

Six months into the year, three of the game's top executives – Keith Pelley, former CEO of the DP World Tour, Seth Waugh, former CEO of the PGA of America, and Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A – have left their posts or plan to do so at the end of the year.

This makes Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National since 2017, and Mike Whan, CEO of the USGA since 2021, the longest-serving leaders of the sport's most influential organizations.

Mark Darbon will replace Martin Slumbers as R&A CEO. Richard Heathcote, R&A via Getty Images

Guy Kinnings has already taken over Pelley's role, giving the DP World Tour a highly respected and influential leader who arguably knows the game at this level better than anyone else.

Kerry Haigh is serving as interim CEO of the PGA of America while the search for Waugh's successor continues. Finding someone with Waugh's understanding of the golf business and his interpersonal skills will be a challenge, but it is critical for the organization, which is riding a wave of positive momentum.

Mark Darbon will replace Slumbers at the R&A at the end of the year and comes from professional rugby. Darbon was CEO of England's Northampton Saints.

In announcing Darbon's hiring, R&A noted that his experience in the global sporting world played a role in his appointment.

Having weathered the global pandemic, witnessed a dramatic rebound in golf while also having to deal with the impact of the battle between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, the new faces at the top of golf will now look to maintain the momentum while dealing with ongoing regulatory challenges.

The game is in a good position. Keeping it there will be their challenge.

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