He had to ask permission to play from the tips here as a kid. Now a slightly older kid, Cameron Young torched it.
It’s not supposed to be this easy. Not in an Open Championship debut, even with the Old Course’s defences down and the fairways running like they stole something. For the first two thirds of his opening round, it appeared Young was going to steal something, too: the course record. Young eventually cooled off, but that early heater has him atop the yellow boards at St. Andrews after a first-round eight-under-par 64.
“Don’t think I played a perfect round of golf,” Young said. “I think it just kind of … I scored really well. And I think we thought our way around kind of the way you have to out there.”
It may seem odd to see “cooled off” next to a 64. But for a short window it felt like 61 or lower was in play as Young birdied seven of his first 12 holes without a scratch on the card for an early three-shot advantage. It looked like the advantage would grow at the par-5 14th after Young’s second left just 30 feet for eagle. But an ugly three-putt—is there any three-putt that isn’t ugly?—followed. He lipped out for birdie on the following hole, and a birdie attempt at the 16th from six feet didn’t come close. He atoned for these misses with a nifty lag from 90 feet at the Road Hole and cleaned up what remained for 4, then drove the 18th green and converted a seven-footer for a closing birdie.
If you’re not familiar with Young, let us be the first to congratulate you on waking from your year-long coma. The 25-year-old is a native of Scarborough, New York, and his father is a PGA professional working out of the sought-after Sleepy Hollow CC. Young earned his card thanks to back-to-back wins this time last May on the Korn Ferry Tour and has been lights-out in his rookie season on PGA Tour, ranking 16th in strokes gained and owning three runners-up and two third-place finishes.
One of those third placings came at the PGA Championship, where he played in the penultimate final-round pairing with Will Zalatoris. Though he somewhat stalled on Sunday at Southern Hills, Young’s performance in Tulsa demonstrated his star is bright and only getting brighter.
“I think any time you’re around the lead in a major championship, or any PGA Tour event, frankly, you get more and more comfortable every time,” Young said on what he learned from Southern Hills. “Whether I’m leading by three or one or four back after today, I’ll sleep just fine. I feel like I’ve been around, even though it’s only been most of the year, I’ve been around the lead a good bit, and I think we’ll just take tomorrow as it comes. That’s really all I can control.”
Perhaps the only knock is he’s never been on the Open stage before, and, historically, this championship is trouble for greenhorns. Of course, “historically” doesn’t necessarily take into account the recent past, as Collin Morikawa became the Champion Golfer of the Year in his first run at the claret jug. And as the past decade or so has shown, golf is no longer in the midst of a youth revolution; the revolution has been won. Experience still matters here. Just maybe not as much as it used to.
However, seeing Young do so well is somewhat of a surprise. Since his PGA display he has struggled, finishing T-60 at the Memorial and missing cuts at the US and Scottish Opens. Before heading to Scotland he parted ways with caddie and friend Scott McKean and turned to veteran loop Chad Reynolds, who has worked for Keegan Bradley and Vijay Singh.
“I kind of, as much as I’ve had a solid year, there’s been a couple things missing, I think,” Young said of the change. “I haven’t won anything, and that was just something that could change to kind of exhaust all my options to see what I could do better. That was just something that we as a team decided was probably best for my golf.”
When a young player like Young contends at a championship like this it’s easy to wonder what it says about who he is and where he’s going and what it means. But the unspoken rule about majors is not to talk about the next step until you’ve climbed the one in front of you. Young knows a lot of steps remain between now and Sunday night, and they won’t be as easy as Thursday.
Of course, what awaits might not be as arduous as what Young encountered at the Old Course years back. As a 13-year-old he needed to ask permission to play from the back tees, and according to Young more than a few members trickled out of the R&A clubhouse to see who this confident young lad was.
“I’m glad I didn’t know; I’m sure I would have been nervous out of my mind,” Young said. “But I think there’s a picture of me hitting there with a bunch of those guys watching. That’s really my first memory of here.”
Who knows if those members remember that kid is leading the Open. Young has a chance over the next three days to make sure they don’t forget.