am Young’s life changed in 2022. As a rookie on the PGA Tour, the New Yorker earned more than $6.5 million in official prize money. Not all of his dreams became reality, but he came pretty close. And it was a far cry from the two previous years spent grafting on golf’s feeder tours. “I’m a year into having more than about 60 bucks,” admits Young, 25, talking exclusively to Kingdom magazine at the 2022 Kingdom Cup on Hilton Head Island at the end of last season. “You pretty much have to finish in the top 20 to make your money back for the week [on the Korn Ferry Tour]. I know the purses have gone up, but I remember a couple weeks when it was: ‘Oh man, I played all right today!’ and still lost 800 bucks.”
Young, who played under Jerry Haas at Wake Forest, spent a long season on the Korn Ferry Tour over 2020–2021. It was topsy-turvy to say the least, and Young’s attacking nature meant he had missed the cut in eight of his first 16 tournaments before suddenly winning two weeks in a row, mid-season. Despite 12 missed cuts in 28 events, he finished 19th on the money list, which propelled Young to the big stage.
“A lot of people have no idea that you can get to the PGA Tour with nothing,” he adds. “Like, no money and no job security. I mean, you make absolutely zero money playing golf for a living until you’re on the PGA Tour. Even then, you obviously have the opportunity to make a lot but there’s nothing saying that you will, and it’s a very expensive life, so there’s a lot more risk than people realize.”
On the PGA Tour in 2021–2022, Young nearly halved his number of missed cuts for the season (seven from 25 starts is not bad for a rookie), and while he didn’t quite reach the dreamland of a first PGA Tour victory, Young’s haul of five runner-up finishes brought him agonizingly close time after time. In fact, over the past 40 years on the PGA Tour, no golfer has notched more than five runner-up finishes in a single season.
Young just kept coming up against some of the hottest golfers at the wrong time: Max Homa at the Wells Fargo; Cam Smith at The Open after Young was first-round leader; an unstoppable Tony Finau at the Rocket Mortgage. One thing we know for sure is that it is tough to win on the PGA Tour. Young also finished just a shot shy of the playoff at the PGA Championship between Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris.
“It’s not fun being that close that often and not having one [victory],” Young said at the Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club at the end of July, after Finau left Young, Patrick Cantlay and Taylor Pendrith five shots adrift in a three-way tie for second place.
Said Finau in Detroit that day: “They say a winner is just a loser who kept on trying,” and Young could do worse than to remember those words. He was in the conversation so often. Young reached the Tour Championship, earned millions, finished 19th in the FedExCup, played his way onto the Presidents Cup team and earned the Arnold Palmer Award as Rookie of the Year, receiving 94 percent of the player votes.
“Cameron’s career has seen a remarkable rise over the last several years,” said PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monohan. “He quickly became a favorite among fans with the style in which he attacks the golf course.”
And Young does attack. He was ranked sixth on the PGA Tour least season in birdie average—4.41 birdies per round compared to the tour average of 3.64—and the five names ahead of him on the list were all among the very best in the world: Open champ Smith, Masters champ Scottie Scheffler, PGA Championship winner Thomas, world number-one Rory McIlroy and world number-five Cantlay.
Big-hitting Young was also ranked third on the PGA Tour in driving distance last season—posting a 319.3-yard average compared to the tour average of 299.8—with only Cameron Champ and McIlroy ahead in that category.
“We all give ourselves way too hard of a time,” reflects Young, in considering the disappointment of the five runners-up results, yet remembering the level of competition. “Everybody’s good at something out there, I feel like. Rory obviously is just a phenomenal driver of the golf ball. He’s a great ball tracker in general and he’s solid all the way through, but the way he drives the ball, he is just never going to play that poorly.
“Justin Thomas is a phenomenal golfer. I’ve watched him hit some terrible shots, but his ability to make par is pretty unbelievable. I’ve also watched him absolutely strike it. He shot one of the best rounds of two-under I’ve ever seen in my life at East Lake. He hit it everywhere for the first 11 holes. He was left, right, in the bunker, he was everywhere but made two absurd up-and-downs, made a 25-footer for par, and he was like one over through 11. Then he hit a couple fairways in a row, hit another wedge to a foot, and all of a sudden he was two-under and it looked like 90. There are guys out there who are just really, really good at that. You know, Jon Rahm is something. He obviously strikes the ball. He’s incredible, but his ability to make some pars when he hits it sideways is pretty amazing as well. His short game is so good. Then there are guys like Collin Morikawa who don’t miss. He just hits it straight. It’s just simple. Rarely do you go, ‘Oh my gosh, that was phenomenal!’ But they are all kind of phenomenal in their own ways.”
“You make absolutely zero money playing golf for a living until you’re on the PGA Tour”
Missed cuts in the Masters and U.S. Open at The Country Club Brookline have left Young with burning motivation to earn some particular weekend golf this year, yet he came very close to achieving astounding success having made the cut in a major for the first time at last year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa. The son of PGA professional David Young, who has been the head pro at Sleepy Hollow CC in Westchester, NY, for more than 20 years, Young has made four major appearances to date.
At Southern Hills, Young posted 67 in both the second and third rounds to be in contention behind surprise third-round leader Mito Pereira from Chile, another former Korn Ferry Tour player. Ultimately, the experience of Thomas would see him lift the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time, but were it not for a couple of small mistakes down the final stretch, Young would have forced his way into the playoff at the very least.
“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 five-under on the back, and that’s going to be good enough,” said Young afterwards. “It wasn’t today. There will be another one.”
Young proved his adaptability two months later in the 150th Open at St Andrews. After opening with a 64 to be the first-round leader, Young mounted a late charge in the final round, shooting 31 over the final nine holes—punctuated by an eagle 2 at the par-4 18th—to finish just a single shot behind Australia’s Smith, who needed a final round of 64 to keep Young at bay.
“All the majors have their own kind of different meaning to me,” reflects Young, who first swung a golf club at the age of four. “I remember that The Open was like the only time I was allowed to watch TV in the morning, so I remember that very clearly! The Masters speaks for itself as far as the legacy there. As an American the U.S. Open is very special because it is our national championship and traditionally a very difficult test. And then the PGA Championship—given that my father’s in the business, a member of the PGA of America—that one also holds a lot of meaning. So the major championships all have their own unique meanings to me.”
Special, certainly, yet Young might have a slightly different approach to the big four this time around.
“One of my regrets from last year… especially the Masters: I kind of got there early and practiced too much,” says Young. “I think I treated it a little bit too differently, and as the year went on I got better at just thinking: ‘It’s another week of work, right?’ That’s something I’ll probably do a lot better with this coming year. Obviously I had some really good results in majors, but it’ll mentally make them more like any other week.”
Young has already become a global star in the game. He is ranked 16th in the world at the time of writing, and it is going to be fascinating to see how he can build on his rookie success. Young is no longer playing to have a few bucks in his pocket—it’s going to be birdies galore, all or nothing, every week.