There is an argument to be made that golf is the fastest-growing sport in the United States. A recent report shows that more Americans are playing golf than ever before, which includes young men and women. The talent within golf’s junior ranks grows yearly and consists of some of the best young athletes in the United States. Let’s look at one of the most decorated youth golfers in the American Junior Golf Association today, Miles Russell.
Who Is Miles Russell?
Born on November 1, 2008, in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, Russell is one of the youngest players on the AJGA tour. The 15-year-old is already the top player in the AJGA rankings. Russell is a left-handed golfer who began playing at two years old. His father, Joe, commented that he knew Miles was serious about golfing when, at three years old, he wanted to watch the Golf Channel instead of cartoons. While he wasn’t keeping up with PGA golf odds, he was undoubtedly more invested in the sport than other kids his age.
Russell first gained golfing notoriety in 2018 when he participated in the Drive, Chip, and Putt National Finals in the boys 7-9 age group at Augusta National Golf Club. Russell finished first in the driving portion of the regional finals, tied for second in putting, and tied for third in chipping. As a player, his driving is what sets him apart, winning the driving competition three times as a nine-year-old. However, he has a formidable short game as well.
Before he turned 10, Russell had already won over 30 tournaments on the U.S. Kids and Hurricane Junior tours and shooting in the 70s.
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The Next Step: AJGA Juniors
Once it was clear that Russell had a promising future in golfing, he set his sights on the AJGA tour, created to help golfers earn scholarships, face top competition, and gain national exposure with the hopes of turning pro. It is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization “dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf.” Former AJGA golfers that turned pro include Tiger Woods, Grace Park, and Phil Mickelson, who holds the AJGA Boys Division record for the most career individual wins with 12.
The tour is a springboard, not only for golfers to get scholarships but also to turn pro. As of this article’s publication, Russell is the top-ranked golfer in the Boys Division in his first year on the tour. He played his first tournament in April of 2023. Just a few months later, he became the youngest player to ever win the AJGA Junior Players Championship at just 14 years old. Before Russell, the youngest champion had been Khavish Varadan at 16, nearly two full years older than Miles. Furthermore, he entered the tournament as the top-ranked player despite facing other competitors who were almost five years older than him.
Russell finished the tournament with 9-under-par, and the win helped boost him to number one in the AJGA rankings. His second-round 66 was the lowest round of the game. For his final round, Russell remained bogey-free on the back nine and added two birdies on 16 and 17 to secure a three-shot win over his fellow Floridian Phillip Dunham.
Continued Progression Into 2024
Russell’s win at the AJGA Junior Players Championship, along with three other wins, a second place, and a third-place finish, helped him make the boy’s first-team Rolex Junior All-American Team in his first season. He was also named the 2023 Rolex Junior Player of the Year, a tremendous accolade for a player as young as Russell and who was in his first season.
To date, 53 past AJGA Junior players have graduated to play in the PGA Tour’s Players Championship. Justin Thomas was the first alum to win the Professional Players Championship 2021. He competed in the ASGA in 2008 and 2009. Recently turning 15, Russell will begin to compete at the high school level and surely get quick attention from college scouts. With more Americans playing golf than ever before, he may become a household name.
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Looking To The Future
If the PGA Tour is Russell’s goal, the college process will be pivotal. While some players have made it to the tour without college experience, that is typically an exception to the rule, especially in recent years. To play on the PGA Tour, a golfer must have a PGA Tour card, which Russell could acquire in several ways. The most direct path is through Korn Ferry Tour points.
Every year, 30 Tour cards are given away through this tour. Golfers can also gain a Tour card through the Three-Win Promotion, which allows Korn Ferry Tour players who win three tournaments in a season to qualify automatically. For players like Russell, the PGA Tour U is also an option. Top collegiate players can earn a Tour card by earning ranking points based on their performance in the NCAA Division I championship. This makes Russell’s college choice all the more critical.
Russell is, without question, one of today’s brightest stars in the junior golf ranks. As he enters the 2024 season, he will look to improve his game and continue to climb through the rankings. If he does this, he will indeed have the opportunity to become a professional.