The desert is awash with prodigies this week - Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Ryo Ishikawa, Matteo Manassero - the young guns who’ve moved seamlessly into the game’s elite without missing a beat.
Their clean-living presence has come as something to a shock to old school pros like Ernie Els and Darren Clarke, who partied hard yet still made it to the top at a relatively early age.
No doubt Els and Clarke can identify with Rory McIlroy’s South African opponent in today’s first round, the hulking yet baby-faced George Coetzee, who admits that he realised just in time that golf is a serious business these days. His father, a doctor who spends 12 months of the year working as a locum in Co Limerick (in Hospital, ironically), set him back on the straight and narrow.
The 25-year old saw the light after a failed, four-month sojourn to the University of San Diego in 2006, where he was coached by Phil Mickelson’s brother Tim but made too many surreptitious trips across the border to Tijuana, preferred partying to practice and lost his game along the way.
“I guess we partied a lot,” Coetzee said this week. “I think us South Africans, I don’t think we travel very well. We are pretty much family people and we like spending all our time around our families. I was definitely too immature and I think I needed someone to put me on the straight and narrow.”
Coetzee arrived in southern California with a big reputation having won the 2005 South African Amateur and shone in the Junior World Championships at Torrey Pines.
But after four months of high living he ended up struggling to break 80 and soon after, he was apologising the likes of Retief Goosen and Tim Clark for his poor play in the South African Open.
“San Diego is a pretty nice place to be. The weather is pretty good, and there’s a lot of other good things you can do other than play golf. There was no one else to a blame after myself. After four months I couldn’t break 80. And I think it took me another three months to break par.
“I actually came back from San Diego, and I had to play in my National Open, I played with Goosen and Tim Clark, in the same group, because I’d won the National Amateur that year. And I shot 84-88 and I putted like a champion. I was playing the worst golf of my life.
“I had to kind of make a decision, either play golf or go back and take my studies pretty seriously. So it’s kind of a no‑brainer for me. I love my sport way too much.”
Golf, not studies, won the day and Coetzee is now part becoming part of the conversation when the new breed of 20-somethings is mentioned.
As Clarke remarked this week: “The younger guys, when I first turned pro, it was almost as if you had to serve an apprenticeship before you got into the upper echelons of the game but that doesn’t seem to be the scenario anymore.
“The young kids come out and they are younger, they’re fitter, they’re stronger, they’re hungrier for success and ready to win as soon as they get out on tour. That’s probably reflected in the average age here this week.”
Victory in last year’s Telkom PGA on the Sunshine Tour signalled Coetzee’s arrival and he’s come close to breaking his duck on the European Tour, finishing 26th in last year’s Race to Dubai.
His best performance came in last year’s Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, where he lost out to Thomas Bjorn in a five-man play-off.
Beating McIlroy would be a huge feather in his cap but he still believes that winning the South African Amateur with his father on the bag will still be the highlight of his career, no matter what happens today.
No doubt Dr George Coetzee Snr - occasional doctor at large in Hospital, Co Limerick - will be keeping an eye out for a desert bloom this week.