He’s 15 and just made his PGA Tour debut. Miles Russell won’t be the last

DETROIT — Miles Russell’s pants don’t fit. He didn’t mean to show off his ankles during Thursday’s first round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. The inseam he was recently measured for no longer applies. He hit a growth spurt shortly afterward and is now 6-foot-1, but stuck with pants meant for a small 5-6. His waist, meanwhile, is still virtually nonexistent. At 120 pounds, he wears a 28-inch waist “with a creased belt.”

So there Russell was on Thursday, walking around the Detroit Golf Club, showing off his ankles with every step.

Such is the life of a 15 year old.

Russell made his PGA Tour debut at Rocket Mortgage, shooting a 2-over 74. Born in 2009, he signed autographs for 7-year-olds, 10-year-olds, 15-year-olds and some adults. He took each shot with a PGA Tour Live camera a few feet behind him. He held a press conference the day before his first round and afterward. He played from tees of 7,370 yards. He played in a field with 10 of the 50 best players in the world.

And the strangest thing about all this?

It felt strangely normal.

This year, two 16-year-olds have already made the cut on the PGA Tour — Kris Kim at The CJ Cup, Byron Nelson at the Myrtle Beach Classic, and Blades Brown at the Myrtle Beach Classic. Last year, 15-year-old Oliver Betschart survived a 54-hole qualifying tournament to play in the Bermuda Championship, becoming the youngest player to play in a PGA Tour-sanctioned event in nearly a decade. He was three months younger than Russell is now.

Now it’s Russell at Rocket Mortgage. In April, he played in the Korn Ferry Tour’s LECOM Suncoast Classic, shooting rounds of 68 and 66 to become the youngest player to make the cut in development tour history. Headlines followed. Then Russell followed with rounds of 70 and 66 to finish tied for 20th. The winner, Tim Widing, was 11 years his senior.

Tournament organizers at Rocket Mortgage took notice and reached out to Russell after his performance at the Suncoast Classic, hoping to capitalize on the story. Because that’s what a tournament like the Rocket desperately needs — attention, no matter how it gets it. Big names are scarce in Detroit, so compelling storylines are needed. The No. 2, No. 4 and No. 5 amateurs in the world — Jackson Koivun, Benjamin James and Luke Clanton — are all in this year’s field. Clanton is making his PGA Tour debut, as is Neal Shipley, the lowly Masters and U.S. Open amateur who recently turned pro. When Shipley walked off the course on Thursday, he was told that next week’s John Deere Classic, another lowly PGA Tour event, had a spot for him.

All of these names are from or have recently graduated from university.

Russell just completed his freshman year of high school, even though he doesn’t attend a brick-and-mortar school. The Jacksonville Beach, Florida, native started playing at age 2, broke par at age 6 and has been on a prodigious path ever since. He is homeschooled and is already a small business owner. He has an agent and has Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals with TaylorMade and Nike.

Because 15 sounds so shocking, there is a tendency among some to see Russell as something new.

In reality, this is all less and less unusual.

Russell didn’t come to Detroit as a kid wanting to high-five his heroes.

Rico Hoey, one of Russell’s playing partners on Thursday, stood on the practice green after their round and still couldn’t believe it. He is now 28 and was trying to live to 80 at Russell’s age. Going into the first round, he assumed he and Pierceson Coody, a 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie with three Korn Ferry victories to his name, should keep it light and easy for the young star. Then they met him.

“As a 15-year-old, I would probably be pretty nervous here, so we tried to make it easy for him and make him feel comfortable, but I don’t even know how much he needed that,” Hoey said. “He was cool. His short game is really good. He has a lot of length for his size. His game is just really good and he’s really calm.”

Russell shot a 74 in his first round on the PGA Tour on Thursday. (Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

Some will always feel inherently uncomfortable when young megawatt talent is rushed to play among professionals in any sport. But that never stopped it. And golf seems to be getting more and more popular, and getting younger and younger. It’s reasonable to expect that someone will emerge soon to surpass Michelle Wie West as the youngest player to ever win a PGA Tour event. She was 14 years, three months and seven days old when she played in the 2004 Sony Open.

What is most striking is not the age, but how small the difference is between the kids and the pros. Russell is not a muscle bomber. Instead, he is elastic and, together with his coach, former Korn Ferry player Ramon Bascansa, has developed a swing that generates enough clubhead speed to compete with the pros. He averaged 292 yards off the tee on Thursday, tied for 78th in the 156-man field.

But that doesn’t mean everything around him isn’t still out of place. He’s not technically old enough to use the men’s locker room at the Detroit Golf Club, though exceptions are being made this week. He’s not allowed to drive, let alone rent a car or check into a hotel alone. In the crowd behind Russell, 36-year-old Rafael Campos played his round while smoking a few cigarettes — a vice Russell won’t be allowed to legally purchase for the next three years.

Afterward, Russell played along with questions about the experience, but really focused only on the golf. He talked about making unforced errors and missing a few makeable putts. He said he learned from watching Coody and Hoey how tour pros manage to “pull it out and get a few undercuts.” He said he was nervous to start the round. How much out of 10? “I’d probably give it a seven.” But he pushed aside the idea of ​​intimidation.

Russell’s voice was soft and he was clearly still a little irritated. A missed 3-footer on the final hole made for a closing bogey.

“We live, we learn, we move on,” he said, sounding like someone who is not only used to playing on tour but almost expects it.

Maybe, for better or for worse, that’s not so crazy anymore.

(Top photo: Raj Mehta/Getty Images)

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