For some, it’s a quick trip from college finals to PGA TOUR finale

ATLANTA – Not that you’d seek out Sean Penn and Judge Reinhold if you were casting a movie about the 2017 TOUR Championship, but there’s surely a “fast times” feel to the FedExCup finale at East Lake Golf Club.

Just ask Pat Perez, who at the “mature” age of 41 feels like an AARP candidate when he looks around the range at East Lake. In his 16th PGA TOUR season he’s finally made it into the prestigious TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP, and while he would have wagered plenty that he would have made it well before this year, he also knows this: Back when he joined the PGA TOUR, you wouldn’t have a small army of 23-to-27-year-olds qualifying for the TOUR Championship.

“Things are just different,” he said.

There are a several ways to distinguish just how different the age landscape is, but here’s one thought: Five of the 30 competitors in this year’s field – Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay – were just five years ago involved in the NCAA Championship at famed Riviera in Los Angeles.

To offer a sense of perspective, drift back to the TOUR Championship from 25 years ago, the 1992 gathering at Pinehurst No. 2. The youngest player in the field was Lee Janzen, at 28.

Yeah, Perez is right. Things are different.

Remarkably, it’s becoming old news for these lads, too. Spieth, 24, is playing in his fifth TOUR Championship, while Thomas and Berger, both 24, and Koepka, 27, are in their second. Cantlay is making his debut, but if you flash back to 2012 at Riviera, a tournament won by Thomas Pieters, it was the kid from UCLA (T-4) who was the highest finisher of this five-man group.

Thomas finished T-7, Berger, T-21, Koepka T-29 and Spieth was T-54, though Jordan had the last laugh as his Texas Longhorns won the all-important team title.

Impressive, to think of this small parade of talented youngsters marching so far, so fast. Surprising, too, to Berger on a personal level.

“I probably would not have thought that I would have been one of them,” said the one-time Florida State Seminole. “I was pretty immature coming out of college.

“But I’ve done all the right things in the last couple of years and I’ve gotten better every year, which has really been the key for me.”

Berger’s FSU teammate, Koepka, said had he looked around the NCAA field in 2012, he would have predicted great things – and, yes, that it would come in a hurry.

“I’m not surprised, I can see it, especially with Jordan and Justin. But, still, it’s very impressive.”

Koepka and Thomas added major wins to their resumes in 2017. Combined, Spieth, Thomas, Koepka and Berger have won 21 PGA TOUR tournaments and while Cantlay is still looking for his breakthrough, just being in the field this week is an impressive feat. Playing in just his 13th tournament of the season, Cantlay joins Rory McIlroy and Steve Stricker as the only players to compete in the TOUR Championship without having played in at least 15 tournaments.

“If you look at the players who have come out (of college) in the last couple of years, obviously we’re getting a lot better a lot quicker,” said Berger.