More than ever, this life and career I chose for myself are a young man’s game.

And no, that isn’t merely a reflection of my being old enough to be their dad or holler at them to vacate my lawn before I call the authorities.

Excellence, greatness, even immortality, are no longer the exclusive domain of those old enough to grow beards or drink the celebratory champagne.

Every major sporting event now serves up a chance to mutter “back in my day” sentiment.

Remember when Augusta National demanded the feathery touch and stability that came with experience?

Jordan Spieth “only” shared second place Sunday at the Masters, but nobody with a clue would dare say he self-destructed. He weathered the moment. Someday soon, he’ll own it.

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Remember when freshmen weren’t even allowed to suit up for a college basketball game? Well, I don’t either, whippersnapper, but it was a rule back when some people still pretended “student-athlete” was a thing.

In any case, five of those first-years started this year’s NCAA men’s final for Kentucky. No, the Wildcats couldn’t overcome Connecticut, but they piled a world-class scare on top of four preceding comebacks for the ages. Ages being a relative term, in their case.

Remember when you were 18 and finally passing your motor vehicle road test on the seventh try?

A high school senior named Chase Elliott passed vaunted NASCAR Sprint Cup racer Kyle Busch just prior to the finish to win his two most recent starts on the second-tier Nationwide Series. High-octane stardom seems a formality.

This isn’t a new phenomenon.

Without ’90s children Xavier Bogaerts and Brandon Workman, the Red Sox didn’t hoist that third World Series trophy at Fenway Park in October.

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Watch ESPN for more than a nanosecond this week and you’ll see older men who hoard hairspray speculate about the professional qualifications of a certain SEC quarterback, one who couldn’t legally enjoy the party lifestyle for which he’s become legendary until four months ago. Regardless of where Johnny Manziel goes in next month’s draft, he’s likely to be a starter on Sundays in September at an age that once was unthinkable.

Kids are here to stay, folks.

Call it evolution or call it the benefits of nutrition and strength training, but children of all ages are bigger, stronger and faster than they were a decade ago, or two, or three.

Whether it’s by privilege or exploitation (and both extremes exist), youth have more opportunities, at an earlier stage of development, to showcase their talent on a regional and national level. By the time they arrive on the main stage, they’ve spent more than a decade doing their thing in front of cameras, corporate sponsors and glad-handers.

Is it a good thing? I’m torn, and badly.

We risk being labeled haters or old-timers if we express any reservations about this youth movement. Obviously if young people are winning major sporting events, or even getting close, it indicates on some level that they’re able to handle it.

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That’s the physical test, though, and the immediate mental challenge. There is no accounting for how they’re equipped to cope when the money, the fame and the endless supply of potential friends and lovers start rolling in.

And long before the athletes will encounter those temptations themselves, there are the parents and/or Svengali-like personal coaches who are overcome by their own lost youth or their lust for lucre. The good ones still outnumber the bad ones, thank God, but the bad ones are only going to get worse as this advanced timetable becomes the rule.

America loves kids, mostly because we’ve lost our faith in the adults. Wordsmiths with greater cache than I — the late George Carlin comes to mind — have spoken and written eloquently about the unintended consequences of this borderline worship.

I’ve lost count of the parents who clearly enjoy the year-round parade of four-hour car rides and tournaments more than their kids do.

Those traditional “Hey, you ought to do a story about” phone calls and emails pertain to kids younger and younger, competing in states farther and farther away.

For what? That’s the question that never dies. The only problem with the Jordan Spieths, Chase Elliotts, Johnny Footballs and Flying Caliparis of the world is that give inflated hope to children and families who, quite frankly, aren’t ever going to make it that far.

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Sure, there’s no shame in trying. To the extent that it takes away kids’ privilege to be a kid and have a quasi-normal life, however, yes, it is shameful. Or at least scary.

You were captivated by what you watched Sunday, or the preceding Monday. Please don’t get me wrong. So was I.

Just excuse me if I contain my enthusiasm to a golf clap instead of a shout.

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. His email is [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Oaksie72.


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