If Jordan Lee’s Classic win wasn’t enough, then maybe you were convinced by Jesse Wiggins or Dustin Connell or Alton Jones Jr., but this is clearly a year when youth has come to play. Many of the millennials on tour are skipping the warm up phase of their careers, skipping a grade or two, and stepping straight into the hammer category.
This is evident not only from tournament to tournament, but also at the top of the AOY column, where Ott DeFoe (born September of 1985), Jacob Wheeler (born September of 1990), Brandon Palaniuk (born November of 1987) and old man Casey Ashley (born February of 1984) occupy the top four spots. None of them is old enough to remember an in-his-prime Joe Piscopo, but apparently that hasn’t hindered their fish-catching skills one iota.
There’s a lot of fishing left to go, but if any of them were to claim the AOY title that angler would become the youngest AOY in Elite Series history. In fact, the last nine titles have been claimed by anglers in their forties, including KVD (four times), AMart (twice), Gerald Swindle, Brent Chapman and Greg Hackney. The two Elite Series AOYs prior to that – Skeet and Ike – were both in their thirties when they achieved season-long dominance, part of a string of seven straight thirty-something AOY winners.
If you want to find someone who was less than 30 when he won the title (remember the old saying, “never trust anyone under 30?”), you have to go back to Timmy Horton in 2000, when he claimed the trophy as a tour-level rookie. Jacob Wheeler was still playing with Matchbox Cars then, and even 17 years later he’s not as old as the now “ancient” Horton (who won an Elite Series event this year) was at the time.
If Wheeler (currently nine points behind DeFoe and five ahead of Palaniuk) were to earn the AOY designation, he would become the youngest winner since VanDam won in 1992 (prior to Wheeler’s 2nd birthday), at the age of 24.
Of course, Mark Davis, currently in 5th place, could do all of us old guys a favor and claim his fourth AOY crown. He previously won in 1995, 1998 and 2001. His youngest sons are closer in age to Wheeler than he is.