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. It’s just, the inseam he was measured for recently no longer applies. He hit a growth spurt soon after and now measures 5-foot-7, but stuck with pants meant for a wee 5-6. His waist, meanwhile, remains near-nonexistent. At 120 pounds, he wears a 28-inch waistline “with a scrunched belt.”

So there was Russell on Thursday, walking around Detroit Golf Club, flashing those ankles with each step.

Such is the life of a 15-year-old.

Russell made his PGA Tour debut at the 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 every swing with a PGA Tour Live cameras a few feet behind him. He held a press conference the day before his first round and afterward. He played from tees measuring 7,370 yards. He played in a field with 10 of the top 50-ranked players in the world.

And the strangest thing about it all?

It felt oddly normal.

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

Now it’s Russell at the 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 the developmental tour’s history. Headlines followed. Then Russell followed with rounds of 70 and 66 to finish T20. The winner, Tim Widing, was 11 years older than him.

Tournament organizers from the Rocket Mortgage took notice and contacted Russell following his performance at the Suncoast Classic, hoping to capitalize on the story. Because that’s what a tournament like the Rocket desperately needs — attention, however it can get it. Big names are scarce in Detroit, so compelling storylines are required. The Nos. 2, 4 and 5 ranked 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 low amateur at the Masters and U.S. Open who recently turned pro. As Shipley walked off the course on Thursday, he was told next week’s John Deere Classic, another non-elevated PGA Tour event, has a spot for him.

Those names are all at least in or out of college, though.

Russell just finished his freshman year of high school, even though he doesn’t attend a physical school. The Jacksonville Beach, Fla., native began playing at 2 years old, broke par at 6, and has been on a prodigious path ever since. He is home-schooled and already operating as a small business. He has an agent and holds Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals with TaylorMade and Nike.

Because 15 sounds so jarring, there’s the tendency for some to see Russell as a novelty.

In reality, this is all less and less uncommon.

Russell did not come to Detroit like some kid looking to high-five his heroes.

Rico Hoey, one of Russell’s playing partners on Thursday, was on the practice green after their round and still in a bit of disbelief. Now 28, he was trying to break 80 at Russell’s age. Coming into the first round, he assumed he and Pierceson Coody, a 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie with three Korn Ferry wins to his name, would need to keep things light and easy for the young star. Then they met him.

“As a 15-year-old, I’m sure I’d be pretty nervous out here, so we tried to make it easy on him, and make him feel comfortable, but, really, 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 PGA Tour round on Thursday. (Raj Mehta / Getty Images)

Some will always be inherently uncomfortable with young mega-watt talent being expedited to play among pros in any sport. But that’s never stopped it from happening. And golf appears to be revving more and more, and going younger and younger. It’s reasonable to expect someone soon emerging to surpass Michelle Wie West as the youngest player to ever tee it up in a PGA Tour event. She was 14 years, three months and seven days old when she played in the 2004 Sony Open.

What’s most eye-opening isn’t the ages, but how narrow the gap is between the kids and the pros. Russell is not some beefed-up bomber. He is instead elastic and has crafted a swing with his coach, former Korn Ferry player Ramon Bascansa, that generates enough clubhead speed to hang 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 surrounding him isn’t still misfitting. He is technically not old enough to use Detroit Golf Club’s men’s locker room, though exceptions are made this week. He is not able to drive, let alone rent a car or check into a hotel alone. One group behind Russell’s, 36-year-old Rafael Campos played his round while ripping a few cigarettes — a vice that Russell can’t legally buy for another three years.

Afterward, Russell played along with questions about the experience, but was really only concerned with the golf. He talked about unforced errors and missing some makable puts. He said he learned watching Coody and Hoey how tour pros manage to “grind it out and shoot a couple under.” He said, sure, he was nervous to start the round. How much out of 10? “I’d probably give it a seven.” But sort of shrugged off the idea of being intimidated.

Russell’s voice was soft and he was obviously still a little peeved. A missed 3-footer on the final hole left him with 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 damn near expects to.

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

(Top photo: Raj Mehta / Getty Images)

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