Miles Russell, 15, made his PGA Tour debut. It was strangely normal

DETROIT — Miles Russell’s pants don’t fit. He wasn’t planning on showing his ankles in the first round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic on Thursday. It’s just that the inseam size he was recently measured for no longer applies. He hit a growth spurt shortly afterward and is now 5-foot-7, but he’s stuck with pants designed for a small 5-6. His waist, meanwhile, remains almost nonexistent. At 120 pounds, he wears a 28-inch waist “with a scrunched waistband.”

So there was Russell on Thursday, strolling 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-par 74. Born in 2009, he signed autographs for kids ages 7, 10 and 15, as well as a few adults. He took every swing with a PGA Tour Live camera just a few feet behind him. He held a press conference the day before and after his first round. He played from tees measuring 7,370 yards. He played in a field with 10 of the world’s top 50 players.

And the strangest part of all this?

It seemed strangely normal.

This year, two 16-year-olds have already been selected to 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 qualifying event 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 today.

Russell is now the head of Rocket Mortgage. In April, he competed 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 history of the developmental tour. The headlines followed. Then Russell followed with rounds of 70 and 66 to finish T20. The winner, Tim Widing, was 11 years older than him.

Rocket Mortgage tournament organizers 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, however it can get it. Big names are scarce in Detroit, so compelling storylines are needed. 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 Masters and U.S. Open low amateur who recently turned pro. As Shipley walked off the course Thursday, he was told that next week’s John Deere Classic, another non-elevated PGA Tour event, had a spot for him.

These names are all at least in college or not.

Russell just finished his junior year of high school, although he doesn’t attend a brick-and-mortar school. The Jacksonville Beach, Fla., native began playing at age 2, broke par at age 6 and has been on a prodigious path ever since. He is home schooled and already operates a small business. He has an agent and holds name, image and likeness (NIL) contracts with TaylorMade and Nike.

Because the number 15 seems so shocking, some tend to view Russell as a novelty.

In reality, all of this is becoming less and less rare.

Russell didn’t come to Detroit as a kid looking to praise his heroes.

Rico Hoey, one of Russell’s playing partners on Thursday, stood on the practice green after their round and still a little in disbelief. The 28-year-old was trying to get under 80 for Russell’s age. Before the first round, he figured he and Pierceson Coody, a 24-year-old PGA Tour rookie with three Korn Ferry victories under his belt, should 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 for him and make him comfortable, but, really, I don’t even know how much he needed it,” Hoey said. “He was cool. His short game is really good. He’s got a lot of length for his size. His game is 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 be uncomfortable with the idea of ​​young, top talent being sent to play among the pros of any sport. But that has never stopped the trend from happening. Golf seems to be getting hotter and younger. It is reasonable to expect that someone will soon emerge to surpass Michelle Wie West as the youngest player ever to play 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 telling is not the age, but how narrow the gap between the kids and the pros is. Russell is not a muscular bomber. He’s pretty springy and designed 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 Thursday, tied for 78th out of 156 players.

But that doesn’t mean everything around him isn’t still appropriate. 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 can’t drive, much less rent a car or check into a hotel by himself. A group behind Russell, Rafael Campos, 36, played his round while ripping through a few cigarettes — a vice Russell can’t legally buy for three years.

Afterward, Russell answered questions about his experience, but he was only really interested in golf. He talked about unforced errors and missed putts. He said he learned from watching Coody and Hoey how tour pros manage to “fight and shoot a few shots under par.” He said, of course, he was nervous to start the tour. How many out of 10? “I’d probably give him a seven.” But he kind of shrugged off the idea of ​​being intimidated.

Russell’s voice was soft and he was clearly still a little upset. A missed 3-foot putt on the final hole earned him a final bogey.

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

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

(Top photo: Raj Mehta / Getty Images)