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Golf's teen sensation faces a unique challenge on tour

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By HUBERT MIZELL, Times Sports Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 13, 2002

Ty Tryon is 17. Fighting pimples. He's driving automobiles, but there's little time for dates. College is not in T.T.'s plans.

He has a job.

Buddies from Orlando, still in high school, earn a few bucks Friday nights and Saturdays delivering pizzas and bagging groceries. Ty also will work weekends, hoping it makes him a couple million dollars this year.

Tryon is golf's hottest teen since Tiger Woods. Eschewing his final months at Dr. Phillips High, there will be no Stanford experience for this kid. Too bad, really.

He has deals guaranteeing a seven-figure income. In a few days, he will be a boy walking and swinging among the men of the PGA Tour. Maybe it will work beautifully, as did his triumphant run through tour qualifying school.

Tryon's skills are obvious, his maturity remarkable for a chap who should be prepping for the senior prom instead of Doral or the Bob Hope Desert Classic.

Gifted children are less and less rare in professional sports. Tennis players often close in on Wimbledon by age 15. Olympians can be even younger. Tall, leaping teen wonders are vaulting over NCAA basketball, directly to the NBA. Some stories turn sour.

But this is new to the PGA Tour, where even the extraordinary Woods waited until age 20 to bail on Stanford. Tryon, his pockets stuffed with dough, will encounter considerable mental as well as physical challenges among the world's best golfers.

Fellow pros will be friendly, it being a gentlemanly game, but few will be overly helpful. Tryon is a new rival with extreme abilities, so why should 30-year-old veterans make life easier for the tour child?

If he struggles, Tryon must deal with high-stakes loneliness. No teammates on whom to lean. I hope his support system is extensive and wise. Being so young, Tryon needs no odors of family greed or pressure hovering around.

My wish is that T.T. will do okay, but not too well. I'd sooner the next golfer with extreme teen talents see college as a worthy investment. Tryon has many years to earn golf championships and personal fortunes, but there will be no college days, a time that should be so enriching.

BLITZES: It'd been afloat in my mind, so I leap to agree with e-mail suggestions from Mike Natale (Chicago) and Dennis Blanton (Gainesville) that the Bucs should hire Cris Carter, a free agent and lock Hall of Famer. Even the aging, aggressive receiver has skills similar to Keyshawn Johnson; then Tampa Bay could put a produce-or-goodbye onus on its underachieving fleet of speed guys. ... When have we ever seen a more inept NFL team than Monday night's Minnesota Lackings? ... There's no better college athletic director than Jeremy Foley, who made Steve Spurrier the NCAA's first $2-million-a-year coach, then jacked the ante in fruitless pursuit of Bob Stoops and Mike Shanahan; and how long before the savvy boss of the Gators has to revisit the $2M neighborhood to keep extraordinary young basketball coach Billy Donovan?

READER'S SHOUT: E-mail from Natalie Durden of Clearwater Beach, a self-confessed "TV sports wacko" who focuses on a colony of renowned network voices, suggesting, "After being a Pat Summerall fan all my life, I sadly detect a major decline in performances. How old is he? ... How terrible for us viewers that Bob Costas, the premier sports announcer of the past 10 years, has nothing of substance to do for NBC beyond the Winter Olympics, a happening that is yet to excite me.

"Oh, how I agree with your comment that the Best Damned Sports Show. Period. on Fox Sports Net is a real stinker. It angers my stomach. When will radio and TV learn that millions of sports followers are something other than mindless, vulgar, beered-up males in their 20s? Anybody with a diversified, mature brain cannot possibly enjoy a stage filled with jocks who are shouting at each other and not at all addressing the audience on proper issues."

HUBERT'S REPLY: Summerall is in his 70s. Nat, you're preaching to a big-mouthed baritone in the sports-talk choir. Costas absolutely merits a platter of superb events, led by baseball, but such junk happens due to the contract-ruled world of television.

Tom Arnold is a never-was whom Fox has grouped with an overload of jock has-beens in a show that is grossly overpro-moted. On the sunnier side, I find myself working not to miss episodes of the meaty, diverse, issue-laden, legitimately funny Tony Kornheiser/Michael Wilbon Pardon the Interruption show on ESPN.

DUNKS: Speaks well of the Bucs' depth that three from their 2000 staff have risen to stronger NFL prominence this season, Jerry Angelo as Bears general manager, Herm Edwards as Jets coach and Lovie Smith as Rams defensive coordinator, all playoff achievers. Missed by Tampa Bay? You bet they were. ... Fred McGriff, ol' Tampa cool, has unique homer stats. The former Rays first baseman, now with the Cubs, had the lowest total to lead the NL since 1981 (35 in '92 for the Padres) and also the lowest HR total to top the AL in 20 years (36 in '89 for the Blue Jays).

Whatever happened to Bud Grant?

-- To reach Hubert Mizell, e-mail

or mail to P.O. Box 726, Nellysford, VA 22958.

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