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Buccaneer makes solid summer debut

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 7, 2001


TAMPA -- Ty Callahan had a modest goal when he arrived at the par-3, 176-yard fourth hole on Westin Innisbrook's Island Course on Sunday: make par, add a few birdies on the way to the clubhouse and hope for the best.

Callahan was trying to qualify for the American Junior Golf Association Avila Junior Classic. He was 4-over for the day and needed to make up a couple of strokes.

He never expected to do it with one swing.

Callahan, a junior-to-be at Berkeley Prep, hit a 6-iron into the wind, over the water and onto the horseshoe green. Avoiding a bunker on the green, his ball landed 5 feet from the hole, bounced once and rolled into the cup.

More impressive than the hole-in-one to one tournament official was Callahan's reaction to it.

"One of the AJGA people told my dad later it was the coolest thing he'd ever seen," he said. "Someone makes a hole-in-one and then kind of smiles and puts the club in the bag."

Callahan's coolness is understandable.

After all, the 16-year-old from Carrollwood first swung a club when he was 3, has played with the Buccaneers' Warren Sapp, ex-Buc Alvin Harper and LPGA pro Leslie Spaulding and once received a birthday gift from David Duval.

He also is playing the finest golf of his life.

Spurred by a best-ever 68 two months ago at Avila Golf & Country Club, Callahan has thrived in his first summer playing national tournaments.

He tied for 11th at the Southern Junior Championship June 12-15 in Jacksonville, placed third at the Cleveland Golf Joe Durant Southern Juniors June 25-28 in Pensacola and finished sixth at the Avila Junior Classic earlier this week.

Facing some of the nation's top players at Avila, Callahan shot a 36-hole 144, good for second. He briefly held the lead on the final day before a troublesome 16th hole -- he put his second shot into the water -- dropped him to sixth.

"That's golf," he said. "You never know what the ball's going to do."

You never know who Callahan will meet, either.

When he was 6, he met Duval at a national college tournament in Hilton Head, S.C. Callahan's father, Jack, who grew up with Duval's father, Bobby, and uncle, Jimmy, introduced his children to Duval when he saw the Georgia Tech star on the driving range.

Duval let Callahan and his brother swing his clubs and gave them golf balls with the Georgia Tech logo on them.

Just like that, Duval became Callahan's idol.

"I was a young kid with blond hair, and he was a big tall kid with blond hair and was very nice," Callahan said. "I followed him through college. When he went on the Nike Tour, I would follow him. And when he made it to the PGA Tour, I really started following him."

Duval surprised Callahan with a gift on his 14th birthday.

One of Callahan's father's friends knew Duval's college coach, Puggy Blackmon. After a hint from Blackmon, Duval sent Callahan a signed Tommy Hilfiger shirt Duval wore when he won the 1998 NEC World Series of Golf.

Callahan met Sapp, Harper and Spaulding at Avila, his home course.

Canadian Tour pro David Branshaw introduced Callahan to Sapp, and the three played a few rounds together, Callahan said.

Callahan said he and Harper, who is Sapp's brother-in-law, played as often as three times a week when the former Bucs receiver lived in Avila. Spaulding also plays at the club.

"That's helped my game a lot, playing with the people who are good," Callahan said.

Callahan also benefits from a 290- to 300-yard tee shot. He said strength training and a swing that generates leverage helps him compensate for his 5-foot-10, 130-pound frame.

"Being long helps a lot, and I think I'm a pretty good long iron player," Callahan said. "That helps a lot on shorter courses. I can hit my 2-iron as far as others hit their drivers. But I'm hitting them straight every time."

Callahan said his father, a former club champion at Avila, serves as his primary swing coach. He also works with Lou Smithers, whom he credited with improving his wedge game.

Callahan will unveil his revamped short game at AJGA events in Jupiter July 16-20 and Connecticut in mid-August.

In time, he hopes, to follow Duval to Georgia Tech and the PGA Tour.

"That's my goal, eventually," Callahan said, "to play college golf at a high level and eventually turn pro and be one of the big names on the pro tour."

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