2001: Tryon, 17, to turn professional

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By Jeff Rude

Duluth, Ga.

In a trailblazing move by U.S. golf standards, 17-year-old high school junior Ty Tryon said he will turn professional and enter the first stage of the PGA Tour’s Qualifying Tournament this fall.

Until he graduates from high school in Orlando, Fla., in 2003, Tryon will be what his instructor David Leadbetter calls a “PTP” – a part-time pro with intentions of playing about 15 tournaments a year, mostly in the summer.

“I think it will be the best opportunity for me to get better,” Tryon said Aug. 20 at the U.S. Amateur. Tryon, who made the cut in this year’s Honda Classic and B.C. Open, shot 80 in the first day of medal qualifying at the Amateur. “I’m not going to go play every (PGA Tour) tournament. I’m still going to go to high school and graduate. I think it will improve my game faster.

“If I’m not going to go to college, I think why not just get experience the next two years and play a few tournaments, make it a learning experience and not put too much pressure on myself? When I am ready to go and really play, I’ll be ready, instead of taking the first two years on Tour not being ready. I think this will help.”

Tryon said he was “leaning” toward signing with IMG, whose vast golf stable includes Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer and David Duval. The teen-ager is expected to seek sponsor exemptions into PGA Tour events the rest of this year and beyond if needed, up to the annual limit of seven for nonmembers. He could fill out his schedule with European and mini-tour events. Leadbetter said tournament sponsors have expressed interest in Tryon.

Tryon said many of the details of turning professional have yet to be worked out, including a date. The teen’s decision to turn pro is considered groundbreaking in the United States, where the common route is to wait to turn pro until after at least two years of college golf. Numerous European players, however, have turned professional in their teens. Bernhard Langer turned pro at 15, Seve Ballesteros and Justin Rose did so at 17, and Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Sergio Garcia at 19.

“If this was done in Europe, or if this were tennis, not much would be said about it,” Leadbetter said. “But here, Ty will be a guinea pig. Other kids and their parents will look at this. There are pros and cons to this.

“He’s a special kid. I think he can rise to the occasion. But it’s not something I would advocate for everybody.”

Even if Tryon gets through Q-School, he might not be able to become a Tour member until he turns 18 next June. The Tour’s Player Advisory Board has made a recommendation to its Policy Board that PGA Tour members be at least 18 years old. Currently, the Tour has no age restriction for members. As a nonmember, Tryon is allowed to play events on sponsor exemptions.

Tryon’s game is mentally and technically sound, Leadbetter said, but the 5-foot-10, 160-pounder will face numerous challenges. They include maturing physically, gaining acceptance from other professionals, learning how to travel on Tour, and dealing with fatigue and degrees of failure. His length would be above average on the PGA Tour, Leadbetter said, but he needs to become a less aggressive putter and learn more short shots. He also will need to learn to win, because he hasn’t won many tournaments outside of junior golf, largely because he has competed against older players.

“He’s a good ball-striker and doesn’t have a whole lot of weaknesses,” Leadbetter said. “His confidence level reminds me of a young Tiger (Woods). And he can be a brash kid like (Andre) Agassi. I think he’ll do fine.”

Said Tryon, “I’ve always kind of done stuff like this. When I was 9 or 10, I played in the 14-15 year old group. I’ve always played at the next level, and even if I didn’t do that great, I got a lot better doing it and I got a lot better than staying where I was. I’ve always liked doing it, and I’ve always rose to the occasion.”

– Jeff Babineau contributed to this report.

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