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Sound Decision
Michael Bamberger
February 04, 2002
Critics said Ty Tryon, at 17, was too young for the Tour. They didn't know carrying on a family tradition
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February 04, 2002

Sound Decision

Critics said Ty Tryon, at 17, was too young for the Tour. They didn't know carrying on a family tradition

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Ty asks his father, "Would you eat it?"

"Only if it were chocolate," Bill says, looking at the orange wrapper. Ty pops the lolly into his mouth. He's 17. He's fearless.

Ty's trip to Phoenix from Orlando took four hours by commercial plane and a decade on the range. He took up golf, in a serious way, at age seven. He started taking lessons from David Leadbetter, the Orlando swing guru, at nine. He began playing in Monday qualifiers for Tour events at 13. The old-dog pros call the qualifiers four-spotters, 144 or so golfers competing for one of four spots in that week's tournament. The entry fee is $200 a pop, and Bill figures it's the best money he has ever spent. For $200 Ty got a practice round, a competition round and the chance to play a new course from the tips with a pro. How could he not learn? Last March, in his 16th four-spotter, playing with accomplished veteran pro Denis Watson, Ty shot an early-morning 70 in a fierce wind. He went to Georgia's car, crashed for three hours and woke up to learn that 70 was good enough; He was in the Honda Classic.

From there, as every viewer of the Golf Channel knows, it has been a whirlwind. Ty came in 39th at the Honda. He was 16, a sophomore in high school, the youngest player to make a cut on Tour in 44 years. At the B.C. Open in July, he opened with a 65 for a share of the lead and finished 37th. In August he turned pro. In September the Tour adopted a rule that severely limits the number of Tour events a player under the age of 18 may play. The rule was drafted with Ty in mind. Bill thinks it's illogical, antientrepreneurial and bizarre, but he's not going to fight it. That's because Ty is still a full-time high school student—albeit a student who can take advantage of a liberal leave program—planning on graduating in May 2003. Moreover, come June 2 the new rule will no longer apply to Ty. That's the day he earns the right to vote and to play as many events as he wants. This summer he'll be a fixture on Tour, as he'll be next month, when he'll play three tournaments in a row in Florida on sponsors' exemptions: Doral, Honda and Bay Hill, his home course.

Ty's last round in December's final stage of the Tour's Q school will forever be part of his legend. He was sicker than a dog, his mouth so full of canker sores that he couldn't swallow. He lost eight pounds in 10 days, which is amazing because there are no extra pounds on him to lose. He knew he had to go low to be certain of earning his card. He shot 66, finished 23rd and made it.

In the months to come Ty's opening six-over 77 at the Phoenix Open will fade into oblivion. In his mind the Q school 66 already has a permanent home. Thinking about that round helps him build a strong mind 12 ways.

The Tryon family has been successful for generations. The first W.A. Tryon, one of Ty's great-great-grandfathers, invented an automotive part called the Tryon Shackle Bolt. That invention led to the formation of an upstate New York manufacturing company called Trayer Products, Inc., which Ty's grandfather, Pops, runs today. Pops, who turned 71 last Thursday, won the New York Amateur in 1962, '65 and '68. He was not a rich kid. His mother divorced Pops's father (Howard, who in 1950 was voted Elmira, N.Y.'s golfer of the half-century by the Elmira Star-Gazette) when Pops was young, and he worked his way through Princeton—he was a backup tailback on the excellent Tigers football teams of the early '50s—and through life. "I worked my bottom off to get through Princeton, and therein lies the story of Ty," says Pops, who climbed the baked, slick hills of the Stadium Course at the TPC of Scottsdale last week. "The Tryons are hard workers."

Pops is a member of Pine Valley, the famously penal and intimidating New Jersey course, but Ty has never been nervous there, not even on his first trip, when he was 14. "He doesn't get nervous," Pops said last Thursday. He was wearing a Pine Valley bucket hat, a Pine Valley watch, a Pine Valley V-necked sweater with a Callaway polo shirt underneath it, a Christmas gift from Ty. His gift to Ty was a series of vocabulary-building tapes. "Ty speaks very well," says Pops, "but in the future he'll have to speak better and better. You hear how beautifully Tiger expresses himself. That'll be important for Ty, too." The family prizes education, and so does Ty. He reads, he knows where Malta is, he's curious. Right now he's trying to figure out Hogan, Sergio, Woods, himself. For him, the best place to do it is right where he is: the PGA Tour.

In the clubhouse last week Ty's new colleagues were impressed with him. In December some Tour elders were dissing the Tryons' decision to let Ty turn pro at 17. Last week nobody was. "He's saying and doing all the right things," said Love, who joined the Tour in 1986, when Ty was getting out of diapers. "He shot 77 and didn't blame the weather, didn't start kicking clubs. He carried himself like a pro." Ty's second round was much better, an even-par 71, but he missed the cut by seven shots.

Everywhere he went, he made new friends. John Daly was particularly inviting. "Anytime there's anything I can do for you, any advice I can give you, you let me know," Daly said. Ty was moved and impressed.

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