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Ty Tryon set for debut at Phoenix

Ty Tryon brought a yardage book and a math book to the Phoenix Open. He also has some ``history stuff'' to study so that he doesn't fall too far behind, but the 17-year-old is more interested in making history of his own.

He already has.

The proof is a PGA Tour card, which Tryon secured two months ago with a 66 in the final round at Q-school to become the youngest player to ever to earn his playing privileges. He carries the card in his wallet, somewhere in there with his student ID from Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla., where Tryon is a junior.

``I've been dreaming about the PGA Tour since grade school,'' Tryon said, pausing to think about what he just said before finishing the thought. ``Which wasn't too long ago.''

He will be playing in the group behind David Frost, who went through Q-school the year Tryon was born. A threesome ahead will include former U.S. Open champion Scott Simpson, who is older than Tryon's father.

The rest of the field features stars Tryon was watching on TV not long ago -- Phil Mickelson, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Nick Price.

``He hits the ball long and straight and putts it great, and that's all there is to the game,'' Mickelson said. ``He's going to have a long career, and I hope he gets off to a great start.''

The reality of his new job sunk in when Tryon was asked to take part in Tuesday's festivities -- a Skins game with Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace; a long drive contest that included John Daly and Mickelson; a gallery on the TPC at Scottsdale unlike anything he had ever seen in his previous three ventures on the PGA Tour.

``I was pretty nervous,'' Tryon said. ``John Daly was standing right next me when I'm hitting my drive. I hit it out there with Phil, but John was way by me.''

The biggest difference of all?

``Everybody knows me,'' he said. ``I feel like I belong. I earned my way here.''

His story is one of the most amazing in golf for someone so young.

Tryon qualified for the Honda Classic last year as a 16-year-old, then became the youngest player in 44 years to make the cut in a PGA Tour event, tying for 39th. He played again at the B.C. Open and had a share of the first-round lead before tying for 37th.

What stunned the establishment even more was his next move. He turned pro, right after opening with an 80 in the U.S. Amateur and failing to qualify for match play.

``I think it's a joke. It's a terrible decision,'' Scott Hoch, a family friend, said at the time.

Hoch wasn't the lone voice of opposition.

Others questioned his maturity, his ability to handle the pressure of traveling and competing on the PGA Tour, whether he was giving up the fun of college to rush into his chosen line of work.

``Those years in school give you a maturation you just can't get otherwise,'' Hale Irwin said. ``I think you need to be in your peer group. I worry more for the individual than I do whether he's going to make a big splash on the tour. I want to see this young man develop as a contributing person in our society.

``He can do that by still playing golf, but somewhere along the line, that education is really helpful.''

Tryon will set out to prove the skeptics wrong when he embarks on his rookie season Thursday at the Phoenix Open.

``Maybe he just felt he was ready,'' defending champion Mark Calcavecchia said. ``This is what he wanted to do. Maybe he's got the maturity of a 22-year-old, so why waste five years because he thinks he is already there?''

Tryon is sure of one thing -- he belongs.

He got into the field through a sponsor's exemption, but only because of a PGA Tour rule adopted last year that members must be 18. Until his next birthday -- June 2 -- Tryon can take no more than seven exemptions and play no more than 12 tournaments.

What are his expectations?

``I just want to remember that it's my first tournament, I'm only 17, and just have a good time,'' he said. ``Hopefully, I'll make the cut, may get a top 10.''

Tiger Woods made his professional debut with a tie for 60th at the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1996. He was coming off an unprecedented third straight title in the U.S. Amateur, and tied for 22nd in the British Open that summer.

Tryon's professional debut came last October when he missed the cut in the Michelob Classic. He has never won a USGA title, the most prestigious in junior golf. He stopped competing in high school two years ago.

``It's hard to win out here,'' PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said. ``Can we honestly expect Ty Tryon to win? I think the challenge for Ty is to be back. Just like any other first-year player, his first objective is to get back, so you don't have to go to qualifying school.

``Does he have a chance to do that? Yes, because he already has demonstrated he can play at this level.''

He certainly has plenty of help.

Tryon has an 11-member posse around him, and that doesn't include his immediate family. He has two swing coaches, a trainer, a yoga instructor, a tutor, an image consultant, a caddie, a sports psychologist, an agent and two massage therapists.

``I couldn't do this alone,'' he said. ``I've had more opportunities than most pros.''

Starting Thursday, he'll be right alongside them.

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