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Tryon finding life on tour can be tough

In a way, even though he enjoys the attention, Ty Tryon is almost relieved to be treated like every other rank-and-file pro on the practice range at the Honda Classic.

The gawking seen last year generally has ceased. The bad news is that the talking has not.

"I'm actually glad I'm wearing out right now as the hot topic because I can make improvements and not be hounded all the time," Tryon said this week. "Before, it was just crazy and overwhelming."

Underwhelming as his results have been, it didn't take long before the giddy expectations of 2002 -- when Tryon, now 18, debuted as the youngest card-carrying pro in PGA Tour history -- turned into finger-jabbing blabbing this year.

With all of 11 career tour starts as a pro under his belt, Tryon has been characterized as both overrated and the season's biggest disappointment by two major publications. That's a far cry from the mountain of positive press he received last year.

Tryon is trying to make a splash over the next two weeks on the Florida Swing, playing at the Honda Classic and Bay Hill Invitational. Tryon self-effacingly dubbed himself the "flavor of the month" last year, but he didn't know the expiration date would come so soon.

The Ty-perbole has ended, it seems.

"Anybody who does something worthwhile, it's usually not the easiest thing in the world," said Tryon, who was 2-under through 15 holes Thursday when play was suspended in the first round at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens. Jeff Brehaut, who had his clubs stolen from his home Saturday night, worked his way into a share of the lead with Justin Leonard and Notah Begay III at 9 under.

"It takes hard work, it takes being down and kicked around, it takes determination, it takes being in bad situations and handling not the happiest of times," Tryon said. "That's where you make the biggest strides and find out the most about yourself. If things are always going right, what are you really going to learn?"

He's surely learning. He just isn't earning.

Tryon hasn't made a cut in four starts this year and made only $8,620 during an illness-plagued rookie season in 2002. When he survived Qualifying School some 15 months ago to earn his tour card, there wasn't a bigger story in golf. But after receiving millions in endorsement dollars because of his potential, Tryon has missed 10 of 11 cuts on tour as a pro.

In terms of promise, he hasn't delivered. People have noticed.

Two weeks ago, in Sports Illustrated's annual -- and anonymous -- survey of tour players, Tryon was voted the second-most overrated player on the circuit, behind Jesper Parnevik. Last month, the Los Angeles Times named Tryon its biggest disappointment of the year, saying, "It's tough picking on a teenager, but Ty Tryon's decision to turn pro looks more misguided with each start."

Tryon's swing coach, David Leadbetter, kept another struggling teen star, England's Justin Rose, from drowning after Rose missed his first 21 cuts as a pro. Rose, now 22 and a friend of Tryon, won four times worldwide last year.

When people criticize Tryon, Leadbetter gets downright rankled.

"Stop worrying about it," Leadbetter said. "He'll be fine, whether it's this year, next year or whenever. When you're a kid and your laboratory is the PGA Tour, you have to be a little more patient."

Tryon is a fresh-faced amalgamation of marketable talent, gee-whiz innocence and seemingly unlimited upside, and those attributes are now being held against the kid who won't even graduate from Orlando's Crenshaw School until May 18.

"People were waiting to see what he would do, and they didn't want to see failure," said veteran Scott Hoch, who has known Tryon for years. "When they saw it, it was, 'I told you so.' "

In perhaps the ultimate slap, a no-name assistant pro in California joined the chorus this week while discussing the future of 19-year-old Christina Kim, who has earned an LPGA card. "She could be rookie-of-the-year or be like Ty Tryon and miss every cut," muni pro Tracy Stansberry told the San Jose Mercury News.

As for the harsh view of his tour brethren, Tryon typically generates a story at every stop, given that he remains a novelty act in most tour towns.

"I think all of that is just a reaction to the buildup," Davis Love III said. "They made such a big deal about how much he was going to make and get paid, and that's just jealousy. I don't think that's an indication of the way he plays."

Overrated? Chris DiMarco laughed aloud at the notion.

"I totally disagree with that," he said. "I think you have to be rated before you can be overrated. He doesn't even qualify to fall into that category yet.

"He's obviously a show, like Annika Sorenstam going to Colonial, but he has a long way to go [before he proves himself]."

Hoch agrees that Tryon's TV exposure via lucrative deals with Callaway and Footjoy, which signed him as an untested prodigy, fuels much of the skepticism.

"As far as endorsements, he's making a lot more than some of the guys who are well-qualified and should be making more than him," Hoch said. "When he does not reach his potential, they might be quick to turn on him and say, 'See, he didn't deserve the money.'"

Orlando's Charles Howell, at 23, is one of the few players in Tryon's peer group and is his best friend on tour. He chalks up the criticism to a national attention-deficit disorder: People want results -- right now.

"Everyone has forgotten that he's 18 years old, and everyone has forgotten what they were doing when they were 18 years old," Howell said. "I can guarantee it wasn't doing what he is doing.

"With patience -- which a lot of the American public lacks -- he'll come right out of this. You'll see."

There have been selected flashes of brilliance, such as the nine birdies and eagle he made over 36 holes in Tucson, Ariz., last month, but bigger mistakes keep sending him home on Friday nights. In short, last year's fair-haired kid keeps hitting foul balls, often because of over-aggressiveness or questionable course management.

"Like all youth," Leadbetter said, "he can get a little impetuous."

Tryon thinks he has learned more in the past 15 months than in 11½ years of school. He has begun traveling without a parental chaperone, budgeting his time, balancing his corporate obligations, workout and practice schedules -- stuff that would make most adults wilt. It's also a safe bet that no other pro has had to endure a bad reaction to an acne medication, as Tryon did in January at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where he failed to break 78 in three tries.

"I'm trying to grow up, you know?" he said.

A growth spurt in earnings would erase most of his troubles. Including the Honda Classic, Tryon needs to earn $515,445 over 18 events in order to retain his card. While it's a long climb, Leadbetter swears Tryon technically is better than ever, and judges improvement by more than just the money list.

"His swing is miles better," Leadbetter said. "What do you expect? He's out there playing the best players in the world.

"Does it matter if it takes him another five years? Who cares? He'll be 23. The experience he'll have, you can't tell somebody about it. It has to be learned."

As for that other form of education, Qualifying School, Tryon has no plans to return.

"I think I was a little naïve when I turned pro because I made it through Q-School and everything just sort of happened," he said. "Bang, it was done. I didn't have to go through any tough times, the Hooters Tour or anything like that.

"That was a great shortcut. Believe me, I'm going to do everything I can this year to stay out here."


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