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The Youth Uprising on the PGA Tour

By John M. Ross,
Sergio Garcia
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Sergio Garcia was the first youngster marked as a chief threat to Tiger Woods. (.)

The accent has been on youth on the PGA Tour for the last several seasons, and there appears to be no end in sight as the youngsters continue their charge for a place in the sun. Of course, it was Tiger Woods who struck the first blow for the upsurge of the young generation, doing all those remarkable things before he was even 20. But since then, over the last four years, there has been a steady procession of Tiger wannabe's, swinging from the hindquarters and hoping to challenge him one day soon.

The latest to grab the attention of the golf world is 16-year-old Ty Tryon, a sophomore at Lake Highland Prep in Orlando, Florida, who became the second youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event. He had a 67 and a 68 on his way to a 10-under 278 that left him tied for 39th with such beribboned veterans as Mark O'Meara and Lee Janzen. Ty is still an amateur, and thus he missed the $12,480 check he might have earned as a pro. But he had something that was even better; he had made the cut in his very first PGA Tour event, something Tiger never did.

He also provided one of the most moving scenes in TV golf this year. After finishing his round, he walked over to his playing partner, Tom Lehman, extended his hand and said, "Thank you, Mr. Lehman." A lot of golfers talked about that the next day, proud to be part of the golfing fraternity.

Young Tryon wasn't as excited over his achievement, however, as he was about being pursued for his autograph. He was giddy about that.

Any ambitions Tryon might have for making it big on the Tour could face a serious challenge from a platoon of young players from Down Under. The most talked about of these is good-looking Aaron Baddeley, 20, who just turned pro and already has a pair of victories this winter on the Australian Tour. He's now taken up residence in Scottsdale, Arizona, and he's played a few practice rounds at the Augusta National in recent weeks, prepping for his first start in the upcoming Masters.

In the recent Honda Classic, Baddeley was upstaged by most of his fellow Aussies, as well as New Zealander Craig Perks. Jeff Olgivie, 23, from Melbourne, came within a whisker of pushing ultimate winner, Jesper Parnevik, into a playoff. A bogey on the final hole left him one short and tied with Parks and Mark Calcavecchia for the runner-up spot. Another Aussie, Adam Scott, 20, impressed many with rounds of 67 and 68 that helped him ring in at 13-under at the finish. Scott, incidentally, also is in the stable of Butch Harmon, Tiger's well-publicized coach.

Of course, the first youngster marked as a chief threat to Woods at the start of the new millennium was the teen-ager whirlwind, Sergio Garcia. He has shown some signs of immaturity and inconsistency, but he has mixed this with displays of brilliant shot making. Many expect him to hit a winning stride, and when he does, the Spaniard, now 20, could jump to the head of the class.

Incidentally, there have been some angry voices in the grillroom criticizing the ruling against Garcia in the Greg Norman Holden International, which cost him a victory and a large chunk of cash. Sergio was given a two-stroke penalty for improperly marking his ball after a drop. This was just enough to cause him to finish tied with the aforementioned Baddeley, instead of winning by a stroke. Garcia then lost when the Aussie bogeyed the first playoff hole.

Critics thought the ruling was unusually harsh, since the relatively less experienced Garcia asked his playing partner, Greg Norman, for guidance in determining where the ball should be dropped. And Norman did provide the help. Now, if you were Sergio, wouldn't you think you were on safe ground getting advice from a tournament player of 20 years or more and the man whose name was in the title of the tournament? Sergio deserved better, especially with the outcome of the tournament on the line.

Garcia made a few ungracious remarks about the official before he left the premises, but who could blame him for that!

If you pick your Kentucky Derby horse on a hunch, how abut this one: Dubai Tiger? This is the expensive two-year-old General Sheik Mohammed Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, named for Woods as part of the hype for his recent Dubai Desert Classic. Purchased by the Crown Prince for $1.8 million, Dubai Tiger is expected to be in the starting field for the upcoming Run for the Roses.

Tiger, the golfer, cost the Crown Prince $2,250,000 for merely showing up for the event. And he folded before reaching the finish line!

The fellows who decide what we're going to see when we settle down to watch a tournament on television puzzle me. Tuning in the Honda Classic on NBC a week or so ago, I was especially interested in seeing if Joe Durant could do it again. To me, and so many others, he'd been one of the most stimulating stories of this young season - he fellow who gave up the tour to become an insurance salesman, bombed, came back to the Tour, and now is on the top of the money list.

You would assume that NBC's honchos would be aware of this interest, right? Wrong! When I tuned in the start of the telecast for the final round the camera was on Durant, and he was walking off the green after missing a birdie putt. The commentator said something about his putter not being as hot as it had been in recent weeks, and that he was four shots behind the leading Parnevik.

I didn't see Durant again for another hour and ten minutes, and he was still four shots out. But - and this is an important - a scramble was developing among the players ahead of him, and Parnevik himself, was wobbling badly. Durant closed to within three shots, but the NBC directors weren't giving Durant a chance, even though he had had some gutsy finishes in previous events. We saw him about two more times, the last one of him tipping his cap to the gallery at the 18th.

He was only three shots back at the finish, and, apparently, he had had at least three of four putts that burned the rim of the cup, something that could have made for exciting viewing. But we didn't see these. Indeed, we seldom saw his ongoing score. His name was at the top of the second page of the screen's scoreboard, and we seldom saw that because there was always a rush to get the next commercial moving. But that hardly mattered, since the scoreboard was barely a five to six seconds life span on the tube, and one has to focus on it instantly to catch a score or two.

Do better, NBC, or bring back "The Big Three" re-runs.

When Annika Sorenstam passed up the LPGA's first three events, word leaked out that she was tuning up an all-out effort to regain her one-time place at the top of the ladder. Nudged aside by Karrie Webb for the past two years, the comely Swede vowed to get off to a quick start. And has she! Her 18-under victory at Tucson was the second lowest LPGA score in history, and now her 59 in the Ping Classic installs her as the first woman to ever break 60 in tournament play. And it's only March.

(c) Copyright John M. Ross

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