Another American’s cautionary tale of Wie

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Another American’s cautionary tale of Wie

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During the Asian Tour event SK Telecom Open held in Incheon last week, 16-year-old Michelle Wie played and acted beyond her age, as she made the cut in a men’s professional event for the first time.
But at the same time Wie was followed by thousands, Ty Tryon, the 21-year-old American and former PGA Tour player, played to a gallery of two: his Korean-American fiance and this reporter.
If you told Tryon five years ago he would be toiling in Asia in 2006 as a full-time member of the Korean Professional Golfers Association, he would have laughed. After all, he was Michelle Wie before Michelle Wie.
At the 2001 Honda Classic on the PGA Tour, Tryon, then 16, became the youngest player to make the cut in a PGA Tour event in more than four decades. Later that year, he became, at 17, the youngest ever to earn the PGA Tour card, surviving the grueling Q-School.
He was hailed in many quarters. Golf Digest ran a feature story in 2002 that included a phrase, “The future is now.” Other media called him the next big thing, white America's answer to Tiger Woods. He could hit the ball miles, had the idol star looks that caused young girls to swoon, his skinny but wiry physique seemed tailor-made for golf, and his modesty and polite behavior earned him high praise from veterans.
Just when it seemed he had everything going for him, Tryon came down with mononucleosis. He missed more than five months of action at a time when he should have been honing his skills.
When he returned, he’d lost a lot of weight and strength, and wasn’t the same. After losing his tour card in 2003, he bided his time in minor tours before joining the Asian circuit.
Tryon is now missing more than his share of fairways and greens, not to mention cuts. Last week, he shot 82-74, missing the cut by 12 strokes ― and 17 shots behind Wie.
More telling was his general lackadaisical attitude. In the first round, on the par-5 third hole, Tryon pulled his tee shot, and it landed among rocks. He just shrugged, and told his fiance not to worry. He went on to bogey the hole. That could have been the sign that either he had his emotions under control or, quite simply, he didn't care.
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Tryon once exclaimed playing on the PGA Tour was “awesome,” but even his once youthful exuberance might have given way to a more jaded outlook.
None of this is to suggest Wie will become another one-hit wonder, fade into obscurity, and join a number of others in the “Whatever happened to . . .” list. It’s just that one would do well to be careful of heaping too much pressure on young athletes who haven't proved much on bigger stages.
Golf has seen several phenoms struggle with expectations, and arguably not since Tiger Woods has any golfer had to deal with as much as Wie.
For all she has done in her golfing career, though, Wie has yet to win a tournament on the professional tour, either male or female. Her claim-to-fame includes a slew of top-10 finishes on the LPGA Tour and, most recently, her 35th-place overall finish on the rain-shortened event that earned her 4.05 million won ($4,340).
Here’s someone who’s earning big money from endorsements ― she turned professional last October ― based largely on her potential.
But the main concern is she might burn out before she even reaches the typical prime golfing years of the late 20s. Though she seemed surprisingly calm last week, to a point that she even appeared detached from all the attention, by Sunday it was clear that Wie was spent.
As the child of Korean-born parents, she had a series of extracurricular duties, from throwing a ceremonial first pitch at a Korean baseball game to appearing on television shows as a featured guest. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of her.
On a positive note, Wie certainly has tools to survive in this power age of golf ― she outdrove her male playing partners on several holes last week ― and her girl-next-door charms suggest she can draw people with more than just her golf game.
Her mental makeup is also impressive. Kim Dae-sub, the 24-year-old star KPGA golfer who was paired with Wie in the first two rounds of the SK Telecom, said he was amazed by how Wie was able to concentrate despite thousands of fans watching every stroke, and also praised her course management skills.
As for Tryon, who now sports thick facial hair and speaks in a deep voice that belies his age, he told me during his first round play that he is happy to be playing here because the Korean tour presents “a great opportunity and good money.” He praised Wie for “handling [the pressure] really well at her age” and admitted he wasn't as adept at dealing with the attention directed his way.
He said he definitely will try again to play on the PGA Tour, the ultimate stage, and expressed his frustration over his inability to return to form after recovering from mononucleosis.
His agent at the International Management Group's Seoul office, Joe Park, declined to make Tryon available for further comments to be used in this story.


by Yoo Jee-ho
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