- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

BETHESDA, MD. (AP) - Had everything gone according to plan, Christo Greyling would be a seasoned veteran at the U.S. Open and every other major by now.

Instead, the one-time prodigy is making his debut on golf’s most imposing stage at age 28.

A career that once looked to have an unlimited future was sidetracked first by a strange illness, then more recently by his father’s suicide. When he steps to the tee box at Congressional Country Club on Thursday, he’ll be looking to redirect a journey that could have been something more by now _ hoping there are a weekend’s worth of great swings in his bag, the kind he used to make when he was the nation’s top-ranked junior.

“As long as I have opportunities, I’m going to keep going,” Greyling said while playing a practice round this week. “Obviously, it’s super expensive staying out here. But you never know with this game. You need a couple of hot days. You can change some things.”

Ten years ago, the future looked bright for Greyling, a South Africa native, whose parents moved to the United States, in part because they hoped life in America might foster a fantastic golf career for Christo.

Unlike his high school teammate, Ty Tryon, the much-hyped junior who went pro his junior year in high school, Greyling took the more traditional route. He got a scholarship to Georgia, one of the best golf schools in the country.

Around that time, he started taking a powerful acne medicine that is known to work, but also has its share of side effects. Among them: an increased risk of depression.

“I was still hitting it well on the range but I’d walk onto the course and my confidence went out the door in the span of a couple weeks,” Greyling said. “I’m not about making excuses but it was definitely this medicine. I kept thinking, `How else could I be so consistent for years and years, then overnight, shoot in the 80s and 90s?’”

Everyone from his buddy Tryon to his golf coach at Georgia, John Cook, to his countryman Ernie Els was convinced it was the acne medicine that changed things.

It got so bad so quickly that his teacher, the renowned David Leadbetter, told Greyling to put the clubs away. Some of the changes happening to his swing were messing things up beyond repair.

“I hit it way shorter. I got way worse. But I wanted to fight through it,” Greyling said. “It did some damage at the time, but I tried to have a positive outlook. I couldn’t hit the ball straight anymore, but I learned to get out of the trees a little better. My short game got a little better. I figured if someday I started hitting it straight again, I’d have more shots in my bag.”

Greyling needs someday to show up soon.

He spent a year on the Nationwide Tour in 2008 but didn’t make a cut and was relegated back to the mini tours, where long car rides and low purses are the norm. He revitalized his game this year, at least long enough to make it through two rounds of U.S. Open qualifying and earn one of the 156 spots at Congressional. He qualified on the same course as Tryon.

The high school buddies have been spending a lot of time together the last few weeks. Tryon, who found himself on the PGA Tour leaderboards at 16, suffered a similar _ and more widely documented _ spiral downward and has spent the last several years trying to discover the grittiness that he now concedes “I probably never really had, to be honest.”

Too much, too soon?

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