- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

From hero to hunted, Tiger Woods has provided the template for a new wave of players who could make him a victim of his own success.
Charles Howell III, Ty Tryon, David Gossett, Adam Scott, Bryce Molder, Matt Kuchar and Aaron Baddeley they are known on Tour simply as the "Young Guns." And while there is some debate about exactly who belongs in the group, there is no question about the basic prerequisites for membership: youth, talent and audacity.
"I think what you have with this next generation is a whole wave of guys who aren't the least bit intimidated by Tiger," said Hal Sutton at last week's Players Championship. "I think some of it is because they've grown up watching him. They don't really know anything else, so they aren't the least bit awed by what he's done. That's obviously not the same for guys who were out here before, guys who were somewhat shocked by his accomplishments. There's no awe in the youngsters they're just raring to get after his rear."
Perhaps Tryon and Howell are the best standard-bearers for golf's crowd of sub-24-year-old comers.
The 17-year-old Tryon, a junior at Orlando's Dr. Phillips High School, stunned the golf world last December when he survived the grueling six-round final stage of Q-school to become the youngest player in history to earn his Tour card.
Tryon will be eligible to join the Tour full-time on his 18th birthday (June 2). And he has no reservations about skipping his senior year of high school to chase his professional dream.
"Everybody goes to high school. How many people can say they had the opportunity to do their dream job at my age?" Tryon said recently. "I'm not at all overwhelmed by the position I'm in. I'm just excited about it. I've been working toward this opportunity for as long as I can remember. It's all I've ever wanted."
To some critics, Tryon personifies the danger of a sports world that seems to have completely lost touch with child-rearing priorities. Like Martina Hingis (who turned pro at 14), Olympic gold medalists Kerri Strug and Tara Lipinski and a litany of other child prodigies, Tryon's childhood has been largely sacrificed in the name of golf.
His father sold the family business in North Carolina when Tryon was 9 and moved the family to Orlando so his son could play golf year round.
At 12, Tryon watched the 21-year-old Woods win the 1997 Masters and began taking lessons from swing guru David Leadbetter.
"I think watching Tiger succeed early made a lot of us hungrier," said Tryon, who tacked a poster of Tiger to his wall (just as a young Woods did with Jack Nicklaus) after the '97 Masters. "But I don't want to be the next Tiger Woods. I want to be the first Ty Tryon."
If Tryon sounds rather brash, he should; he's just mimicking the master. The fist-pumping Woods has never been shy about sharing his ultimate goal of eclipsing Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories. When a 20-year-old Woods turned pro in August of 1996 with the pretentious introduction, "Hello World," the entire golf establishment rolled its eyes. Six majors, 30 Tour victories and a slew of records later, those snickers have been emphatically silenced.
So if Tryon and the other youngsters seem confident to the point of arrogance, they're only emulating Woods both on and off the course.
"I think what they saw is that I did it at age 20 and not too many players before me had played well that early," said Woods in reference to the young guns earlier this month. "I think they saw it can be done. And if the kids see it can be done, they're going to do it.
"The kids are better now than they used to be because of better technology. And what I mean by that is not even necessarily the equipment, but the computers we use to train with, the video cameras. The instruction has gotten so much better, and the kids have better technique at an earlier age. These kids can flat play the game."
To illustrate Woods' point about technical support, consider the fact that Team Tryon already includes Leadbetter, IMG, a sports psychologist and a personal trainer.
"They'll be out here in Pampers pretty soon," said one Tour veteran when asked about Tryon. "It all seems like too much too fast. Hopefully, he'll have the maturity to handle it all."
Unlike Tryon, however, Howell, Gossett and Kuchar already have proved they have the maturity to handle life on golf's grandest stage. Last season as non-members, all three parlayed their seven sponsor's exemptions into top-125 finishes on the money list and a card for this season, joining only Woods, Phil Mickelson and Justin Leonard as players who have successfully taken that route to Tour membership.
The 22-year-old Gossett won the John Deere Classic in just his fifth start as a pro last season. Howell (22) strung together five top-10 finishes. And Kuchar (23) used two top-5s during the season's stretch run to secure his place.
Asked to pick the youngster on Tour who impressed him the most, Kuchar responded without hesitation:
"Charles Howell is the best of us all."
This comment carries added weight when you consider Kuchar is the only member of the group to capture a PGA Tour title this season (Honda Classic).
"Charles has always been such a hard worker ever since I first met him when I was like 14," Kuchar said. "You knew the kid was going to go on to the PGA Tour. He's always been kind of the prodigy of the group. He used to be this little skinny kid, and he's still slight. But he's put in a lot of time in the gym, as well as on the course and on the range. And now, he's really strong, and it's paying off for him. He just hits it forever."
Earlier this year at the World Match Play, Howell was credited with a 385-yard drive. The 155-pound Howell generates improbable clubhead speed with the combination of incredible hand speed and a swing sculpted by Leadbetter.
"He has even quicker hands than Sergio or Tiger," said Leadbetter at the Players. "Charles has the most amazing hands and timing I've ever seen."
And like the rest of the "Young Guns," Howell wants Tiger's affluence, not his autograph.
"My goal is to be the best player in the world, No.1," Howell said. "It's impossible not to respect Tiger, because what he's done is incredible. He's on a different level right now, but I'd relish the chance to go head-to-head with him, because I've got to surpass him to achieve my goal."
And in order to achieve his long-term goals, Woods is going to have to stave off these monsters of his own creation. The time is fast coming when Woods won't be able to rely on his opponents to wilt like so many Mickelsons at the sight of his name on a Sunday leader board. This season, fearless flatbellies like Tryon, Howell, Kuchar and Gossett will join the likes of Sergio Garcia and David Duval in pursuit of Tiger's throne. And steely reinforcements like Florida senior and 2001 U.S. Amateur champion Bubba Dickerson are close behind.
"The irony is that Tiger's success and popularity is going to breed a new wave of rivals for him," said Nicklaus, correctly predicting Woods' impact two years ago. "You're going to get younger guys coming out here with his killer competitive demeanor, because they've been watching him, copying him. He might not have the same emotional advantage over these guys, and then it's going to get really interesting."


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