Mark Rolfing and Jimmy Roberts were there, beaming with broad smiles.
It was a moment no fan of our game would miss.
The final pairing of eventual champion Jesper Parnevik and Mark Calcavecchia had not even started its round. No, the roar at the 72nd hole was aimed neither at the Honda Classic victor nor any other star of the PGA Tour. This outpouring of love, support and respect from 5,000 fans was reserved for the star of the week, 16-year-old high school sophomore Ty Tryon.
There was Tom Lehman, a major championship winner, one of the sport's best, stopping on the fringe to join in on the applause. After playing the Honda's final 18 with young Ty, the 41-year-old Lehman would say, 'I'm so impressed.' Weren't we all?
Honda Classics come and go. But this one will be remembered for a long time. The player who made this event so special is barely old enough to drive one of the title sponsor's products.
Last Monday Tryon battled a howling South Florida wind and some 400 tour `wannabes' who were vying for just four open spots in the Honda field. A two-under par 70 put the kid from Lake Highland Prep in Orlando into a PGA tour event and the spotlight. He handled both beautifully.
As Parnevik built a three-stroke, three-round lead with a 54-hole record at the Honda, one caddie joked 'he's on Planet Jesper.' So from what planet does Ty Tryon hail?
The young man has the kind of poise many of us so-called adults can only hope to possess. When he fielded his first interview of the week Wednesday afternoon at the practice range with yours truly, Ty handled the situation like a seasoned veteran. 'Do I look at you or the camera when I talk?'
Are you kidding me?
His mother Georgia was much more nervous when I approached her. My God, I was more nervous.
In the first round Thursday, Ty fired a five-under par 67. At holes 9 and 18, where the largest crowds congregate, he birdied both. The ensuing roars were tingling. The kid sure has a flair for the dramatic.
On Friday, Ty was back at it. Pretending he was out at the TPC at Heron Bay for just another round of golf. The kid got it to nine-under through 13 holes. He was just two shots off the lead. That's right ladies and gentlemen, two shots off the lead!
The largest crowds of the tournament followed him all around the course. NBC's cameras followed his every shot. A 16-year-old, playing in his first PGA Tour event, with a camera crew standing directly behind him on every shot, knowing he's on national television, plays flawless golf for 31 holes and is TWO SHOTS OFF THE LEAD.
'Oh, I wasn't nervous,' Ty told this bewildered reporter. 'I didn't really notice the cameras.' Talk about focused. Where's that planet again?
Tryon did stumble on his final five holes Friday. He hit an 8-iron about 185 yards over the green on the par-3 5th hole (his 14th) and made double bogey.
Wait a second. Did I get that right? An 8-iron 185. 'It was down-wind.'
By the way, Ty weighs about 135 pounds. Again, this begs the planet question.
Tryon would slip back to four-under for the tournament. Still, that was good enough for the teenager to become the second youngest player to ever make a cut in a PGA Tour event. After signing his historic card, Ty was back on live, national TV. It was time for an interview with Rolfing. Mark was smiling more than the kid. Then it was my turn. 'Is this live, too, or is it just tape?' Ty asked me. I worked in Los Angeles for several years, interviewing scores of Hollywood types. Not half of them had the media-savvy of this young man.
On Saturday, Ty fired a two-under 70. But on a day when most everyone else was going really low, the kid went virtually unnoticed. Ho-hum. He only shot 70. Hey, wait a second here folks. A 16-YEAR-OLD SHOT 70 ON THE PGA TOUR. ON SATURDAY!!! Virtually no one bothered to interview Tryon. I know we media folk are jaded, but this was ridiculous.
For the week, Ty averaged 290 yards off the tee. He made 21 birdies, just one fewer than the champion Parnevik. 'I know I've got to learn to make fewer mistakes.' Planet?
On Sunday, the crowds, reporters and cameras were back. Everyone realized how special this week was. How special this 16-year-old is. Not just for his talent and his game, but also for his wonderful attitude and engaging, unassuming personality. So when Ty fired at an impossible pin on that 18th hole (something only a teenager would do) and his ball bounded toward the adjacent hazard, there was a groan of immense dispair. No, not from Ty, from the thousands of grown-ups who were watching.
The kid hit a brilliant pitch from the mud to about 12 feet from the hole. Of course, he drained the putt. 16-years old, ten-under par. Not a bad week off from school.
Next year at the Honda, there will be no Monday qualifying for Ty Tryon. The folks who run this event know a good thing when they see it. They have granted Ty a sponsor's exemption into the tournament.
Centuries ago, when Ponce de Leon came to Florida looking for the Fountain of Youth, he should have stopped at Heron Bay.
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