Best of 2001 - Turning Pro


Four players, varying in age and experience but with the same goal in mind, are the candidates for the top amateur-to-professional leaps this year. Each played for the love of the game last year and each has now turned the page, starting a career in which pars and birdies translate into dollars and cents.
Bryce Molder was one of the most decorated collegiate players in recent memory, a four-time first-team all-American at Georgia Tech. He was twice a member of the U.S. Walker Cup team and the holder of the lower career and season stroke averages in NCAA history.
He turned pro after the Walker Cup in August, then turned a sponsors exemption into a third-place finish at the Reno Tahoe Open. Although Molder failed to advance past the second stage of the PGA Qualifying tournament, his focus continues to be on the big picture.
My goal is to be ' at one point in time ' the No. 1 player in the world, he said.
The resume of 23-year-old Luke Donald is a veritable plethora of amateur success 1999 NCAA individual medallist; three times an all-American at Northwestern University; and twice a member of the Walker Cup team of Great Britain and Ireland.
Donald turned professional in August and won just over $80,000 in seven PGA Tour events. And by the end of the 2001 PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, he had earned a card for 2002.
Its hard to put into words how I feel right now, said Donald at the end of Q-School. Its just been such a long week. Im glad Im inside that top 35. It feels good. Real good.
Eighteen-year-old Natalie Gulbis left the University of Arizona after her freshman season, a year in which she earned first-team all-American honors. But so far, so good for Gulbis in the professional ranks. She was medallist at the LPGA Tour sectional qualifier, and earned fully exempt status for 2002 at the final stage of qualifying at what she considers to be the perfect time.
It was something I wanted to do out of high school ' try to go through Q-School, said Gulbis. I didnt want to be 30 or 35 and look back and say that I never gave college a try. I tried and had a good time. But I was ready to move on, from the golf standpoint.
But perhaps the greatest story out of this foursome comes from 17-year-old Ty Tryon. The legend continues to grow. He successfully made two cuts on the PGA Tour in 2001 as a high school student, then made the critical decision ' turn professional. And he did it ' advancing through all three stages of Q-School to become the youngest player ever to earn a PGA Tour card.
He acknowledged after the qualifying tournament that everyone does not agree with his decision to turn pro. But its his decision, he said, and he will live with it.
Everybody has their opinion, he said. And I totally respect it, because it was very strange, me turning pro. But hopefully I gained a few fans this week after doing this.