How young is too young?

Tariq Engineer

Ty Tyron is seventeen years old and a junior in high school. Ty Tyron plays golf, which by itself is nothing unusual. After all, lots of seventeen-year-olds play golf—except Tyron plays his golf on the PGA tour of America. In the fall of 2001, Tyron became the youngest person ever to qualify for the PGA tour, making his official PGA tour debut this past week at the Phoenix Open. He didn’t make it to the weekend, but Tyron showed enough game to prove he might not be as out of his league as some people have predicted he will be.

Tyron’s decision to turn pro last year at the age of seventeen dragged the issue of age and professional sports front and center once again. He doesn’t know what the pressures of professional sport are like clamored the “voices that know better.” He needs more time to develop his game and he never won a USGA amateur event were the other objections. Even close family friends like Scott Hoch, himself a twelve year veteran of the PGA tour, thought Tyron had made a mistake.

To put Tyron’s age into perspective, Tiger didn’t turn pro until he was just a few months shy of his 21st birthday.

Tyron, however, thinks otherwise. He competed in two PGA tour events last year, making the cut both times. Tyron actually led the 2001 Honda Classic after the first round. He feels his game is ready and doesn’t see why he has to wait longer than is necessary.

Coincidentally, or perhaps fittingly, a former teenage prodigy was making her own headlines half way across the world. Jennifer Capriati successfully defended her Australian Open tennis crown in one of the most dramatic finals in Australian Open history last weekend. At the age of 25, Capriati has been through it all—a fitting reminder of the perils of professional sport and the damage it can inflict on the psyche of one too young to handle the pressures. That Capriati has not only come back but is at the very top of her sport is testimony to her own inner strength and determination. More often those who have been scarred like she has been simply fall off the sports radar screen, almost never to be heard of again.

Whether Tyron will crumble under the wait of expectation, much like Capriati did, or whether he will rise to the challenge, much like Tiger has done, is a question only time can answer. In the meanwhile, let us give Tyron the benefit of the doubt. Let us back off a little and allow him to be a seventeen-year-old, to do what normal seventeen-year olds do, and most importantly, allow him to have fun without picking apart his every action. It might turn out that he has indeed turned pro too young, but at the very least we must give him the chance to prove his critics wrong.