WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ty Tryon stepped into a bunker behind the 17th green and about 200 fans, which constitutes a mob at Q-school, gathered around.
Everyone wanted a look at the 17-year-old who defied not only the odds by becoming the youngest player to earn his PGA Tour card but also conventional wisdom by turning pro before finishing high school.
The irony of that moment Monday at Bear Lakes Country Club was that standing 50 yards away on the second tee was 20-year-old Aaron Baddeley, arms crossed as he looked over to see who was attracting so much attention.
Tryon and Baddeley have plenty in common.
Both are prodigies.
Tryon first made his mark at the Honda Classic in March, when at 16 he became the youngest player in 44 years to make a cut on the PGA Tour. Baddeley was 18 when he beat Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie to become the youngest champion in the 95-year history of the Australian Open.
Their idea of a higher education is the PGA Tour.
Tryon's e-mail address used to be "ProQuick." Being a pro is all he ever wanted.
Baddeley's father set aside $28,000 for him to travel across the United States on his own last year and get his education inside the ropes.
The biggest difference - beside the fact Tryon earned his tour card and Baddeley is 0-for-2 at Q-school - is that no one thought Baddeley skipping college was a terrible idea.
Perhaps that's because Tryon is an American and Baddeley is Australian.
Maybe golf isn't as global as everyone thinks.
Curiosity over the kid turned into criticism when Tryon decided to turn pro a few weeks before enrolling for his junior year at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando. It didn't help that he failed to qualify for the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur.
"I think it's a joke," said Scott Hoch, who lives near the Tryons in Orlando. "I know Ty. It's a terrible decision."
The PGA Tour reacted, too, adopting a policy that members must be 18. Even though Tryon earned his card, he won't be able to play on the PGA Tour without a sponsor's exemption until June 2, his 18th birthday.
"Most of that criticism was that people didn't understand the track he was on, or they were focusing on the wrong thing," said his father, Bill. "Maybe they had a mold in mind for everyone. This isn't a cookie-cutter scenario. Golf is an evolving game."
Bernhard Langer of Germany turned pro when he was 15. Seve Ballesteros was 17.
Sergio Garcia was 19 and still in school when he turned pro two years ago after he was low amateur in the Masters. He made his PGA Tour debut at the Byron Nelson Classic and brought along his homework. People thought that was cute.
They think Ty is crazy.
Tryon brushed aside the criticism Monday with diplomacy well beyond his years, saying politely that everyone has a right to their opinions.
"Hopefully, I have won a few people over doing this," he said. "I went through every stage and I did it the hard way. Hopefully, people will warm up to me a little more."
No one can question his ability. Tryon made it through three stages and 14 rounds. He won the first stage with a 15-under 263, opened the second stage with a course-record 63 at Orange County National in Orlando, and was never in serious danger in the final stage.
The scrutiny now shifts to the emotional state of a boy among men - playing and living alongside guys twice his age, some older than his 44-year-old father; arranging for transportation; trying to keep up with his homework; trying to fit in.
Jack Nicklaus was asked what he was doing at 17.
"I was in school, playing basketball," the Golden Bear said.
While Nicklaus was impressed by the kid's feat, and believes he has potential to challenge Tiger Woods, Nicklaus was more concerned about Tryon's quality of life.
"The sad thing I see with kids is that you lose so much of life and all the relationships," Nicklaus said. "There's so much more to life than tennis or golf. I think he's terrific for golf. Everybody was rooting for the kid to make it. I just hope it's not bad for him."
Tryon's path is unconventional, but he is not a freak. He still hangs out with his friends at the mall. He takes his girlfriend to dinner. With his endorsement money, he bought a Lexus IS-300, metallic blue with 19-inch rims.
His social skills are advanced.
"He doesn't need any more emotional maturity," Bill Tryon said. "He's as emotionally mature as 90 percent of the people out here."
Should Tryon succeed - on and off the course - young American golf stars will feel as much pressure to go to college as young foreign golfers.
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