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Youth wasted on the young?
Lying dreamily on the couch watching the latest edition of Pop Idol (sad, isn't it?), I was suddenly sat bolt upright with amazement when the six remaining wannabes were seen swapping their microphones for some golf clubs.

It was on a trip to the luxurious Hanbury Manor Resort that a few tips from the local pro were thrown in with saunas, massages, tennis and the dancing session that, apparently, was the main reason for the visit to the Marriott Hotel.

As part of the package, we witnessed the ever genial Darius making a fair fist of hitting a ball, and even the three girls managed to generate some welcome enthusiasm. In fact, Rosie, absolutely hapless at first, managed to make a reasonable swing by the end of the session.

For golf, such titbits are great PR. Maybe, just maybe, one or two young girls watching Pop Idol, which is THE teenage TV programme of the moment, might consider giving golf a go. Suddenly, it could be cool. Let's hope so.

As for top golfers, they seem to get younger every day. Last weekend, the 13-year-old Korean, Jae An, became the youngest male player ever to make the cut in a National Open when he played all four rounds in the New Zealand Open.

And a week on Thursday, Ty Tyron, who, at 17, is the youngest player ever to gain a PGA Tour card, will make his season's debut in the Phoenix Open. Tyron, from Florida, cannot officially join the Tour until he is 18 (in June), but is allowed to play seven times as a sponsor's invite.

Still at school, Tyron, apparently, is still planning to complete his high school education, although he is not due to graduate until next year. He'll certainly be the wealthiest pupil at Orlando's Dr Phillips High School, having reportedly already signed deals worth an annual $1 million with Callaway and Target.

Tyron's agent, IMG's Jay Danzi, has said that Tyron is also hoping to play in international events - so maybe the wonder kid will soon be making an appearance in Europe.

In March, meanwhile, the much-lauded 15-year-old Korean-born twins, Aree and Naree Wongluekiet, will be teeing up in the Futures Tour. The identical pair have not yet turned pro (the LPGA also has an age limit of 18), but they will be using the Tour as a stepping-stone to the inevitable.

Of course, whether starting young means that the same players will enjoy a longer stint staying in the sport is a topic for hot debate. Scotland's Catriona Matthew, the leading Briton having finished 10th on last year's US money list, is one that questions the decision.

'There are a lot of great youngsters about but there is a terrible danger of burn-out,' she said. 'We saw it with tennis players, and golf could go the same way.'

But the golfing teen phenomenon is certainly welcome. Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia have done - and are doing - a great deal for a much more 'hip' image in the men's game, and the rookie trio of Suzann Pettersen, Karine Icher and Paula Marti added a new appeal to the women's game by looking good while winning tournaments on the Evian Tour last year.

In fact, none of the aforementioned would look out of place on the Pop Idol stage. Now, there's a thought.

And if you don't make it as a singer Rosie - and she was booted out of Pop Idol last week - then, perhaps, you could sign up for a few more swinging lessons.

©    16 - JANUARY 2002

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