Life as a teenage phenom must stink. Every morning they wake up and are instantly told by their parents either, “You are an angel sent from heaven,” or, “Drop and give me 50! You a’int making the Olympics by sitting on your butt!” Some phenoms achieve instant success, while others achieve instant failure. With Bryce Harper hitting his first MLB home run, let’s look at how other sports phenoms’ careers fared.

Tiger Woods at age 5 practicing with his father, Earl.

Tiger Woods, Golf: Tiger first mocked his father’s golf swing when Tiger when he was still in his crib and picked up his first golf club when he was 2 years old. A year later, Woods appeared on The Mike Douglas Show, golfing with Bob Hope. Also at 3, Tiger shot a score of 48 at the Cypress Navy Course’s front nine. In 1980, he appeared in Golf Digest. In 1984, Tiger won his first Junior World Golf Championship and went on to win it six more times. Tiger was heavily recruited coming out of high school and decided to go to Stanford. Woods won his first collegiate event, and in 1995 was the only amateur to qualify for the Masters, tying for 41st. After two years in college, Woods turned pro, immediately signing huge contracts with Nike and Titleist. In 1996, Woods was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year. In 1997, Woods won his first major, the Masters, and became the world’s number one golfer. In 2000, Woods won 6 majors in a row. During that streak, he golfed one of the greatest rounds ever at the US Open. Woods’ remained incredible until 2009, when everything went down the drain. Following a fight with his wife, Tiger crashed his SUV into a tree. After that, it was discovered that Tiger had affairs with many women, and he divorced his wife. Tiger publicly apologized and took a break from the PGA Tour. His first tournament back was the 2010 Master in which he finished 4th. Since Tiger’s fall from grace, he has only won one tournament and has never looked the same.

Steven Strasburg, Baseball: The flame-throwing pitcher attended San Diego State where he went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 195 strikeouts in his junior year. Strasburg was the most heavily hyped pitching prospect in baseball history and was picked first overall in the 2009 MLB Draft by the Washington Nationals, signing a record breaking contract. ESPN even televised his first minor league start, in which he allowed only 4 hits. In his first AAA start, Strasburg hurled six scoreless innings. Strasburg dazzled in his MLB debut on June 8, 2010, striking out every Pirate at least once and finishing with a total of 14 K’s. Two of Strasburg’s pitches were clocked over 100 MPH. The rest of Strasburg’s season was phenomenal as well. He finished 2010 with 5 wins, a 1.074 WHIP, and a 12.2 strikeouts per 9 innings but in August, Strasburg tore his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John Surgery. In the 2011 season, Strasburg only started 5 games. In this 2012 season, Strasburg has been nothing short of phenomenal for the Nationals and my fantasy team, Swinging for the Pences (named after Phillies outfielder, Hunter Pence). So far, he has 3 wins in 7 starts, 51 Ks, and has only allowed 8 earned runs. Strasburg is on pace to be one of the most accomplished pitchers of all time.

Freddy Adu, Soccer: Adu is the exact embodiment of a teen phenom. The native Ghanaian moved to the United States when he was 8 years old. Adu skipped 7th and 8thgrade to be able to play varsity soccer. When he was 10, Adu competed in an Under-14 tournament. Adu’s team beat Italian soccer powerhouses, and he was named the tournament’s MVP. After the tournament was over, Inter Milan offered the 10 year old a six-figure contract. Adu’s mom said no, because he was too young. At age 14, the MLS team, DC United signed Adu to a six-year contract. When he appeared in his first MLS game on April 3, 2004, Adu became the youngest person to appear in a professional sports game in American history. Adu has never seemed to put everything together. He was average in the MLS, then stunk in Europe, and is now trying to make an MLS comeback. He might only be 20, but it is looking like Adu achieved success too young and will never be America’s soccer savior.

LeBron ANGRY!!

LeBron James, Basketball: King James is originally from Akron, OH, where he attended St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. James started for varsity immediately, averaging 21 points and 6.2 rebounds a game, while leading his team to an Ohio State Championship. His stats improved in his sophomore year, in which the Fighting Irish repeated as state champions. In LeBron’s junior year of high school, he averaged 29 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.7 assists, and 3.3 steals per game. James appeared in Slam, Sports Illustrated, and ESPN the Magazine, and some of his games were even televised on ESPN. LeBron wanted to declare for the NBA Draft after his junior year but was denied because of an NBA rule change. His senior year was his most spectacular. He averaged 31.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.4 steals during the 2003 season. That same year, LeBron led St. Vincent-St. Mary to its 3rd state championship.

The Cleveland Cavaliers selected LeBron with the 1st overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. James had a stellar rookie year, averaging 20.9 points, 5.9 assists, and 5.5 rebounds per game, winning the rookie of the year award. In his second NBA season, King James improved and was selected to his first all-star game. LeBron was selected to his second all star game the following season, becoming the youngest player in history to win the All-Star-MVP with 29 points, 6 boards, and 2 assists. LeBron led the Cavs to a playoff appearance that season and finished 2nd in MVP voting. James had two more incredible years in 2007 and 2008, solidifying himself as one of the NBA’s alpha-males. In the 2008-09 season, LeBron averaged 28.4 points, 7.2 assists, and 7.6 rebounds per game. He repeated his MVP award the following season but seemingly gave up in the playoffs. LeBron was on top of the world. He was everyone’s best friend. Everybody knew him. Then came “The Decision.” In an ill-advised television special, LeBron told the world, “I’ll be taking my talents to South Beach,” joining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Fans in Cleveland rioted. The NBA’s hero became the enemy. The Big 3 didn’t dominate right away, but reached the finals. As Bill Simmons calls it, LeBron had a “LeBrondown” in the finals and watched Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks hoist the championship trophy. This season has been special for LeBron. He has completely dominated the NBA taking home his 3rd MVP. Basketball has never seen somebody so physically gifted as LeBron, but if he doesn’t get a handful of rings, his legacy will forever be tainted.

Michelle Wie, Golf: Wie became the youngest golfer in history to qualify for a US Amateur Women’s Golf Championship. She went pro at 16 and was deemed the future of women’s golfing. Wie has never been able to put everything together and has only won 2 majors in her career, never even showing glimpses of the golf goddess many believed she was.

Funny. When LeBron appeared on the cover of SI in High School, what did the caption read? The Chosen One.

Donald Young, Tennis: Donald Young first picked up a tennis racket when he was four years old. At 10 years old, Young rallied with John McEnroe who was very impressed. 5 years later, Young turned pro and signed his first contract with Nike. A year later, he became the youngest player ever to be ranked the best junior player in world. Expectations for Young were sky high, and many thought he would be America’s next great tennis player. Things didn’t quite go Young’s way. In his 6-year career, Young has never once won a major and has only won 2 matches. Young still has a chance to fulfill his once seemingly guaranteed potential, but so far Young has been an epic bust.

Bryce Harper, Baseball: I’ve said this many times. Bryce Harper is the biggest rock star in baseball history. He is – for lack of a better term – baseball’s Justin Bieber. He began to achieve phenom status in 2009 when Sports Illustrated put Harper on its cover with a story entitled, “The Chosen One.” After his sophomore year at Las Vegas High School, Harper earned his GED and attended junior college to play with wooden bats (like the MLB). After the 66-game season, Harper had a .443 batting average, drove in 98 runs, and hit 33 homeruns. The Washington Nationals selected Harper with the 1st overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. Harper crushed the ball for 2 years in the minor leagues and made his major league debut on April 28, 2012. Every MLB fan hopes Bryce Harper achieves his full potential, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Some young phenoms make it, others don’t (LeBron and Donald Young). Some phenoms become legends, other fizzle out quickly (Tiger and Michelle Wie). Some dominate, while others are merely a storyline (Strasburg and Adu). To become a superstar in any sport, it doesn’t only require talent, but also grit. Players need to have a burning intensity in them. I’d take the guy who will do whatever it takes to win over a hyped sensation any day of the week.



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