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Western's Bell Finds Way Through Woods : Golf: Senior studied the technique of his famous teammate to discover his game.

March 14, 1994|MARTIN BECK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — Western High senior Bryon Bell is a high school golfer with an exceptional swing.

It's a swing that has been compared favorably to Sam Snead's and broken down and analyzed on three pages of a national golf magazine.

Unfortunately for Bell, the swing in question isn't his own. Teammate Tiger Woods owns it; Bell's is only an uncanny simulation.

Bell started playing golf seriously three years ago and did much of his learning next to Woods on the driving range. Somehow Bell's swing started to look a lot like Woods'.

"I don't really know how it happened," Bell said. "We were working together and we suddenly realized we were doing the same things wrong.

"Of course, he's hitting the ball better."

Woods, of course, swings with the nation's best young golfers. He has won a record six Junior World titles and the last three USGA Junior Amateur championships. He has accepted a golf scholarship from Stanford. He has played in a handful events on the PGA Tour as an amateur and expects one day to be a full-fledged Tour member.

Bell, 6 feet 2, has done none of that and never will. He's an average golfer--about a 12 handicap, he figures--but he is comfortable with his place in the golf world.

"I play to have fun," Bell said. "I'm not out there to make a living or anything."

Bell shouldn't have any problem making a living without golf. He has a 4.2 grade-point average and has been accepted to UC San Diego and UC Irvine and is awaiting responses from Stanford and California. He hopes to become a doctor.

Before joining the Western team as a freshman, Bell had played golf only occasionally and it showed.

"His swing wasn't very consistent, but you could see all the potential he had," Woods said. "The foundation was there and he's a very fast learner. He picks up on things that you tell him very quickly."

Some of Bell's aptitude for the game comes from playing baseball. Until he was 16, he was a pretty good youth baseball player--a shortstop and right-handed pitcher ("I struck a lot of people out, I guess.").

When he started high school, he wanted to dedicate himself to another sport because of a medical condition. Early in his childhood, doctors discovered a heart murmur and limited his activity. He wasn't allowed to play football, basketball or soccer, or other sports in which extreme physical exertion was likely.

Baseball was acceptable as long as he made sure his heart wasn't beating too quickly. That meant arrangements with coaches to excuse him from lifting weights and running.

Since that didn't seem like a good way to excel in athletics, he turned to golf.

As a freshman, Bell was the seventh man on the Western varsity, which meant he played with Coach Don Crosby and his scores--mostly in the high 40s for nine holes--didn't count.

Hours with Woods at the range and a job at Cypress Golf Club helped him make steady progress, and the past two seasons he has been Western's No. 2 player.

In most matches, Woods and Bell play in the same foursome and help each other through rough spots.

"If I have swing problems, he'll just look at my swing and tell me what I'm doing wrong or vice versa," Woods said. "It always seems like we're working on the same thing."

This season, he and Woods, the team's only seniors, are working with their teammates, sophomores David Dawson, Joe Hallada and Vince Branstetter and junior Ben Snyder.

"He and Tiger have really done a good job this year of being more active leaders and working with the kids," Crosby said. "They're seniors and they're older. Last year they just hung back and we just tried to survive."

The Pioneers, who finished 9-9 and in third place in the Orange League last year, are 3-1 after two weeks of this season. Woods and Bell hope the team can challenge favorites Brea-Olinda and Valencia for the league title.

Woods, who has won three consecutive individual league titles, is shooting at or below par in most matches. Bell is usually several strokes higher, but isn't worried.

"I've gotten to the point that I can play bad and still shoot a decent score," he said. "I don't get too upset over what I shoot."

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