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Thorpe in a tie, but much alone

The flame is flickering, and Jim Thorpe knows it is going out. How long it burns is pretty much up to him, but as the only black golfer on the PGA Tour, there is little he can do. Nobody is in line to receive his torch.

Thorpe, who has battled a wrist injury for the past five seasons and got a spot in the Doral-Ryder Open only through a sponsor's exemption, was tied for the first-round lead with Raymond Floyd at 4-under-par 68 Thursday at Doral's "Blue Monster."

It is one of the rare times he has been near the top recently, and it saddens him that, at age 45, he remains the only role model for black golfers on the regular PGA Tour. Only Calvin Peete, Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford remain on the Senior PGA Tour.

"We don't have any young black players coming up, except for Tiger Woods," said Thorpe, referring to one of the best junior players, who will attend Stanford next year. "He's the only guy I see coming. We don't have anybody else in sight."

Thorpe accepts the situation, knowing that he has tried to get minorities interested in golf. In his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., Thorpe has been involved in programs to get local high school students exposed to the game.

They attend in droves, ready and eager to learn. But after the clinic is over, reality sets in.

"We had 180 kids out there. We do it three weeks during the summer," Thorpe said. "We had 180 kids, but the only time they got to the golf course is when we put together a program, got a bus, picked them up, bused them to the course, gave them golf clubs and balls. Their parents just can't afford it.

"It boils down to finances. When there was the controversy at Shoal Creek (1990), a lot of people talked about that (discrimination). But then, a lot of golf courses had their doors open. They were just too expensive to join.

"When I was a kid, we used to go to these courses where it cost $1.25 or $1.75, and you could play all day. There is no course in America where you can do that now."

Thorpe said things might have been different for him and other minorities if there had been someone to help them, more people they could look to for advice.

"We used to have a lot of good black golfers," Thorpe said. "But I didn't see the guys much. I didn't see them exchanging notes. We didn't grow up on country clubs. We grew up on cow pastures. We needed someone there to help us, someone to guide us. It's different when you're 21 or 22 years old and you've got no one helping you.

"Then you do the same things I did, which is hustling golf."

When he was younger, Thorpe often got involved in big-money golf games. He frequented race tracks instead of practicing. He knows how much that hurt him.

But if the numbers in minority golf are to change, Thorpe said the problem must be solved with the help of minorities.

"Somewhere along the line, we have to do something," he said. "We can't keep trying to get Coca-Cola, Pepsi, for sponsorship. For years, we've been asking white organizations for help.

"Unless we open our eyes up and make it happen for our kids, I don't see anything happening. And I think when I leave, that'll be it."

Thorpe, the winner of three PGA Tour events in his 17-year career, is trying to prolong it. The 1988 wrist injury that required surgery had made it difficult, but for the first time he is playing without a brace. And although he can get in tournaments only under a past champions' exemption or as a sponsor's exemption, he said he is working harder than ever on his game.

"I'm in a position where every time I play, it's like my last time," said Thorpe, who tied for 19th last week in San Diego and tied for ninth in Tucson. "I don't know when I'm going to play again."

Doral Open

Jim Thorpe 34-34_68

Ray Floyd 33-35_68

Dick Mast 33-36_69

(Five tied at 70)

TV: 4 p.m., USA-c.