BROOKSVILLE, Fla. – Ty Tryon admits he was overwhelmed and unhappy when he earned his first PGA Tour card, at age 17. He felt like the fame that followed his record-setting achievement was forced upon him. He was no longer a kid playing a game. The prodigy had become a pitchman.
Tryon is appreciative of his current position, even if the trappings of that other life, including the tricked-out Cadillac Escalade, are long gone.
His optimism allowed him to survive high winds and even higher pressure Friday at the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School. Tryon’s scrambling 1-under 71 at Southern Hills Plantation in tiny Brooksville, a rural town somewhere between Orlando and Tampa, earned him a chance to rewrite his legacy. He advanced to Q-School finals, exactly 10 years after becoming the youngest player to earn a PGA Tour card. This year’s Q-School is Nov. 30-Dec. 5 at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif.
• For a breakdown of final-stage qualifiers from three sites, click here.
• Tommy Armour III and Boo Weekley also advance to the finals on Saturday. Click here.
“I feel lucky that I still … have an opportunity to play on Tour and chase this game for a living,” said Tryon, who has a 5-year-old son, Tyson, with his wife, Hanna. “I feel really lucky, and I just want a little vindication.
“It’s not the best story if you get out there early and you never get out there again. I’m really trying my best to turn that over into a new story. I have a chance now.”
Tryon, 27, started the final round of Q-School’s second stage on the cut line at 5 under par. Low scores are common at Southern Hills Plantation, a long, but open, Pete Dye design that’s more subtle than his famous torture tests. There are no railroad ties, and few hazards. Elevation changes, slopes and pot bunkers make for challenges, real and imaginary. An inconsistent breeze that quickly changed strength and direction throughout the final round also toyed with competitors.
The biggest hazard, though, was the pressure of the final round. For many players, Tryon included, the second stage of Q-School will make or break the upcoming year. Advance, and they’re guaranteed at least Nationwide Tour status, possibly a PGA Tour card. The mini-tours await those who fall short.
There’s no prize money at second stage, nor gallery ropes (or galleries), caddie bibs, courtesy cars or even scoreboards, except for the hand-written one next to the clubhouse. The mystery surrounding a player’s standing only adds to the mystery and the suspense.
“It’s an awful tournament to play in,” said Alexandre Rocha, a PGA Tour rookie in 2011, citing the high stakes. He made a 15-foot birdie putt on his second-to-last hole, then two-putted from 40 feet to advance on the number.
Tryon closed with a birdie from a fairway bunker to finish at 6-under 282, one shot inside the cut line. He shot 2-under 34 on his final nine holes despite hitting just three greens in regulation. His group was followed by exactly three people: a reporter; his father, Bill; and a club member.
Tryon was among the 22 lucky ones to finish at 5 under or better and advance to Q-School finals. Philip Pettitt, who played college golf at Tennessee, shot 17-under 271 to medal by six shots. Brian Harman, a former U.S. Junior champ and two-time member of the United States’ Walker Cup team, finished second to advance to Q-School finals for the first time since turning pro in 2009. Sam Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer, was among other notables to advance.
Harman’s former Georgia teammate, Harris English, also advanced. It’ll be all or nothing for the member of this year’s Walker Cup team, who’s arguably the top prospect in this pro class. He’s already exempt on next year’s Nationwide Tour after winning there as an amateur. He finished first, second and third in seven starts on that circuit this year, and would’ve easily advanced to the PGA Tour if he’d been pro for his victory at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational.
Brad Benjamin, the 2009 U.S. Amateur Public Links champ, and Chris DeForest were other first-year pros to advance to the finals. Benjamin made the cut at this year’s U.S. Open. DeForest, overshadowed by NCAA champ Scott Langley during his career at Illinois, matched the day’s low round with a 67. He started the final round four shots outside the cut line.
DeForest drove the 330-yard ninth hole, his last of the tournament, and two-putted from 20 feet for birdie. He chipped in for eagle on that hole to end his third round. He played his final 21 holes in 8 under par to advance with a shot to spare. Langley also played at Southern Hills Plantation, but shot 18 over par.
Robert Gamez and two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen also advanced. Jonathan Moore, the 2006 NCAA champion, was among the unlucky ones to miss the cut by a shot, as were PGA Tour winners Robert Damron and Frank Lickliter. Another PGA Tour winner, Garrett Willis, was Damron’s caddie.
Tryon made just two birdies and a single bogey Friday, but his round was anything but boring.
He bogeyed the eighth hole from a greenside bunker, then started a short-game display that would’ve brought tears to Corey Pavin’s eyes. He almost chipped in at Nos. 9 and 10. There was an 8-foot par putt on the 11th, and a chip-in from 40 feet for birdie on the par-5 12th. A 12-foot par putt on the par-3 13th completed a sand save. He finally hit a green in regulation at the 14th for a standard par that preceded the most important save at all.
Tryon had to take an awkward stance in a greenside bunker at the short par-4 15th. His sand shot barely reached the green, leaving him a 30-foot par putt. He made that to stay even for the day and 5 under for the tournament. Needing par at the final hole to advance, Tryon drove into a fairway bunker. He hit 8-iron to 8 feet and sank the birdie putt to shoot 71.
From Nos. 6-16, Tryon hit just two greens in regulation. He played those 11 holes in even par, though. He shot 2-under 34 on the back nine despite hitting just three greens in regulation.
“I feel like I’ve earned it,” Tryon said. “I feel like I’ve earned some of the lucky breaks just because I’ve kept on giving this a go. I didn’t play my best. I didn’t feel my best. I sure as hell didn’t hit it my best, but I just scored well.”
This will be Tryon’s third appearance at Q-School finals. He became the youngest to earn a PGA Tour card when he finished 23rd in 2001, then advanced to last year’s finals, finishing near the bottom of the pack to earn conditional Nationwide Tour status. He missed eight of nine cuts on that tour this year. He’s also played the past two U.S. Opens.
No one knows what will happen in the California desert come the first week of December, but at least Tryon gave himself a chance to continue his career. And for those unfortunate ones who failed to advance?
A mini-tour that conducts events in the Carolinas was nice enough to stick a flyer in the windshields of every car in the Southern Hills Plantation parking lot, offering those players a place to ply their services. Such is Q-School’s second stage.