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Welcome Tryon to the club -- at 17

The Orlando high school student repays his father's faith at qualifying school.

©Associated Press
December 4, 2001

WEST PALM BEACH -- The PGA Tour is about to get some peach fuzz.

Ty Tryon, the 17-year-old with a man-sized game, became the youngest player in history to earn a PGA Tour card Monday when he closed with a bogey-free 66 to easily finish in the top 35 at qualifying school.

How to celebrate such a feat?

"Shirley Temples!" said his father, Bill Tryon, who groomed the boy to be a pro from the time he sent him to swing guru David Leadbetter at age 7.

Tryon started the final round at breezy Bear Lakes Country Club three strokes out of the top 35 and needing his best score of the six-day tournament to get his card. He had 66 in mind and delivered, making the most gut-wrenching day in golf look like child's play.

"It's just unbelievable," said Tryon, who finished at 18-under 414 and in a tie for 23rd, nine strokes behind winner Pat Perez. "Tonight when I go to sleep, I'll know that I'm on the PGA Tour."

He'll have to wait seven months.

The PGA Tour adopted a policy in September that players be 18 before they become members. Tryon turns 18 on June2.

Until then, he can accept sponsor's exemptions to seven tournaments and play no more than 12. He will not show up on the PGA Tour money list until June.

Tryon was playing junior golf a year ago, and burst onto the stage at the Honda Classic in March. A Monday qualifier, he became the youngest player in 44 years to make the cut on the PGA Tour. He was 16 at the time, and wound up in a tie for 39th. In July, he was tied for the lead after one round of the B.C. Open and finished tied for 37th.

"After the first round of the B.C. Open, I was like, "This is doable.' I didn't know it would be this smooth, right through Q-school on the first try," he said.

There were other stories, of those that made the tour and those that fell short. The top 35 finishers and ties earned PGA Tour cards. The next 50 are exempt on the Tour.

Boo Weekley, a self-described country boy from Milton, shot 69 to go from golfing oblivion to its highest stage by tying for 23rd. Weekley, 28, who wore tennis shoes and rain-slickers on the course because of physical ailments, has never even played in a event.

"My caddy told me after my final shot that that was a million-dollar swing," Weekley said. "I told him I didn't understand what he meant. He said, "You will soon enough.' "

Jupiter's Gary Nicklaus, with his legendary father Jack watching every shot, easily returned to the PGA for the third consecutive year. Nicklaus' 71 left him tied for 13th at 21-under 411.

Perez, a two-year Tour veteran, took advantage of a double-bogey by Kenneth Staton on the 16th hole to win at 27-under 405 -- a shot ahead of Staton, Bob Burns and Pete Jordan of Valrico. Perez won $50,000 and the highest priority for getting into early-season tournaments next year.

Palm Harbor's Bob Heintz also qualified after tying for 19th at 413, and Michael Bradley of Valrico tied for 54th to earn the Tour exemption.

Along with the stories of those who made it, there are always heartbreaks in Q-school. Monday was no exception.

On his second-to-last hole, Bud Still hit his approach toward the flag, and figured it was either in the bunker or just over.

He didn't see a ball in the sand, but took another step and felt something under his foot.


"I look down and it's my golf ball," Still said. "No way this can happen. I was so mad at myself, I about started crying."

He called for a rules official and took a one-stroke penalty, then got up-and-down for a par that should have been a birdie. He parred the last hole for 71 to finish at 416, one shot out of the top 35.

Roland Thatcher felt even worse.

He came to the ninth hole on the Bear Lakes Course -- his final hole of the six-round event -- at 17-under-par, poised to get his PGA card. The second shot was 190 yards and Thatcher chose 7-iron.

Thatcher took too much club and got one incredibly bad break. The ball sailed over the green, bounced high off a cart path and onto the roof of the clubhouse.

He got a free drop 50 yards over the green, but it got worse. When he dropped the ball it hit a tee and caromed into the tall grass surrounding a palm tree.

He had no shot, so he took an unplayable lie and returned to the fairway to hit his fourth shot. This time, Thatcher laid up, hit wedge onto the green and two-putted for a triple-bogey 7. He missed his card by those three strokes.

"Strange," Thatcher said. "It all came down to one hole after I worked 107 (holes), and it didn't end up working out for me."

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