KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Once, this seemed easy.
Few here at the first stage of PGA Tour Qualifying -- one of 12 being played around the country -- would ever describe this tournament that way. But one guy sure made it appear that way many years ago.
Ty Tryon breezed through qualifying during a period that must seem like a lifetime ago, even for someone who is just 24. He won at his first-stage site in 2001 and advanced through two more highly pressurized qualifying tournaments to earn his PGA Tour card.
He was 17 at the time, the youngest golfer ever to qualify for the PGA Tour. His performance even forced a rule change that required members to be 18.
Seven years later, with his wife, Hannah, and 2-year-old son, Tyson, tagging along while brother J.T. caddies for him, the process seems a whole lot tougher. The onetime phenom has had no PGA Tour status since 2003. He's bounced around golf's minor leagues, searching for the game that brought him fame and endorsements as a teenager.
Tryon all but saw his chances to advance to the second stage get blown away in the wind Thursday at Crandon Golf Club. A disastrous third-round 87 pushed him to the bottom of the field and well outside the top 23 and ties. He had begun the day squarely on the bubble after opening with scores of 74-72 and now stands in 71st place out of 80 competitors through 54 holes.
"Everything to be said is up on the scoreboard," Tryon said afterward.
And that sums up his plight of the past few years. Tryon continues to carry a big Callaway bag, a reminder of the reported seven-figure endorsement deal no longer in place. He is far removed from those days.
"I'm trying to get the ball in the hole still," he said earlier in the week. "Trying to find my formula. I'm trying to make the complicated simple again. I think it got really complicated for me. I need to make it simple.
"When I was 17, I had all these people doing things for me, and I was just playing golf. It was simple. Now it's just me and my family. I definitely will appreciate it a lot more when I do well again. When I get in tournaments, I know I'm a lot happier to be there. Glad to be out there practicing all day. I don't take it for granted."
"I don't think I wanted to be there for a while. I think I got burned out on the Nationwide Tour. I had just too many times where I was playing well and would blow up, and then it became a habit."
William Tryon IV was nicknamed Ty by his father after Chevy Chase's character Ty Webb in the movie "Caddyshack." His family moved to Orlando when he was young, and Tryon began working with noted instructor David Leadbetter at age 7.
Less than 10 years later, he stunned the golf world when, at age 16, he became the youngest player to make a cut in a PGA Tour event since 1957, when he tied for 39th at the 2001 Honda Classic. During the final round, he shot 68 while playing alongside Tom Lehman.
"His game is so mature," Lehman had said then. "He has so much experience already. He has more experience at this point than I probably had at 25. … He has so much poise. He's way, way beyond his years."
So much so that Tryon was on a fast track to professional golf. Although Tryon was just a junior in high school, he had a swing coach and a sports psychologist. Later that year, he led after the first round of the B.C. Open and had another respectable finish that pushed him to turn pro.
But he needed to endure all three stages of PGA Tour Qualifying, including the grueling 90-hole, six-day finals. Tryon was one of only seven players who made it through all three stages that year, and he shot a final-round 66 to tie for 23rd and secure his card for the 2002 season.
Through those 14 rounds, he broke par 11 times and was 36-under for 252 holes. But did he understand what was really going on?
"There was no way I could have known," Tryon said. "I just breezed through it. I was hitting it well. I was playing very, very, well. I had nothing to lose. I knew if I didn't get through, I had an exemption to go overseas, and I was looking forward to what I was doing.
"Now, if I don't get through, I'm going to Monday qualifiers. So it does put on a lot of pressure."
Tryon's PGA Tour career didn't amount to much. In 2002, he came down with tonsillitis and mononucleosis, curtailing his first year on the PGA Tour. He was given a major medical extension for 2003 but was unable to earn enough money to keep his card, making just four cuts in 17 starts.
A year later, he played a full Nationwide Tour schedule, but he has not had full status since. In 2005, he won his first and only professional event on the Hooters Tour. But since then, he has struggled to find any form.
But Tryon is not going through the motions. He recently hooked up with his old trainer, has been able to find some sponsorship with the owner of the Waste Management Company, and went to the extraordinary lengths of driving across the country to try to Monday qualify for Nationwide Tour events. He made it into just three of 13, making only one cut.
Even if he were to miraculously make it to the second stage of qualifying, he still would need to advance to the finals to have any kind of status in 2009 on even the Nationwide Tour. A top-25 finish at the finals would give him his PGA Tour card.
"I just want to get back out there," Tryon said. "For a while, I don't know if in my heart I wanted to be there. But this has been a big step, and it sort of has lighted a fire. … The trick is to get out there again and try to be the best you can be. Can't worry about everybody else. That's the nature of golf. It's an individual game, and you have to play your own game."
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.