Consistency, simplicity carry Jonathan Byrd to the top of his game

Former Clemson golfer 'overwhelmed, grateful' after back-to-back PGA Tour victories

Jonathan Byrd holds up his trophy on the 18th green after winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions golf tournament in Kapalua, Hawaii on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011. Byrd defeated Robert Garrigus on the second hole of a playoff to win the tournament. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Jonathan Byrd holds up his trophy on the 18th green after winning the Hyundai Tournament of Champions golf tournament in Kapalua, Hawaii on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011. Byrd defeated Robert Garrigus on the second hole of a playoff to win the tournament. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Jonathan Byrd has a pretty good feel for what got him here – sitting on top of the golf world, back-to-back PGA Tour victories in hand, and coming off his most noteworthy and visible triumph as a professional.

He might need a bit of help with what comes next.

“I've got to call Mo (Dr. Morris Pickens) and figure out what I should be thinking now,” said Byrd of the innovative sports psychologist he credits with helping him focus his game. “I thought about that last night in my head. I thought, what if I won this tournament? You know, you win the first tournament, how do you go win the Sony (Open)? I don't know.

“I guess the best thing is just not change anything. Keep enjoying playing. I'm playing next week and then I've got two weeks off at home and then I come back out for Phoenix. I'm not going to change anything. I'm just going to keep playing.”

Byrd's consistent, keep-doing-the-right-thing approach to the game was severely tested in the fall as he scrambled to keep his PGA Tour card.

As he walked to the tee-box for his fourth playoff hole at Las Vegas in the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital Open in late-October, Byrd stood 130th on the PGA money list – just outside the 125-place cutoff for card renewal.

With a single swing, he changed his season – and perhaps his career.

Jonathan Byrd  holds his trophy after winning the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open golf tournament at TPC Summerlin on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, in Las Vegas with a hole-in-one on the fourth playoff hole. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

Jonathan Byrd holds his trophy after winning the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open golf tournament at TPC Summerlin on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010, in Las Vegas with a hole-in-one on the fourth playoff hole. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

He launched his tee-shot on the par-three into the darkening desert sky, and that's last he saw of his ball, which landed about 10 feet short of the hole and rolled into the cup like a putt.

It was too dark for Byrd to see history made.

“Did that go in?” he asked his caddy.

It did – the first walk-off hole-in-one winner in PGA Tour history.

The victory – the fourth of his career - pushed Byrd safely into the top-125 and earned him a two-year tour exemption, as well as a place in the kickoff event for the 2011 PGA season – the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Maui.

Although he didn't repeat his odds-defying ace winner, Byrd picked up pretty much exactly where he left off – winning the Tournament of Champions in a playoff.

“I'm pretty overwhelmed, probably, is the best word to describe it,” said Byrd during the post-tournament press conference Sunday evening. “I can't sit here and not think about where I was towards the end of the season last year, fighting for my card...and was content with that, you know, and just kind of fighting to play well and finding joy in that process, too...

“Then I win my last tournament of the year, and win it in that fashion, and then get to come to Maui to play in this event, and then feel good coming into here, and work hard in the off season and get back in contention and find myself in another playoff and win another tournament. I'm just thankful, I'm overwhelmed, I'm grateful - all of the above.”

Byrd said success has come primarily through keeping things simple and consistent, with one notable change.

“I just had something hit me - I started playing with no glove at Canada last year, and I just felt like I needed some kind of trick, something to transfer from my eye down to my hands for my ball striking to make it just a little bit better and just to have a little more feel,” Byrd said. “I started playing without a glove and I started waggling the club. I really feel like that's one thing that's helped me have a little more feel in my game and it's helped me be a little more consistent.

Jonathan Byrd waves on the 18th green during the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions golf tournament in Kapalua, Hawaii on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011. Byrd won the tournament on the second playoff hole against Robert Garrigus. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Jonathan Byrd waves on the 18th green during the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions golf tournament in Kapalua, Hawaii on Sunday, Jan. 9, 2011. Byrd won the tournament on the second playoff hole against Robert Garrigus. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

“And then the attitude. I think you get to a point where you kind of just have a gut-check. You get to a point where you might lose your card, which is where I was last year, and it forces you to find a way to play well.”

After his victory on Sunday, Byrd gave credit where he said credit is due.

“I have to say God's blessing, first,” Byrd said. “Every good and perfect thing comes from Him, good and bad. It all comes in different packages. So I have to give that credit where its due.

“And perseverance. I've worked hard. I've got a great team with my caddie, Adam (Hayes), and Morris Pickens, who has helped Zach (Johnson) and Stewart (Cink) and Lucas Glover all win majors. So we have done some good work...Mike Bender, Randy Myers, Keith Kleven and obviously my wife, just kind of not changing anything, kind of keep working at it, keep plugging. And I just kind of kept doing that at the end of the year and it just paid off.

“It's strange how if you don't change anything, keep it simple and keep playing and waiting for your stretches, while you're playing tournaments through the season, it's amazing how things starting to go your way and you get a few breaks and you find yourself in contention. That's kind of just how it happened. It's not real complicated.”

Given his recent success, Byrd knows he's going to be looked at a little differently, by fans and competitors alike.

His goal is to keep things the same, beginning with the Sony Open, which starts today at Honolulu.

“The goal for (last) week was for it to come down to the last nine holes and have a chance to win,” Byrd said. “To go into the Sony, I'm going to have to tighten up my driver a little bit, because that's going to be tough – it's a lot tighter golf course. So I'm going to work on that, and try to get into contention come Sunday there. And just take it one tournament at a time.”

He describes his goals as process-oriented.

“I didn't really have any result goals,” Byrd said. “My team and I, we broke it down to three things. I had to get better in my short putting, inside five feet. That was first and foremost for me to play well. And secondly was to hit my wedges closer, so I worked hard on my wedge this is off season.

“The best thing I'm doing in my game right now is simplifying things. I complicate things way too much, trying to be perfect, and that's been my biggest barrier over my career. And I finally got to the point, I don't know what it is, maybe the other way just hasn't worked; and now I'm just kind of simplifying things and just really enjoying playing. I'm having more fun.”

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Comments » 1

hard2batigertx writes:

I would like to take time away from the CU Football merry-go-round, to just say congrats to J-Byrd, who is representing the Tiger faithful admirably, and with class. The Clemson Golf Program continues to carry the "baton" for post graduation athletics at CU. L.Penley needs a raise, and state of the art facilitites, plus any/all assets and funds that will allow him to continue producing dividends & results for Tiger athletics. The college golf sports segment is nationally, a VERY competitive and prestigous sports sector, with an abundance of positive PR, influence & recognition for some outstanding collegiate programs.

May all the CU golfers enjoy a prosperous, successful & sub-par 2011, and wear those orange/white colors proudly TH-SU on the various tours!

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