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Father’s lessons lead Marcus Byrd to APGA win at Torrey Pines

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Five-stroke victory at APGA Farmers Insurance Invitational, earns The Honda Classic berth

    Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin

    Marcus Byrd’s winning birdie on 36th hole at APGA Farmers

    LA JOLLA, Calif. – It’s a message dear to Marcus Byrd’s heart, and he sees it every time he opens his yardage book.

    “Just smile.”

    A swing thought for life, preached by Byrd’s late father, Larry Byrd, Sr., who first took him to the driving range at age 3.

    At brutish Torrey Pines, that advice comes in handy.

    Byrd handled the conditions admirably at the two-day APGA Tour Farmers Insurance Invitational, winning by five strokes to earn $30,000 and a spot in next month’s The Honda Classic. It also means TOUR starts in back-to-back weeks, as he recently received the Charlie Sifford Memorial Exemption into The Genesis Invitational.

    Byrd followed an opening-round 73 at Torrey North -- played simultaneously with the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey South – with a final-round 75 on Sunday at Torrey South. Byrd finished 4-over total, five strokes clear of Joey Stills.

    Byrd spent three days at Riviera last week upon learning the news of his Genesis invite, then arrived at Torrey Pines with confidence built in the belief that his length off the tee sets up well for Torrey’s demands. He carded the day’s low score on both Saturday and Sunday to comfortably secure his third APGA Tour title.

    The Atlanta-area resident missed the cut in his TOUR debut at last year’s Corales Puntacana Championship but now has two chances to make amends. This weekend’s experience at the top of the leaderboard in a televised event, winning at Torrey South a day after Max Homa did the same, won’t hurt either.

    “We all want to get to the PGA TOUR,” Byrd said after signing his scorecard Sunday evening. “Every player here has the game to, and we strive every day to do that. Just being here, being able to test our game … it’s just an incredible feeling. All the hard work paying off from just a little kid to now. I’m looking forward to these two opportunities, looking forward to learning as much as I can, improving as much as I can between them.”

    Torrey has a rich history as a PGA TOUR host venue since 1968, in addition to the 2008 and 2021 U.S. Opens won by Tiger Woods and Jon Rahm respectively.

    This marks the second iteration of the APGA stop at Torrey Pines, with Byrd adding to the Torrey heritage with several memorable shots including back-to-back closing birdies on 17 and 18 Sunday.

    His most memorable shot came Sunday at the signature 621-yard, par-5 13th, the hole where Max Homa was mic’d up in Friday’s third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, en route to his sixth PGA TOUR title. Playing from the right rough, Byrd hoisted a long iron that landed on the front fringe and released to approximately 30 feet. He two-putted for birdie to assume a four-shot lead, and he kept the field at a distance from there.

    “My length, I would say that was definitely beneficial,” Byrd said of his key to victory at Torrey. “A lot of guys were probably having long irons out of the rough; I was having wedges and short irons. It’s all about placement.

    “I didn't hit my driver very well this week, but I was able to get far enough down there where I can hit that second shot up by the green or on the green and just try and use that to my advantage with my length.”

    Byrd’s distance advantage is even more impressive considering he suffered a severe back injury in a car crash in summer 2018, prior to his senior year at Middle Tennessee State. He didn’t make a full swing for eight months, including the first four or five months where he didn’t touch a club. Extensive physical therapy allowed him to regain strength and return to playing shape; after sitting out the fall season as a senior, he averaged 71.5 in the spring season and was named Conference USA Golfer of the Year.

    Byrd has quickly established himself one of the premier players on the APGA circuit, which was established in 2010 with the mission to bring greater diversity to the game of golf. He has drawn inspiration from the recent success of APGA alums like Korn Ferry Tour pro Willie Mack III and PGA TOUR Champions pro Tim O’Neal, who each earned status on their respective circuit via Q-School last fall.

    Byrd aims to follow in their footsteps, and next month he’ll have two chances to make strides toward that goal. From what his fellow APGA pros can gather, he’ll be ready.

    “I was really impressed the way he hit the ball out of the rough,” said his Sunday playing partner Stills, who earned a career-high $17,000 for his runner-up finish, which he’ll put toward chasing PGA TOUR Latinoamerica Monday qualifiers this spring (he holds conditional status on the circuit).

    “He hit a lot of good drives of course, but the way he controlled it out of the rough was different than what I’m used to, and how well he was making the putts coming down the stretch. He had a couple bogey putts from 6 feet he made and a couple 10-footers for par, just drained them. He kept it really level-headed … learned some pointers from him that I’ll put in my book.”

    Keeping it level-headed and smiling. It’s a good recipe to handle Torrey Pines, and for preparing to navigate next month’s challenges at Riviera CC and PGA National, also two of the TOUR’s most demanding layouts.

    Byrd’s dad passed away in 2020, shortly after he began his professional career. On the opening tee at each tournament, he points to the sky in memory. His dad would be proud of his performance at Torrey Pines, but more importantly of the consistent smile.

    “Never put your head down; never have a frown on your face,” Byrd said of his dad’s lessons. “it’s just one of those things that’s very simple, but he made sure he made it clear.

    “I think about him every time I open up my yardage book … It kind of keeps me away from some of the mental blocks that I might have on the golf course. I understand that it's bigger than me, it's about my family, it's about people who paved the way for me to have this opportunity to be here.”

    Byrd has earned more opportunities for himself, as well.

    Kevin Prise is an associate editor for PGATOUR.COM. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.