Jonathan Byrd finds old form at Palmetto Championship at Congaree
Inspired by Cink and Mickelson, five-time PGA TOUR winner opens with solid 68
June 10, 2021
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Jonathan Byrd opened up the Palmetto Championship at Congaree with a 3-under 68. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
RIDGELAND, S.C. – What ever happened to Jonathan Byrd?
Nothing. Everything. Somewhere in between. He lost his father, Jim, to brain cancer in 2009, and his caddie, Chuck Hoersch, to pancreatic cancer in 2012. He’s 840th in the world ranking.
But Byrd, 43, has kept at it, even dropping down a level if needed, as when he won the 2017 Korn Ferry Tour Championship. His status as a past champion who finished out of the FedExCup top 150 last season means he never knows where he’s going to get in.
“You play one week, wait four weeks, play one week, wait two weeks,” he said after carding a 3-under 68 in the first round of the Palmetto Championship at Congaree on Thursday, which had him in the top 10 after the morning wave. “It’s just kind of hard to get in a rhythm.
“Then when you finally get to the summer,” he continued, “the pressure starts building because you’ve got to do something. I’ve been here before.”
It’s been a great PGA TOUR season for the super-veterans, what with Stewart Cink, 48, winning twice and Phil Mickelson, nearly 51, capturing the PGA Championship. But Byrd is not a super-veteran. He’s closer in age to Sergio Garcia, who also won earlier this season.
A five-time TOUR winner, most recently at the 2011 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Byrd plays out of Sea Island, Georgia, where he regularly tests his game against pros like Josh Teater and Greyson Sigg.
He stays young with matches against his 14-year-old son, Jackson, no strokes given. They made the two-hour drive from St. Simons to Congaree two weeks ago, played in three hours. The course was dry, brown and fiery, and despite being regularly outdriven by 20 yards, Dad won.
He may not be able to do so for much longer.
“I don’t want to talk him up too much because it adds too much pressure, but he’s way better than I was at 14,” he said of Jackson, who has won multiple times on the Southeastern Junior Golf Tour. “It’s not even close. He’s as good as I was when I was 20.”
Jonathan, though, has the wily skills of a TOUR veteran, and the pedigree of a winner. His walk-off ace in a playoff at the 2010 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open remains one of the most unforgettable shots on TOUR in the last two decades. On Thursday, he made 125 feet of putts on the relatively unknown greens at Congaree – including a 60-footer for birdie at the eighth hole.
“I wasn’t that sharp today; I hit a couple poor tee shots and got a couple good breaks,” he said.
He knows what his A game looks like. He just doesn’t always know where he’ll get to play. He says he’s in the field for the John Deere Classic, Barbasol Championship, and Barracuda Championship, and is hopeful he’ll get into the Rocket Mortgage Classic and 3M Open.
“That would give me like six events,” he said, “which would be great.”
As for the rest of the summer, who knows? He’s trying to be less technical and let the bad shots slide by without finding every fault with each one of them. He’s had fun watching the success of his fellow 40-somethings, even Padraig Harrington, 49, finishing T4 at the PGA Championship.
He continues to keep tabs on Jackson’s game and monitor the golf team at Clemson, his alma mater and where his older brother, Jordan, will soon move from assistant to head coach. With maturity comes the realization that not everything is about him. At the same time golf demands a slavish dedication to craft, and hours spent toiling alone and in anonymity.
And so Byrd keeps working at it, ever hopeful that the results will come the way they did for Cink and Mickelson, even as they remain hidden like a spring bulb. His results so far this season: 10 starts, five made cuts, the best a T28 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship last fall. That was also the site of his last top-10 finish, a fourth in 2019.
“We’re still here,” Byrd said.
He’ll give it another shot Friday.