Byrd Brothers Make Formidable Team At Mid-Amateur
PGA Tour Player Flies In To Caddie For Sibling
By David Shefter, USGA
River Hills, Wis. – For many PGA Tour pros, Mondays represent a day of rest, a chance to get away from the rigors of competition. A few do corporate outings, others might sneak in a practice round at the next stop. Some hit the fitness center or spend quality time with their family.
Jonathan Byrd decided to don shorts and a caddie bib and dodge rain drops at Milwaukee Country Club.
Twenty-four hours removed from his final round at the BMW Championship, the third leg of the four-event FedEx Cup playoffs, the 30-year-old grabbed a flight from St. Louis and was on site Monday morning to caddie for his older brother, Jordan, in the first round of match play at the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur.
While Jonathan’s first foray into bag toting had some anxious moments – twice he forgot to bring Jordan’s putter to the green – the duo had a successful debut, as the 32-year-old from Clemson, S.C., registered a 3-and-2 victory over Californian Ron Ewing.
“It’s huge,” said Jonathan when asked what caddieing for Jordan means to him. “I want him to do well. To play well in a tournament like this it means a lot to him and means a lot to me. I came because I wanted to hang out with my brother and watch some golf.”
Right now, being on the golf course might be the best therapy for the brothers. Their father, Jim, is home in Columbia, S.C., suffering through a cancer relapse.
A year ago, Jim flew to Bandon Dunes to caddie for Jordan and Byrd advanced to the quarterfinals, which got him exempt for the 2008 championship. Two days after Jordan was eliminated, Jim had a seizure and doctors found a brain tumor that was removed. For nine months, he was cancer free, but two weeks ago a brain tumor showed up during a routine MRI (magnetic resonance image).
“I know he’s home watching on the computer,” said Jordan. “I thought about that a couple of times today. We were probably getting his blood pressure up there coming in.”
Jordan built a 4-up lead at the par-3 12th hole by draining a 20-footer for par after finding a greenside bunker, but saw that advantage trimmed in half following consecutive wayward drives at holes 13 and 14. Fortunately for Byrd, his opponent missed a 15-foot birdie putt to win the 15th hole, and then sealed his fate by finding the trees off the tee at 16. Byrd was able to win the hole with a bogey-5.
That’s why, despite the increasing intensity of the rain showers, Jordan elected to play holes 17 and 18, hoping to figure out his swing.
“I knocked it on the green at 17 (par 3) and hit a good drive at 18,” said Jordan. “I had three good swings after several bad ones. My upper body was slowing down through the ball. I was just kind of hanging back.”
Speaking of hanging back, it’s rare that Jordan and Jonathan find time to hang out. With the college season and recruiting, Jordan spends 20 weeks a year on the road. This year, Jonathan has played 25 PGA Tour events and still has a few more scheduled on the upcoming Fall Series. The two try to get together in the fall for a Clemson football game (Jonathan graduated from Clemson in 2000 and Jordan, a 1998 Furman grad, is entering his fourth year as an assistant men’s golf coach for the Tigers).
But with Jonathan currently on a three-weak hiatus – he failed to qualify for the Tour Championship – and Jordan competing in a USGA championship a short plane ride from his brother’s last event, the ideal situation presented itself. Initially Jonathan, whose wife Amanda is seven months pregnant with the couple’s second child, was only going to watch, but Jordan insisted he go a step further. After all, Jordan has caddied three times on the PGA Tour for Jonathan, including this year in Memphis. He even went 36 on Sunday a few years ago at the now-defunct International in Castle Rock, Colo. “I got a nose bleed after 27 holes,” recalled Jordan.
The three caddie axioms are show up, shut up and keep up. Jonathan did well with the first part, but part three was a challenge. With Jordan and Ewing each finding several of MCC’s bunkers – often on the same hole – Jonathan not only found himself raking the sand for Jordan, but also for Ewing, who did not have a caddie.
“It just took him forever,” said Jordan. “He’s a perfectionist. The bunker had to be perfect. I just wanted him to speed up a bit. But he had a lot of work to do with the rain and me hitting the ball in the bunker every hole and in some strange spots.”
Jonathan also was slightly handicapped in that he didn’t know the nuances of the course. For the practice rounds and stroke play, Jordan used a local caddie, so Jonathan was learning everything on the job. Things should be a bit smoother for Tuesday’s second-round match against Clemson graduate Steve White.
“I’m sure I messed him up three or four times,” said Jonathan, a 1999 USA Walker Cupper who finished 55th in the FedEx Cup race with $1,027,698 in season earnings, including a fourth at the AT&T Classic. “I was trying to catch up and get the yardage. I told [Jordan] to slow down and let me catch up. There were two holes where I went to get the flag and he’s standing there with a wedge going, ‘Where’s my putter?’ Twice I had to go back and get his putter. But he didn’t ride me too hard. He’s very gracious.”
Of course, Jordan wrote on his media bio sheet that he was going to load his golf bag with bricks to make the job tougher for his brother. But for a player used to lugging around a large staff bag, Jonathan said he could put barbells in Jordan’s carry bag and it would still weigh less.
“As long as he keeps winning,” said Jonathan, “the bag keeps getting lighter and lighter and lighter.”
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.