Mastery Sunday – Jackpot!

Four weeks ago, I wrote about Jonathan Byrd; he was on the outside looking in. He was 130th on the money list needing to be at 125th to keep his PGA Tour card for next year. Coming into this week’s, Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open played at the TPC Summerlin, in Las Vegas, he had managed to work his way up to 117th. Inside the number, but not real comfortably inside the number. 

Today, he has no worries for two years, winning a three-way playoff with last year’s winner, Martin Laird, and rookie, Cameron Percy. 

Remember how I told you in last weekend’s recounting of Rocco Mediate’s victory in the Open, that the hole-in-one was the rarest of feats? I might have been wrong. Byrd won on the fourth playoff hole with an improbable 204-yard hole-in-one to win a career saving jackpot, $774,000 and the two-year exemption that went with it. 

The whole affair was improbable. At one point late in yesterday’s round, there were six guys tied for the lead. But after 18 holes, that was pared down to the final three. 

The playoff began on 18, then went to 17 and then back to 18 again. After they finished the third playoff hole it was sliding up against dark. So the Tour official gave them the option of going back to the par-3 17th for one last hole or calling it a day and coming back Monday morning to finish up. 

Byrd said he’d leave it up to the other two. The other two briefly conferred and then decided to continue. Martin Laird had a strong incentive to do so because he had to catch a flight to Malaysia and a Monday finish would have complicated his getaway. 

The problem with descending darkness isn’t that you can’t see the ball, it’s that you can’t see the break on the greens. So as they were heading off the green to the golf carts for the ride over to 17 again, Laird confirmed with the official that they still had the option of discontinuing if they got to the green and there wasn’t enough light. The official confirmed it. 

So the playoff dynamic became “take-a-shot-and-take-a-look.” And Byrd, first on the tee, made it look easy. The ball landed just short of the pin and rolled straight to Nirvana. It was so dark at that point, they couldn’t see that the ball had gone in and had to rely on the few shouts from the green. 

As interesting to me was what Laird and Percy did trying to match him. The pin was in the middle of the green and set left near the pond. So during regulation play, the smart shot was to aim right of the pin and a smidge short and hope that the right-to-left slope of the green would carry the ball down near the pin. And truth be told, it didn’t matter if it got pin high or not, the only thing that mattered was not hitting it into the water. 

But now, you not only had to hit a shot at the pin, you also had to hit a shot that would get to the pin. Tour players rarely get a target that is the precise distance they know they hit a particular club; they’re almost always between clubs. So the question became, “Do I take too much club and hit it soft or do I take less club and hit it hard?” All things being equal, the choice is normally to hit the lesser club harder because that’s an aggressive swing requiring “just a little more,” while the take-something-off swing can be manipulated too much, decelerate against your instincts and lead to a clubface pointed the wrooong way. 

But it also works the other way. If you go after it too much rather that just-a-little-more, you can muscle it and yank it left into the water. 

From the results, it looked like Laird yanked his left with too little club and Percy flipped it long, left with too much. 

And Jonathan Byrd thought, “That’s golf. On average, it’s a pretty good game.”

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