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Men’s Golfer Named IPTAY Athlete Of The Year

Aug. 30, 1999

by Tim Bourret

Any Clemson coach in any sport looking for an example of the model student-athlete, need not go back in history. They just have to go to the Walker Course and locate current Clemson senior golfer Jonathan Byrd. A review of his career in general, and his 1998-99 academic year in particular, tells us that Byrd has everything a coach wants in a student-athlete.

Last year, Byrd, now a senior on Clemson’s preseason number-one ranked golf team, became just the seventh athlete in school history to earn All-America honors on the field of play and in the classroom. He was just the fourth student-athlete to achieve first-team status in both areas in the same year.

Just think about that, the fourth athlete out of 104 years of Clemson athletics, hundreds of team seasons and thousands of athletes. On the course, he was a first-team All-American and led Clemson in stroke average with a 72.10 figure, the fourth best in Clemson history. In the classroom he earned a 3.6 in marketing, one of nine members of Larry Penley’s golf team to make the ACC academic honor roll. Byrd was chosen first-team Academic All-American by the Golf Coaches Association and by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

For his accomplishments, Byrd has been selected as Clemson’s IPTAY Athlete of the Year, an award that will be announce today, but will be presented at the Florida State game on October 23. It will be presented by former Executive Secretary of IPTAY Gene Willimon and his wife Lou.

“Jonathan Byrd is a person who continually does the right things,” said Head Coach Larry Penley. He has good habits in life and in golf, habits that are hard to teach. Jonathan is the ultimate competitor with tremendous focus and that helps him on the golf course and in the classroom.”

Byrd’s season began on a high point. In 1998-99 he was the elder statesman on a Clemson golf team that had just lost All-Americans Charles Warren and Joey Maxon to graduation. That meant Byrd had to step up. All he did was win the first tournament of the fall, The Ridges in Johnson City, TN, against one of the top fields in the country. His performance helped Clemson to the team title and eventually a number-one ranking.

Byrd’s fall season was a list of single digits when it came to finishes. His string of five straight top 10s in the fall was the longest streak of its kind in Clemson history. He finished the year in the top 10 in the individual national rankings published by Mastercard and Sagarin. Addtionally, he ranked in the top 20 in the nation in seven different statistical categories according to Golfstat.

Now Byrd enters his senior year ranked third in school history in rounds in the 60s, fourth in career stroke average and fourth in top 10 finishes. Combined with his academic performances, a duplication of last year’s accomplishments will someday make him a strong candidate for the Clemson Ring of Honor.

“It has been fun to watch his career,” said Penley. “Even when he was a freshman and sophomore, playing with Richard Coughlan, Charles Warren and Joey Maxon, you could tell he was going to be a leader.” Byrd combined with the aforementioned players to lead Clemson to a number-three national finish in 1997, then a number-two rating in 1998. With Clemson’s eighth-place finish last year, Byrd will have a chance to become the first athlete in over 20 years to be a starter on four top 10 teams.

“Our entire year will be geared toward that one week in Alabama in June,” said Byrd who hopes to finish his career at Clemson with a National Championship at the Grand National Course in Auburn, AL. “We will have intermediate goals along the way, but we will be pointing towards the NCAA Tournament.

“I learned a lot from Charles Warren (former Clemson National Champion on the PGA Tour this year) , he helped me a lot when I was young. He was a great communicator and I want to lead as he did. The young players on our team won’t know what to expect when they get into the bigger college tournaments. It will be my job to get them more relaxed, yet ready for the competition. “

While Byrd will receive this award for his accomplishments at Clemson, he has certainly continued to represent the University with distinction this summer. It all started in June when he was selected to the Palmer Cup, a team competition between the United States and Great Britain/Ireland. Byrd had a perfect 4-0 record in his matches, leading the United States to the team victory.

Next, he won the Northeast Amateur in Massachusetts, shooting rounds of 70-64-71-69 to win by seven shots. His 64 in the second round was the lowest tournament round ever. “The experience at the Palmer Cup and the Northeast Amateur got my confidence up and made the Walker Cup berth a realistic goal.” Later he won the Carolinas Amateur, capturing the 36-hole match play final with a 6-and-4 victory over Steve Wright. He finished tied for first before losing in a playoff at the Southern Amateur and at the Porter Cup.

An ability to stay focused, as Penley stated earlier, has had a lot to do with his success. In golf, that translates to to getting up and down around the greens. At the Northeast Amateur he missed the greens on 30 of the 72 holes, but got up and down for par 25 times.

“That is one of the reasons for his success,” said Penley. “Even when he isn’t striking the ball well, he can still score because he has that focus, that mental toughness around the greens. He has always had a knack for scoring, that has been a constant with him.”

With his summer of success, Byrd has been chosen to the United States Walker Cup team, the amateur version of the Ryder Cup. He will compete for the United States in Scotland September 11-12. It is probably the highest honor, or highest team selection an amateur can receive. He will be just the third Clemson golfer in history to play in the event, joining former All-Americans Kevin Johnson (1989) and Richard Coughlan (1997).

“The Walker Cup means everything,” said Byrd. “You strive to win the US Amateur or make the Walker Cup team if you are an amateur player.” Byrd will realize that dream September 11-12 and he hopes it is the beginning of a year full of lifelong dreams.

Clemson Athletic/Academic Doubles (Clemson athletes who have been first, second or third team All-American on and off the field in the same year)

Year      Player             Sport          Field  Acad1959-60   Lou Cordileone     Football        1st   1st1978-79   Steve Fuller       Football        3rd   1st1985-86   Tina Krebs         Women's Track   1st   2nd1986-87   Ingelise Driehuis  Women's Tennis  1st   1st1988-89   Dov Kremer         Men's Track     1st   1st1989-90   Oswald Drawdy      Golf            3rd   1st1998-99   Jonathan Byrd      Golf            1st   1st