If you’re searching for many of the area’s top touring professionals this winter and spring, look south.
Zack Byrd of Murrells Inlet and Myrtle Beach residents Roberto Diaz and Yoshio Yamamoto will be beginning their 2014 seasons in earnest next week in Colombia in the 2014 season-opening event of the PGA Tour’s LatinoAmerica NEC Series.
They are prepared to spend much of the next three months in South America, Central America and Mexico on the LatinoAmerica Tour, one of the Web.com Tour’s three feeder circuits, along with those in Canada and China. It features 16 events with $150,000 purses – eight from Feb. 19-May 25 and another eight from Oct. 2-Dec. 7.
Diaz, who along with Yamamoto trains and plays out of the Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy at Barefoot Resort, had hoped to begin his 2014 season this week in the Web.com Tour’s season-opening $750,000 Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship at Bogota Country Club.
Based on his tie for 56th in the Web.com Tour Qualifying Tournament Finals in December, Diaz and his instructor Scott Shobe were optimistic he’d be in the field of the Web.com Tour’s first four events in Colombia, Chile, Brazil and Panama.
But it appears his non-exempt status may place him too far down the alternate lists in each event, and he doesn’t expect to get into a Web.com tournament based on his status as No. 18 among non-exempt players until the sixth event of the season in Leon, Guanajuato, Mexico from April 10-13.
“My goal if I play the LatinoAmerica Tour is to win a tournament, and my goal on the Web.com Tour is to finish in the top 75 on the money list,” Diaz said.
If Diaz can play well in his limited early-season opportunities, he can solidify his place on the Web.com Tour through its status reshuffles. He might be eligible to improve his status in a reshuffle after the eighth tournament.
The top 75 on the regular-season money list are guaranteed a spot in the Web.com Tour playoffs – through which 50 PGA Tour cards for the 2014-15 season will be awarded – as well as exempt status on the 2015 Web.com Tour.
Diaz retained exempt status on the LatinoAmerica Tour by finishing inside the top 60 on the money list in 10 events last year, and expects to play in at least a few of that tour’s early-season events.
“If I feel like I’m playing well I might try to Monday qualify for a couple Web.com events,” he said. “With the schedule like it is this year you never know, you can have two good weeks and make the year.”
Diaz is affected by the ability of players with PGA Tour status to drop down into Web.com Tour fields, and that in turn affects Byrd’s ability to get into LatinoAmerica events because it pushes players above him in conditional Web.com status down to the LatinoAmerica Tour.
Ten players with Web.com status can drop into each LatinoAmerica event, and Byrd’s tie for 141st in the Web.com Q-School finals has him well down the conditional status list. He was inside the top 10 Monday for next week’s event in Bucaramanga, Colombia, though players have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to register.
“It looks pretty good that I’ll get in but something could happen in the next couple days,” Byrd said.
Byrd expects to play the next three LatinoAmerica events in Guadalajara, Mexico; Antigua, Guatemala and Cancun, Mexico, through April 6, then skip events in Argentina and Uruguay to attempt to Monday qualify for Web.com Tour events in Midlands, Texas and Valdosta, Ga., before returning to Latin America for May events in the Dominican Republic and Panama.
Then the PGA Tour Canada’s 12-event series begins. It finishes in mid-September, just before LatinoAmerica picks back up for its final eight events.
“I’m probably going to stick with Latin America for now,” Byrd said, “… but if I can get the money and afford it, I could play two full seasons. Obviously I want to get into the reshuffle on the Web.com, that’s the first goal.”
A fundraiser at Wachesaw Plantation prior to the Q-School final will fund the first four LatinoAmerica events for Byrd. “They helped out a ton and it’s enough to get me started this year,” he said. “After that I’ll need someone to step up or I’ll need to win.”
Byrd just returned from three events in 10 days in Florida and won a Space Coast Tour event by a stroke over traveling companion Josh Jackson, a former Coastal Carolina player and area resident who has moved back to Edgefield in the hopes of raising enough money to Monday qualify on the LatinoAmerica Tour.
Byrd will have experienced caddie Chris Schwertz, who works at Sage Valley Country Club, with him next week and expects to have him for much of the year.
Byrd considered playing on PGA Tour China because he expected his status to easily get him into the $200,000 events, but he hoped to play in a few events then fly home for at least a couple weeks, and he considered the schedule too erratic when it was released two weeks ago.
“I was ready to go,” Byrd said. “When I started looking into it, it wasn’t as good as advertised. I would basically have to move over there. I would have needed a visa and taxes are higher.”
Yamamoto plans to play the LatinoAmerica schedule and has an outside chance to get into next week’s field based on conditional status earned through his tie for 36th last month in a LatinoAmerica Q-School event in Lima, Peru, and intends to Monday qualify if he’s not already in. At least 12 players qualify each Monday in Latin America, which is often a high percentage of the players in the qualifiers.
Patrick Lundy of Little River and Little River native Sam Lyons entered Asian Tour Q-School in Thailand but were unable to advance from the first stage to the final stage on Feb. 1.
Lundy said he will rejoin the Grand Strand-headquartered NGA Tour Pro Series and attempt Web.com Monday Qualifiers throughout the year. Lyons considered remaining overseas to play on the Asian Developmental Tour, but he got food poisoning and opted to return to Asheville, N.C., where he moved last year. “I probably had to give it a little more time to get used to it,” Lyons texted.
Lyons hopes to continue playing but needs funding, and would like to begin instructing if his playing career fizzles. “I thought [the Asian Tour] was the best chance to advance to the next level with all of the changes for qualifying in the states,” Lyons said. “… I definitely don’t want to stop playing but playing an event every few months doesn’t give me the best chance to compete against guys playing week in and week out, so hopefully something turns up soon.”
Derek Watson of Murrells Inlet hasn’t set a schedule for 2014, but anticipates “jumping around and playing everything that I can,” which includes the NGA Tour, eGolf Tour, Hopkins Tour in Georgia and Monday qualifiers on the PGA and Web.com tours.
Schroder on mend
Byrd is practicing this week at the Steve Dresser Academy at True Blue Plantation without the watchful eyes of his instructor, Mike Schroder.
Schroder had surgery on Jan. 21 to remove what remained of a cancerous tumor in his esophagus following six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, and doctors told him afterward that he was cancer free.
He remained in the hospital nearly two weeks for recovery and can’t eat solid food for awhile to aid healing. A grateful Schroder said a benefit tournament for him at True Blue last month had numerous sponsors, quickly sold out and raised $16,000. “It was successful beyond our wildest dreams,” Schroder said.
Schroder, 61, hasn’t taught since September and said it will be five weeks to nearly two months before he “can approach normal everyday activities.”
Byrd is still working with Schroder, however, by taking and sending videos of his swing on his phone. “It’s very tough but we’re making it work until he can get back on the lesson tee,” Byrd said. “I’ve been with him for so long, he’s who I’m going to work with until he can’t work anymore.”
Back in action
Both Conway native Kristy McPherson and Coastal Carolina alumnus and Myrtle Beach property owner Dustin Johnson are in action this week.
Coming off a tie for second Sunday in the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Johnson returns to Riviera Country Club for the $6.7 million Northern Trust Open, which he has now entered in each of his seven years on the PGA Tour. He has three top-10s, and in the past four years he has alternated missed cuts in 2011 and 2013 with a tie for third in 2010 and tie for fourth in 2012.
Johnson is perhaps the second-hottest player on the tour to three-time 2013-14 winner Jimmy Walker. In three events on the new wraparound 2013-14 schedule, he has a tie for sixth, tie for second and win.
McPherson, off a tie for 18th in the season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic, is Down Under for the $1.2 million ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open in Victoria, Australia.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.