Zack Byrd’s next shot at advancement in professional golf will come in Africa.
The 31-year-old Murrells Inlet resident has qualified for the Sunshine Tour based in South Africa and will spend much of 2017 playing on the south end of the African continent.
Byrd tied for 22nd Friday in the finals of the tour’s Qualifying Tournament at Randpark Golf Club in Randpark, South Africa, to earn full status on the tour. The top 30 earned full cards.
Byrd shot rounds 73, 69, 69 and 68 in the first four rounds to move into a tie for seventh before a cut to the low 60 scores was made prior to the final round, in which he shot a 74 to tie for 22nd at 7-under 353.
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“This one has got me quite a bit more excited than anything else I’ve ever had status-wise,” said Byrd, who had full status on PGA Tour Canada in 2015 and had conditional status on the Web.com Tour in 2012 and 2014 after twice reaching the final stage of PGA/Web.com Tour Q-School. “The opportunities it opens up are way better than PGA Tour Canada, and it is full status. This is probably the biggest step I’ve had in my career.”
The top 50 on the money list at the end of the season can get into co-sanctioned European Tour events, which could be five or six events at the beginning of the 2017-18 European Tour schedule, retain full status on the 2018 Sunshine Tour and earn invitations to a few higher-purse events in Africa. “Top 50 on the money list opens a ton of doors,” Byrd said.
Byrd began the final round 9-under par and reached 10 under with a birdie on the fourth hole. But he was down to 7 under following a three-putt bogey on the 15th, and wasn’t sure he could afford another bogey with three difficult holes to close the tournament – a pair of 500-yard par-4s with difficult tee shots and 210-yard par-3. With the benefit of a little reassurance from his caddie, he managed to make three consecutive pars to secure his tour card.
“The fifth round was a little stressful,” Byrd said. “It’s the first time I’ve been in that position in a long time when it really meant a lot.”
The golf course required quick adjustments by Byrd with measurements in meters rather than yards, elevation and an unfamiliar kikuya grass. “There were a lot of adjustments to be made in two practice rounds,” Byrd said. “I just didn’t make any mistakes the first four days, that’s why I allowed myself to throw up on myself a little bit coming in.”
Byrd’s wife, Ali, is an instructor at the Steve Dresser Golf Academy at True Blue Golf Club in Pawleys Island, and the couple has a 16-month-old daughter, Payton, who has spent a lot of hours on driving ranges in a stroller as Byrd has practiced. Byrd operates an online travel agency in addition to his touring career.
The Coastal Carolina graduate and Wachesaw Plantation member intends to play the first two events of the season, which are the Zimbabwe Open from April 20-23 and Zambia Sugar Open from April 27-30.
There are a pair of events in Swaziland two weeks apart in May, followed by another event in Zambia the first week of June. Byrd, who returned to the Grand Strand on Monday, has to qualify for the Swaziland events so he may not play in both, and intends to play in the fifth event in Zambia.
After that, the tour takes a break for a couple months that are winter in the Southern Hemisphere before closing the season with 13 events from late July into November.
“I plan to play eight to 10 of those events depending on where I am on the money list,” Byrd said. “I plan on not being gone more than three weeks at a time since Ali and Payton will stay in Murrells Inlet.”
He has a financial backer in Virginia Beach who will assist him with golf travel expenses, though he’s looking for additional funds to hire a reliable caddie for his tour events overseas. He’s considering entering qualifiers for the British Open and French Open, and a U.S. Open Sectionals qualifier in England, adding to his travel and schedule.
“The guy I had last week is expensive but an incredible caddie,” Byrd said. “I’m really going to try to find a company with South African ties that is looking to give endorsement money out to someone for exposure over here. Events are televised, have decent crowds and a good bit of exposure so it could help a company if I’m wearing a logo or carrying a golf bag.”
Byrd plans to play in the season opener for the Coastal Players Tour at Arcadian Shores Golf Club from April 1-2 before heading back to Africa.