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April 15, 2009

Jonathan Byrd


JOHN BUSH: We'd like to welcome Jonathan Byrd into the interview room of the Verizon Heritage. Jonathan, native of South Carolina, so this tournament I know is very important to you and very special to you. Just comment on what it means to play here at Hilton Head.
JONATHAN BYRD: I don't know anybody on Tour that doesn't like coming home to play golf and in front of their friends, family, people you've seen growing up, high school golf coach, maybe a college golf coach. And I think that's always a fun environment to play in, because you have so much support. And when I come to Hilton Head I feel that support. I love being in my home state. I live in Georgia, but it feels like South Carolina, but just a little different coming back to South Carolina.
And then on top of that we've got one of the best golf courses we play all year. It's in great shape. We're going to have great weather this week. It's going to be a fun week.
JOHN BUSH: Give us a comment about your year so far and about your preparations for the week.
JONATHAN BYRD: I've had a good year up to this point. If you look at the money list or all my finishes you might not agree, but it's going -- I'm on track. And I'm excited about my game more than I ever have in my whole career. I made a change in the structure after the FedExCup and it's taken some time for that to come together. My ball-striking is good, I'm hitting it a long ways. My brother texted me last night and said I was no. 1 on the Tour in total driving or 2. Such a great stat. I'm starting to putt better.
The preparation this week, I had a good practice at home. Wasn't at Augusta. And just driving it good. And so that makes it -- that's a good thing to be doing well coming into Hilton Head with these tight fairways. I'm sharpening up my short game.

Q. Who's your new teacher? And was it dramatic changes or just subtle stuff?
JONATHAN BYRD: Not very dramatic. My good friend Zach Johnson, I started working with his instructor, Mike Bender, who is out of Orlando, and it was about a month after the FedExCup or three weeks after, maybe two weeks, and not drastic, but it's changed the way I play golf pretty much. I've always been a guy that if the shot called for a fade or a low fade or a high draw or low draw, I try to hit those shots. I never really had a stock shot. And not until now did I realize how much that affected my consistency over a year's time or over a week's time. Because I didn't have kind of a foundation or a stock shot. And now I do. I'm shaping the ball more from right to left. It's kind of what my swing should produce. I'm hitting the ball solid. I've gained 20 yards probably. I changed golf balls and drivers and the swing, all those things kind of came together to produce more distance. But my swing has been the biggest change. You gain 15, 20 yards, you've got to feel pretty good about that.

Q. We talked to Zach earlier, did he just move to Sea Island?

Q. Near you?
JONATHAN BYRD: He's sharing an instructor, and I'm sharing him my town. He lives about a mile away in our same neighborhood.

Q. If there is a week when you guys are not on Tour, there must be able to have no trouble finding a good game down there?
JONATHAN BYRD: It's turning into a pretty good spot. When I first moved there there was probably -- Paul Claxton lives there, Davis Love, Brent Schwarzrock, and that's really about it. So I kind of felt -- I was kind of torn when guys started moving down, because I didn't want them to find out what a great spot it was, selfishly. But Zach's moved there. Charles Warren comes to practice, Lucas comes to practice, Brandt Snedeker, Boo Weekley, you can get a pretty good game now. But most guys come down they go fishing, on the course we go to, Fredrik a, so they're not always golfing, bass lake.

Q. You come here and you look at past winners from recent years, this course seems to favor certain guys. If you're not one of those guys, is it intimidating at all when you come here?
JONATHAN BYRD: You're saying I'm not one of those guys?

Q. You're not a past winner.
JONATHAN BYRD: I know. I played well here, though. I've got in contention a few times. Yeah, the same guys seem to play well here. Davis Love, Stewart Cink, Boo Weekley. I think it's the golf course you have to figure out what the right strategy is. I was on the range this morning and I overheard a few guys saying, I got on the 9th tee, I hit it down the middle or I had no shot, and they can't figure out how to play the hole. And they just -- I think it's pretty easy how to figure out how to play that hole. And I think there's a lot of holes like that. You figure out how to play the golf course and you just go play it that way. You're going to hit it behind some trees, you're going to hit it in the pine straw. You might hit it in the hazard once in a while, but the name of the game is keep it on the fairways, hit it on the greens and make birdie shots if possible and keep plugging away.
I think Davis Love is a great iron player, and Stewart Cink, and Boo Weekley shapes it around this golf course, and plays well.

Q. How old were you when you first played here?
JONATHAN BYRD: Rookie year, which was 2002. I was 22, 23 -- no, 22.

Q. What was your first impression, "I've got to study this course? I've got to figure out how to play it?"
JONATHAN BYRD: It doesn't take long to figure out a golf course, I don't think. But I don't know if I figured it out. It was a matter of execution, I didn't hit it straight off, I couldn't keep it off the ponds, some of these par-3s. That's why I struggled the first few years, because it's just intimidating. There's so many intimidating par-3s and shots around the place. You start driving badly, it gets tighter and tighter, look like a bowling alley.

Q. Do you get more friends and family at this tournament than most and is that a good or bad thing?
JONATHAN BYRD: I think it can be a good or bad thing. We rented a big house this week. We've always had condos or house. I've got my aunt and uncle and parents and my mother and father-in-law and my wife and two kids and some cousins coming this weekend, so that's a lot going on. But I've just kind of learned to accept it and embrace it. We have kind of a vacation week together, and spend a lot of quality time and it just turned out to be great.

Q. Is that an annual happening, all those people coming?
JONATHAN BYRD: Every year. My mom is a great cook, my wife is a great cook, my uncle is. We'll do like -- he cooks the Brunswick stew -- not the stew, but the sausage and the stew. Low Country Boil one night and spaghetti one night, and it turns out to be fun.
But, yeah, there's a lot of distractions. People coming up to you that you don't know their names but they know you and that happens a lot, so it's kind of distracting.

Q. I understand this afternoon you're doing some charity work. Can you talk more about what your plans are this afternoon and why you're doing it?
JONATHAN BYRD: I got asked by the Tour to do it. It's not a charity that I'm involved in, but the Tour does so many great things for us and they're involved with so many great charities that I'm just representing the Tour this afternoon and getting to hang out with Greg Russell. We haven't met yet. I understand he does a great thing with underprivileged -- not underprivileged, but sick kids.
GREG RUSSELL: No, every week, year-round -- about 50 weeks we've got to take care of the house, but we have a house about a quarter mile from here, critically ill, terminally ill children, bring the family, give them a week here, totally cost-free, that let's them say goodbye to their little one who is sick, and they leave here with images of dolphins and sunsets. It's just a nice break away from chemo and treatments.
JONATHAN BYRD: What an awesome charity. I can identify with that, my dad's got cancer, and is going through a lot of chemo, and he's getting to come down this week, and we're kind of having that same experience this week, to hang out with them. What a great opportunity to give those families 50 weeks a year. I guess we're getting to meet some of those kids?
GREG RUSSELL: Yeah, I'm not sure, but we appreciate what the Tour does, the Heritage. Verizon Heritage Classic has been incredibly generous with us over the last ten years, and we probably wouldn't be in existence without it.

Q. Just curious, you weren't involved in The Masters last week, as a golf fan, did you watch?
JONATHAN BYRD: Absolutely. I went up there Tuesday with a group, a fundraising group of about six guys that paid to play golf with me and Davis Love down at Sea Island. And then Tuesday we drove up to Augusta for the day and I walked around with them. There it was only about 50 degrees, and blowing 30; it was freezing. But we just walked around. We didn't get to see a whole lot of golf. But just talked about the golf course with them and hung out with them and had a good day. And that was fine.
I was jealous of the guys that were playing. Every year I tell my wife I'm not going to watch it, just because I'm so envious and mad I'm not in. But you can't not watch it. It's just great TV. I can't turn it off. I can't do anything. I was trying to pack and watch it, I couldn't get it done. It was just great TV.

Q. Is there any other tournament you would do that for, you'd go up there if you weren't playing?
JONATHAN BYRD: No. It's for charity. I don't mind doing it for charity if it was another tournament. I didn't go to The Masters to learn anything and watch anything, I just did it for the charity.
JOHN BUSH: Thanks for coming by. Play well this week.

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