There is growing up playing golf and then there’s growing up in golf. For Jackson Byrd, the 16-year-old son of five-time PGA Tour winner Jonathan Byrd and nephew of Clemson University head golf coach Jordan Byrd, the latter indisputably applies.
“If you're a kid and your dad’s a doctor, that's what you see growing up,” said the younger Byrd. “It’s the same with golf. I've played my whole life because I've been around it so much. I've never really thought about doing anything other than playing golf for a living.”
Byrd’s love for the game took off nine years ago as the then-7-year-old watched his father compete on Tour. Now entering his junior year of high school, Byrd took major strides toward charting his own path through the game this summer by earning spots in both the U.S. Junior Amateur and the U.S. Amateur championships.
The first stop comes this week when he competes in the Junior Amateur at Daniel Island Club in Charleston, S.C.
“I came into the summer expecting to qualify for the U.S. Junior, but I didn’t necessarily expect to qualify for the Amateur,” said Byrd, who resides in Sea Island, Ga. “My main goal was really just to play as well as I could in the tournaments that I had. And if I played well in the qualifiers and put myself in a position to get in, then great. What I learned from that is sometimes it’s good to come into these competitions without putting too much pressure on myself.”
When he tees it up on July 24 at the Daniel Island Club, it will mark the first of what Byrd hopes will be multiple appearances in USGA championships moving forward.
“Obviously since it’s my first one, I don't really know what to expect,” said Byrd. “But whenever you qualify for a USGA championship, it's an honor because of how good the fields are and what it means if you win.”
It’s safe to say that golf is the family business. Jonathan turned professional in 2000 following a decorated playing career at Clemson that saw him become the first four-time first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference golfer in program history. His career was punctuated in 1999 when he was a first team All-America selection and named to the USA Walker Cup Team.
After finishing eighth on the money list on the Buy.com Tour – now the Korn Ferry Tour – Byrd made his PGA Tour debut in 2002 where he captured his first win at the Buick Challenge en route to being named Rookie of the Year. Since then, he’s racked up four more titles and he has appeared in 20 majors, including five U.S. Opens.
Jackson’s uncle, Jordan, also enjoyed a successful collegiate career at Furman University where he captured the 1997 Southern Conference Championship as a junior and was a two-time member of the all-conference team. In 2021, Byrd succeeded Larry Penley as head coach of the Clemson golf program – a position Penley held for 38 years – after 16 years as his top assistant.
It would be easy and understandable for the next generation of the Byrd family golf lineage to feel a heavy burden of expectations. For Jackson, however, he sees it as an opportunity that he’s fortunate to have.
“I definitely see it as an advantage because of all the things my dad has learned and all the people he’s talked to, I’m able to get all of that knowledge from him,” said Byrd. “Then his brother, too, being a golf coach at a Division I school is great because he can talk to me all about recruiting. Between both of them, I feel like I’ve had an advantage from the beginning. I could see how people would think it was a negative, but any expectations I feel are the ones I put on myself.”
Byrd hopes that attitude continues to be an asset for him during his two USGA starts over the next month. After this week’s Junior Am, he’ll have two weeks to prepare for the U.S. Amateur, which starts Aug. 14 in Denver at Cherry Hills Country Club and stroke-play co-host Colorado Golf Club.
For Byrd, the championships aren’t just an opportunity to compete at the highest level of amateur golf, but a golden chance to gain experience that he hopes will pay dividends in future competitions.
“They’re huge learning experiences,” said Byrd. “I’m trying to take as much and as I can for the future because, hopefully, I'll be able to play some more of these. I’m focused on soaking it all in, playing as well as I can and not putting too many big expectations on myself. I want to go out there and play golf as simple as I can and have as much fun as I can.”
As for who will be on his bag, Byrd plans to tap into a pair of familiar faces.
“My friend Travis will be there for the Junior Am,” said Byrd, who can’t have a parent/guardian on his bag in the Junior Amateur per USGA rules. “He's one of my best friends from home that I've known since I was two or three. And then I think I think my dad is going to be on the bag at the U.S. Am. which will be pretty cool.”
Danny Vohden is the USGA’s assistant director of content. Email him at email@example.com.