Martin Dempster: James Byrne’s pro career is starting to take shape

James Byrne. Picture: Getty
James Byrne. Picture: Getty
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THE identities of the two players partnering Tiger Woods in the final 36 holes of the weather-delayed Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego proved a timely reminder about how overnight success is far from guaranteed in golf.

Like Woods, Casey Wittenburg and Billy Horschel both represented the United States as amateurs in the Walker Cup and, in the eyes of this correspondent at least, are two of the cockiest individuals to have competed in that splendid event.

In the 2003 clash at Ganton in Yorkshire, Wittenburg displayed an annoying swagger for one so young as he beat Graham Gordon, the Scottish champion at the time, in the first-day singles before being cut down to size by Gary Wolstenholme on day two.

Horschel, probably even more of an irritating individual due to the histrionics he displayed at the time, played in the 2007 match at Royal County Down, where he beat Rory McIlroy three times before the home favourite finally got the better of him in the last-day singles.

It has taken Horschel longer than Rickie Fowler, his foursomes partner in two of those successes in Northern Ireland, to earn a foothold on the PGA Tour while Ryan Moore, another member of the visiting side at Ganton a decade ago, also progressed up the ladder faster than Wittenburg.

With self-belief clearly never having been a problem for either of them, patience has been the key for both Horschel and Wittenburg and, if he can emulate them in that respect, then there’s nothing to stop James Byrne sharing the same stage with Woods or McIlroy in the not-too-distant future.

That may sound a tad optimistic given that the Banchory man, a member of Great Britain & Ireland’s winning Walker Cup team at Royal Aberdeen just under 18 months ago, will find himself well away from the spotlight this week playing in an Asian Development Tour event in Malaysia.

However, his professional career is beginning to take shape and, what’s more, he is certainly going to be ready to hit the ground running when he does make it on to either the European Tour or PGA Tour due to the fact he is becoming accustomed to different climates and styles of courses.

In the past ten days, Byrne has regained his Asian Tour card and secured playing privileges for the South African-based Sunshine Tour, doubling his options as he bids to sharpen his competitive teeth and learn valuable lessons about life as a Tour professional.

Clearly, Byrne is not prepared to sit on his backside and expect things to happen. Which is just as well as amateur reputations count for nothing in the paid ranks. His rookie season on the Asian Tour wasn’t exactly dazzling – 24th was his best finish and he missed eight cuts in 13 events – but it provided valuable experience, nonetheless.

It was refreshing to see Byrne, effectively taking a step back in a bid to move his career forward, teeing it up in three of the Asian circuit’s development events at the end of last year and his presence in Malaysia this week is a sign that he is determined to get as many tournaments under his belt as possible.

Along with the likes of David Law, Michael Stewart and Ross Kellett, the journey has only just started for Byrne but, in just a few years’ time, don’t be surprised if he is sitting in a better position in terms of their respective careers than, for example, Tom Lewis.

The Englishman, another member of the GB&I team at Royal Aberdeen, got his professional career off to a fairytale start by winning the Portugal Masters in only his third European Tour appearance, yet last season made just nine cuts from 26 starts.

When his exemption runs out, Lewis could find himself effectively starting an apprenticeship as Byrne is ending his, one that also includes some valuable time competing in America, where he spent four years at Arizona State University.

Based on the fact his only success so far as a professional came in last year’s Aberdeen Asset Northern Open at Meldrum House, Byrne still has a long way to go but there are definitely signs of progress, as was acknowledged in tweets sent to him over the weekend by both Paul Lawrie and Andrew Coltart.

That, in fact, led to some banter between the pair that showed what it means to them to be involved in mentoring up-and-coming players, Lawrie through his excellent Foundation in the north-east and Coltart through the Scottish Golf Union.

“Some mentors you and deano (Dean Robertson) eh...” wrote Lawrie on his account. “Got ur other mentor on tele tonight,” wrote Coltart to Byrne about Lawrie being featured on Sky on Sunday night. Determined to have the last laugh, Lawrie replied: “There’s only one mentor andy old bean only one...”

Golf can’t let big businesses call the shots

For golf’s sake, let’s hope the R&A and USGA stand firm in the face of the chief executive of one of the game’s biggest companies claiming the governing bodies “will be nonentities within ten years”.

It only seemed a matter of time before someone broke ranks over the proposed ban on “anchoring” by the R&A and USGA and, for those against such action being taken, TaylorMade chief executive Mark King didn’t disappoint.

In pressing his case for bifurcation – one set of rules for professionals and one for amateurs – he launched an attack that made it clear the manufacturers aim to rule the roost and not be told which clubs are conforming or not.

“Here’s a prediction: the USGA within ten years will be a nonentity, they will be a non-factor in golf because they are choosing to be on the outside and no-one is signing up for what they represent,” said King. “The industry is going to move away from them and pass them. They’re obsolete.”

King presumably also tars the R&A with the same brush and will no doubt have his views echoed by fellow manufacturers as a consultation phase over the “anchoring” ban draws to an end.

However, the game and the rules that determine how it is played must always remain more important than big businesses trying to flex muscles.