Maybe Jonathan Byrd’s recent success shouldn’t come as a surprise. Byrd, winner of his past two PGA Tour starts, is one of the most consistent iron players on Tour.
He ranked 20th in greens in regulation in 2010, and fifth the previous year. He also was No. 1 in the PGA Tour’s top ballstriking statistic (which combines GIR and total driving) in 2009.
Byrd’s swing has undergone dramatic changes since he began working with instructor Mike Bender two years ago. Bender also instructs Zach Johnson.
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The key to Byrd’s strong iron play? “The hands and the club shaft are on plane throughout the whole swing,” Bender said. “If the hands are working on plane around the body, you’re going to hit it really well.
“It’s like putting: If you’re putting, and your hands are on plane, the putter head is going to work on plane. But most people, when putting, they look at the putter head. They don’t look at their hands. The golf swing is the same way.”
Bender measures the proper plane by drawing an imaginary line from the ball to the butt of the club at the top of the backswing.
“Most players, their hands are under the plane, then above, or above the plane, then under it,” Bender said. “That means they have to manipulate the face.”
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Byrd used to take his hands straight back on the backswing, instead of along the arc, and the clubhead was well outside his hands at waist-high. Byrd’s left arm was steeper at the top of the swing, and the club’s shaft was pointed “across the line.”
“He was more upright, and his backswing was longer,” Bender said. “He was really aiming to the right, and pulling left. As a result, he hit pulls and he hit cuts.”
Now Byrd’s left arm is lower at the top of the swing, and his backswing is shorter.
“He’d even get a 6- or 7-iron to parallel. Now he’s well short of that,” Bender said. “His arm swing gets a little bit quick, so his arm swing gets a little long. We’re trying to get his arms to stop when his shoulders stop.”
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IN THE ZONE
Byrd tries to find ‘the zone’ during practice.
“Imagine a blanket out there on the ground,” Bender said. “He’s trying to land his ball on the blanket.”
‘The zone’ is always right of the flag because Byrd plays a draw, and wants to start the ball right and work it toward the target, but not miss left. “We try to shape the ball into the zone,” Bender said.
The zone gets larger as Byrd hits longer clubs. Byrd will hit 10 shots with each set of clubs. Of the 50 shots, his best is 40 balls in the zone, Bender said.
Here’s the size of Byrd’s zone with each set of clubs:
Pitching wedge/9-iron — 15 feet
8-iron/7-iron — 20 feet
6-iron/5-iron — 25 feet
Long irons/hybrid — 35 feet
Driver — 20 yards
“It’s a practice drill that allows players to monitor their results and gain confidence,” Bender said. “Most people try to hit to the pin, but how many times do you hit the pin? But you can hit your zone virtually every time, so it’s more realistic to practice and play that way.”