NEWTON, Kan. – A few moments after Byron Meth received the James D. Standish Trophy as the 89th and final winner of the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, he presented the hardware to his father for inspection.
So you’ll be the reigning champion forever, Simon Meth mused. Actually, I think I prefer perpetual champion – that sounds even better.
The champion persevered through 156 holes of stroke play and match play, not to mention 36 practice-round holes. His father walked every step of the way, except for nine holes of each practice round. But the journey to the 10th green of Sand Creek Station Golf Course, where he sealed his APL victory, began long before that, when Simon Meth, a native of Sydney, Australia, returned to the game of golf – because of his toddler son.
I played a little in Australia, said Simon, who moved to California in 1987. I played friendly games, that sort of stuff. When I moved to San Diego, my plan was to get some sticks, get lessons and play well, but I never did it. Then Byron picked up a club at 3-ish.
When did Simon see something special in his son’s ability?
I’ll tell you a little story, he said. When he was 1, he could throw a ball in the air and hit it with a plastic bat. He could do that reliably. I still can’t do it.
Byron began taking golf lessons at age 5½, but the motivation came from the son, not the father or Byron’s mother, Carrie.
For the first few years, it was, ‘Hey, do you wanna go to the range?’ recalled Byron. And I’d say, ‘Yeah, sure.’ It was just all about having fun. Even when I started playing competitively from age 6 to 13, it was never, ‘We're going to this tournament.’ It was, ‘What do you want to do today?’ They've supported that mindset ever since I was a kid and that is probably why I fell in love with the game and enjoy it so much.
Simon and Byron played a lot of golf together until Byron started playing in junior tournaments every couple of weekends.
I remember the first junior tournament, when he was 8 or so, and I was agonizing over his first tee shot, said Simon. He finished second to Grayson Murray when he was 14 in the World Juniors, and that was one of his best finishes in a tournament before now.
Perhaps coming out on top in the APL this week had something to do with an attitude shift.
He told me that when he was a junior, he would get into this kind of position and he’d get pretty antsy, said Simon, an independent corporate recruiter. Not that he’s been in this position that many times – and never in something as big as this. But this morning he was very relaxed. As he walked by me after hitting his tee shot on No. 9 today, he told me, ‘I’m having so much fun.’
Maybe his father’s counsel is finally sinking in.
I know it’s a big deal – it’s a huge deal, said Simon. But before he plays in a college tournament, whatever, I’ll text him and the last thing I always say is to have fun. If you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it?
Byron, who has worked for 11 years with teaching professional Bob Madsen at Sycuan Golf Resort in El Cajon, Calif., captured the Aaron Baddeley Invitational in 2011 and the San Diego city title in 2013. The key to this USGA championship could be found on the greens.
He’s so dedicated, said Simon. The only reason he won this was because of his putting. He made so many great putts in this tournament. It’s ability, but I don’t think anyone hits more practice putts than Byron does.
The victory earns him entry into the U.S. Amateur, as well as a likely invitation to the 2015 Masters Tournament.
It was a lot of hard work to come to this moment, said Byron. I actually didn’t qualify for the U.S. Amateur [in Atlanta next month], so this was my U.S. Amateur qualifier as well.
When Byron qualified for the U.S. Amateur Public Links three weeks ago, the family scrambled to alter travel plans.
I was going to go to Flagstaff with him [for next week’s Pacific Coast Amateur], but then he qualified for this, said Simon. I didn’t want him to be here by himself.
I've had three victories, one at Aaron Baddeley in China, the West Coast Conference last April, and now this one, and he missed both of the previous two, said Byron. To be able to pull it out in the end was incredibly special and something the two of us will never forget.
Byron missed out on his first opportunity to visit Kansas a couple of months ago, when he fell one stroke short of qualifying for the NCAA Championships at Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson.
Although delayed, Byron’s first trip to the Sunflower State proved well worth the wait. It also provided father and son another milestone. Byron turned 21 in January, but had only been home for five days since his college semester ended. After the trophy ceremony, Simon and Byron toasted the championship victory by having their first beer together.
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.