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Former Austin Peay State University Governors Golf Erik Barnes chipping away at gaining PGA card

 

APSU Sports Information

Austin Peay State University Governors - APSUClarksville, TN – Erik Barnes was experiencing a reality check and admitted he was nervous. In some sense it even may have seemed surreal to the former Governors Golf great.

He looked across the dais to his left, Monday, and there was fellow Web.com member Brad Fritsch. Seated next to Fritsch were PGA members Graham DeLaet and David Hearn, who lost the previous day in a playoff for the Greenbrier Classic championship.

Erik Barnes. (APSU Sports Information)

Erik Barnes. (APSU Sports Information)

Holding the microphone and answering questions from the crowd was Captain Mike Weir, the lithe lefty who has won six PGA championships, including the 2003 Masters. They comprised Team Canada for the RBC Canada Cup, played at the Ashburn Golf Club in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, Barnes was fidgeting on his swivel bar stool as a Team World member, representing the Web.com Tour, which had completed its tourney on the same course the previous afternoon. To his immediate right were teammates Andres Gonzales and Colt Knost, also PGA members.

But it was the person seated next to him on his immediate left that had the Marion, IN, native wondering if this actually was a dream. Literally holding court with the fans and the media was Team World captain, Tom Watson, winner of 39 PGA championships, including eight major championships. The same legendary and World Golf Hall of Fame member who succeeded Jack Nicklaus as the game’s top golfer in the late 1970s-earlys 1980s.

“It was pretty awesome,” Barnes said. “With it being an exhibition match we (Team World) were able to be around him for a day-and-a-half—around him the whole time—for three Q&A’s…and then I got to sit next to him at dinner.

“Then I spent an hour-and-half with him in the locker room listening to him to talk about a lot of things, chatting about golf. To hear certain aspects about things it was really eye opening. There were a few things he said you already knew but they were reinforced by what he said.

“He is a good guy, a nice guy and he is someone that wants guys like me to be successful.”

But it hasn’t been easy for Barnes, who is in his first season on the Web.com Tour, the pro tour just below the PGA. If you compare it to professional baseball, the Web.com Tour is what Triple A is to the major leagues.

A member of former coach Kirk Kayden’s first Ohio Valley Conference Championship team in 2009, Barnes was named OVC Golfer of the Year that same season. After Barnes graduated from APSU in 2010 with a degree in business administration, he turned professional a year later, but it wasn’t until 2012 his cleats started gaining traction. He bounced around the National Golf Association (NGA) tour—formerly the Hooters Tour—for a couple of seasons, barely scraping by financially. In fact, he went in the hole—a $30,000 divot—trying to get the little dimpled white ball in the cup on a more consistent basis.

But momentum started to swing his way in 2014. Instead of heading north or to other parts of Florida, his approach had more than a little backspin—he headed south to play in the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica. He gained a Top 10 finish in his first outing and claimed two other Top 10 finishes. In between tour stints in Latin America, he also joined the PGA Tour Canada, collecting two more Top 10 finishes.

“Golf is so funny because there are guys who you grew up playing with on the junior golf tour who were the best in the country,” Barnes said. “You knew there is no way they won’t be world beaters. But then they go to college and don’t have great careers there, don’t really succeed like you would think.

“Right now I believe my golf career is on an upward climb. I never have really peaked. Coming up (in the sport), I wouldn’t say I was ever the best golfer at any level that I played at. I always have been pretty good—in junior golf I was one of the better golfers in the state of Indiana but certainly was not the best. I went to college and I was a good college golfer and had a decent ranking but was I ever going to be a Top 10 golfer in the country…No.”

After barely surviving his first two pro seasons, his successful third year had a lot of carry to it, allowing him to pursue his Web.com Tour card—it offered him the opportunity to participate in the tour school. He advanced to the tour school final stage by finishing 16th in the second stage. By ending 35th overall in the standings he obtained a provisional Web.com Tour card for 2015. A second-place finish in just his fifth Web.com Tourney, the Chile Classic, assured him a complete tour season.

“I had some success on the mini-tours, on the Hooters Tour, the Latin Tour and the Canada Tour but certainly was not a Top 5 player,” Barnes said. “However, I continued to get better at each stage and I continue to play at a higher level.

“Even though I continue to improve, I also see my game has a lot of room to grow. And as things start to click I am able to shoot some really good scores and compete at a high level. I am pretty happy where I am at and the progression I have made.”

After multiple near misses in Latin America and Canada for tourney championships, Barnes believes now he has a much-better grip in handling the pressures and his own expectations when that situation arises in the future.

“I didn’t get it done because I just wasn’t experienced at that level of play,” he said. “I was nervous and I just didn’t know how to handle it. I was playing well enough to win the tournament but my nerves didn’t hold up under pressure.

“I wasn’t able to make the golf swings I was making because I was nervous. I learned a lot from those situations. I learned that everyone gets nervous–every single player in the world gets nervous. I talked to Tom Watson and Paul Azinger, some of the best players who ever played this game, and everyone tells me the same—everybody gets nervous. It’s a matter of accepting being nervous. You want to be nervous because that means you are in position to win.

“I think I have learned that. In Chile I shot 65-66 on that weekend. I didn’t lose, I just got beat and that happens in golf. You have to accept sometimes that you put yourself in position to win and it doesn’t happen.”

Barnes acknowledges his fortune in having the opportunity to pursue his dream playing a game professionally that millions in this country play daily as a leisure sport. He also readily gushes about the support of his wife, Ashleigh, whom he began dating prior to his arrival at APSU in 2006, for not only being the family anchor in Sarasota, Florida, but the source of unwavering encouragement. They just celebrated their four-year wedding anniversary and have a 1 ½-year old son, Jaxton.

“Ashleigh kind of knew what she was in for when we began dating and when she married me,” Barnes said. “She is a phenomenal woman. Anybody who can juggle being a fulltime mother with a fulltime job while her husband is on the road for 25 weeks is a pretty special person. She probably is the reason I have had the success I enjoyed…because of her support.

“I have had tough years on the mini tour; things were tough at home financially where I was losing $2,000 every week. But she was still supportive of me. There are lots of wives out there who basically say ‘we are not going to lose all our money while you are trying to be a professional golfer.’ My wife told me to ‘go out there and be successful for our family.’ It takes a real strong woman to be able to say that when I am sure she would prefer me to be home every single day.”

Barnes relishes those brief interludes where he can fly home to Sarasota to be with Ashleigh and Jaxton, seeing in person and not by computer or IPad how much his son has grown and changed. Being a parent certainly has provided Barnes with a new perspective on life and his career.

“What it does it gives you a different aspect on life without you really knowing it,” Barnes said. “Things I used to think were important are not important. I used to think if I didn’t succeed in golf that I was going to be a failure. That is absolutely not true (now). If I don’t succeed in golf—if I am not competing in golf four years down the line—I get to be a stay-at-home father and that would be phenomenal. It is not a losing situation.

“It is actually a win-win. One, if I get to where I am on the PGA Tour my family can travel with me. Or two, if I don’t make it I will have to get a job somewhere but I will get to see my son grow up every day.”

During the RBC, Barnes was paired with Gonzalez, who, like Barnes, did his share of bouncing around the respective smaller tours. He currently has made nearly $750,000 this year and is ranked 114th in the FedEx Cup standings. They played against DeLaet, who has nearly won $1 million this year and is ranked 79th in the FedEx Cup standings, and Hearn, who has made more than $1 million annually four times since joining the PGA Tour, including a $500,000 prize last weekend.

“Playing Monday obviously gave me some confidence,” Barnes said, “being able to play with guys who are at the PGA level and seeing I could play as well as they can. I played well Monday, even though I was nervous the entire day.

“At the same time in saying that, it (my game) has been starting to turn. I had a rough last month and a half but I could sense it coming back, going in a better direction last week (Nova Scotia). I was close last week but I didn’t play well on the weekend. I think my game is getting there again.”

Barnes is one who never has lacked confidence. He acknowledges he probably rubbed some people the wrong way along the way, even back to his college days.

“If you don’t believe in yourself who else is going to believe in you,” he said. “In some way, shape or form you have to be really confident in your ability. If you are not, you will never make it. You have to have high belief to play at a high level.

“I try to be real positive. I try not to get angry on the golf course. I have used that mindset when I have been a couple shots over par and tell myself ‘you are good enough to make four or five birdies in a row.’ I have done it before. I have done it on the Web. Com Tour where I have been 2-over at the turn and shot 3- or 4-under par. I don’t give up. I try to stay as positive as I can.”

When the Web.com season started Barnes’ goals were to maintain his tour card status for the year and finish among the Top 75 money leaders to assure a spot for 2016. But by shooting that 19-under 265 (67-67-65-66) in Chile, the $64,800 check (“I had never seen a check that big before in my life,” he said. “I think the most I made in one year on the mini-tours was around $55,000.) changed his outlook and 2015 goals. He entered this weekend 34th on the money list—the Web.com Tour Top 25 are granted PGA Tour cards for the next season.

But a second possibility also exists for Barnes to gain his PGA card. The top 75 of the Web.com Tour regular-season money list will advance a four-tourney year-end series. They will compete against PGA Tour members ranked from 126-200 in the FedEx Cup standings. The Top 25 from that tourney series also gain PGA cards for 2016.

“That second-place finish guaranteed my status for next year,” Barnes said. “As a result, my goals immediately changed. My goal now is to have my tour card before that (tourney) series where I can freewheel it playing those four weeks.

“There is no doubt in my mind I can finish in the Top 25. I am one good event away. If I have four good days…one Top 2-finish—I get a PGA Tour card.”

If that happens, Barnes would be the first Governors Golfer since Craig Rudolph in 1991 to qualify for the PGA Tour.

“It is going to happen,” Barnes said. “I personally believe at some point I am going to be able to compete on the PGA Tour. It is a matter of being patient enough to wait it out. If I am patient enough and willing to wait it out, I will be there.”


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