From blue-chip baseball prospect to construction worker to the U.S. Open, Derek Barron didn’t take a well-worn path to the Players Cup in Winnipeg.
Perhaps that’s why the 34-year-old from Tacoma, Wash., seemed to cherish the trophy so much on the 18th green at Southwood, Sunday.
The man who first picked up a golf club at 17 picked up his first professional tour victory, then told the crowd he was probably going to “freak out” a little later.
“It hasn’t happened at this level as much as I would like,” Barron told reporters later. “But, man, what a special day and a special feeling. In all honesty, it just affirms that I am doing the right thing in my life and my career path, and what I do every day. I wish there were words. It’s really special.”
Earlier in his life, Barron appeared to be on the trail his step-father took.
Tony Barron was a baseball player who made it all the way to the Montreal Expos lineup, via the minor-league Ottawa Lynx, in 1996.
But the younger Barron changed course as soon as he picked up a golf club in high school and belted his first drive some 250 yards, dead-straight.
“It’s not like I didn’t want to play baseball anymore,” he said. “I just got hooked on golf. I kind of liked the fact golf was just you and your thoughts.”
At that point, Barron wasn’t good enough to play in college, so he just played for fun.
Sunday was a lot of fun, as he withstood a stiff breeze to shoot an even-par 72, finishing two strokes ahead of 22-year-old rookie Kyler Dunkle and Ryan Snouffer, 25.
Barron had been tied for second, two strokes behind leader Brad Miller when the day began.
“It’s not like I’m the guy that’s been doing this since he’s 21, trying to play as a pro,” Barron said. “I was remodelling apartments when I was 21, and playing amateur golf. And so, yeah, my path has been a lot different to this point.
“I’m a testament to hard work and not giving up.”
By his late 20’s, Barron was starting to shoot the lights out, and when people offered to sponsor him as a pro, he traded in his tools and turned pro in 2012.
Two years ago, he won a sectional qualifier for the U.S. Open on his home course, firing a two-under 70 in his first round at the Open.
The wind shifted and he followed with an 83, but went home knowing he’d found his dream job.
“It was my first taste of the big time,” Barron said. “Oddly enough I felt more comfortable in that atmosphere than some of the Web events I’ve played in. It was like ‘This is where you want to be, and this is where you should be.’”
Two years later, on a wind-swept course in south Winnipeg, he received some much-need affirmation.
“Whether it fits in the timeline that I have in my head, the ideal timeline – I know now that I probably just have to let it happen,” he said.
With a wife and nine-month-old son at home, it hasn’t always been easy to chase that dream. There are bills to pay, after all.
Sunday, cradling that trophy after the most enjoyable three-putt he’s ever made – there was also a $36,000 cheque to come – made it worth it.
As for the roundabout way he got there, Barron isn’t second-guessing any of it.
“I’m glad. I’ve got more scar tissue from life. Until you get to the top, you’re saving and scrimping, and you need help usually from people. I’m fortunate enough to have a lot of people that believe in me and are helping me. It’s an amazing day.”
Southwood bares its teeth
One by one, they were blown out of contention.
A wind gusting to 43 kilometres an hour turned Southwood into a different course for the final round of the Players Cup.
Of the last 36 players to tee off, not one broke 70.
One of those hit the hardest was Brad Miller, the second-and third-round leader who saw his 16-under total end up at two-under, after a 10-over 82.
“It was strong enough that it was blowing putts,” Miller said. “You’d have a putt that was inside right, and it blew it to break right. It’s just really tough.
“I’d probably be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated myself. It probably snowballed a little bit.”
Miller wasn’t quite ready to call it a valuable learning experience, either.
“Now is a bad time to ask that question,” he said. “I’ve gotten to hang out with Padraig Harrington a little bit. He’s told me he’d much rather you shoot 80 in the final group of the tournament than 65 or 64 teeing off first, and finishing top 10. You learn a lot more from what I did. Now we’ll see in a few weeks if I learned anything.”
Players who went into Sunday five or six shots back, and normally wouldn’t have much of a chance, found the leaders came back to them.
“They were probably some of the hardest conditions I’ve played in,” Ryan Snoufer said. “Even the downwind holes can play tough if you put yourself in a tough place… so you’ve really got to play smart. I talked to my coach and we talked about just trying to make it the most boring round ever. And I did.”
Snoufer managed a one-under 71 to finish 13-under, tied with Kyler Dunkle, one shot behind winner Derek Barron.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019