By Tracee Hamilton
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Ten days after Ricky Barnes finished in a tie for second place at the U.S. Open, his life has changed.
Barnes, settling in on the driving range at Congressional Country Club, ponders for a moment.
"Well, I get recognized more often," he said, even as fans began to congregate along the fence behind him to watch his practice session.
Surely he's taken time to celebrate the best finish -- by far -- of his professional career?
"Not really," Barnes admits.
In the final round of last month's Open, Lucas Glover pulled ahead of Barnes -- in part because Barnes's scorecard read "bogey, bogey, bogey, bogey, par, par, bogey, bogey" on holes 5 through 12. He settled for a three-way tie for second place with Phil Mickelson and David Duval and instead of heading to Manhattan to start his 15 minutes on the fame clock with David Letterman, he went instead to Connecticut for the Travelers Championship.
There, he made the cut -- his eighth in 14 tournaments in his first season on the PGA Tour -- but finished tied for 59th.
He came straight here, played in Monday's AT&T National pro-am, did some light hitting Tuesday, and was looking forward to yesterday's pro-am with the enthusiasm of one who hasn't played in a lot of them. Not at this level, anyway. A day off? That'll have to wait.
"Once I finally got back out here to the tour, then you want to stick out here," Barnes said. "You have to work that much harder week in and week out to maintain out here. It's kind of a dog-eat-dog world out here and everyone's jockeying for position week in and week out, so you know you gotta make the most of each week and parlay when you're playing good to weeks after."
The 28-year-old can speak with authority on this subject. While still a student at the University of Arizona, he won the 2002 U.S. Amateur championship, beating tour player Hunter Mahan at Oakland Hills. He shared the 2003 Ben Hogan Award for top amateur in the country with Mahan, and he was low amateur that year at Augusta National, beating playing partner Tiger Woods in the first round by seven strokes.
And then? Qualifying school and the Nationwide Tour, on which he had nine top-10 finishes last season -- although no victories -- and was 25th on the money list. Four years on the minor league circuit might seem like a long time for a man with Barnes's résumé, but Rick LaRose, who has coached at Arizona for 31 years, says his former pupil's timing is just about right.
"There's no guarantees that anyone's going to be successful," LaRose said. "It's a learning curve. First you have to get through [qualifying] school. He's worked hard at it. I don't think it's an overly long time. A lot of guys struggled longer than that.
"Ricky's done a lot. It's hard to live up to those expectations."
Andy Barnes agrees. He's LaRose's assistant coach, a former pro and Ricky's big brother.
"I know how hard this game is," said Andy Barnes, who was on the bag for Ricky at Bethpage. "I preached to him that you don't get to bypass the minor leagues and head to the big leagues. It's not that easy. That's the tough part of Q-school: It's all timing. If you're not playing well in October, November, December, you have to wait a whole 'nother year to get back out there or go on the Nationwide Tour.
"Ricky at first thought it might be a little easy. He had some success, then found it doesn't come that easy. He had to figure out how to appreciate the process."
Andy Barnes doesn't expect the surprising U.S. Open showing to change his brother.
"He likes the limelight. He's kind of a ham," said the only person who probably could get away with that remark. "He has that flash about him. He draws the attention of the crowd. His emotions are worn on his sleeve. That won't change any. He'll be the same Ricky."
Ricky Barnes's physique also draws attention. He's 6 feet 2 and 200 pounds and cut like the Elgin Marbles. That wasn't always the case.
"Midway through high school, I lost about 70 pounds in six months," said Barnes, who once described himself as "Chris Farley fat." He switched from tackle to tight end in football, then took up soccer because he wanted more running in his regimen. He credits his fitness regime with improving his golf game, saying he's "stronger, fitter."
"Days like the other day, where we had to play 27 holes, it didn't bother me physically," he said. "Mentally you're a little worn out but physically your body can handle and take it. That's the big thing. If you run into a rain delay situation and you need to play 20 to 20-odd holes, physically I'm able to do it."
Is he the strongest guy on the tour? Let's ask Andy, who doesn't seem to mince words.
"I haven't personally seen Tiger [Woods] work out, but I've seen Ricky work out many times," Andy said. "I'd be hard-pressed to think of anyone working out harder than Ricky. He gets to the point of feeling like he was going to throw up. He likes pushing himself. He'd say, 'Your shirt's not full of sweat, you're not working out.' He doesn't do anything half-[cocked] anymore. I think Ricky used to do certain things half-[cocked]."
(Maybe it's a good thing Andy had to go back to Arizona after the Open to help LaRose recruit.)
Woods may have been the first golfer to really put on a gun show, but Barnes is helping the cause.
"I think it obviously correlates to the golf course as well," he said, "and I think you're seeing it from the top down to the bottom with college golfers and amateur golfers and Tiger Woods himself."
And what about the golf course? What did Barnes do over the past six years to get himself back to the tour?
"His short game has always been pretty good," said LaRose, who described Barnes as a "flamboyant, swashbuckling, good-looking guy."
"He manages the course a little bit better. He was always a go-for-broke player; he was so aggressive. He's a little less aggressive now; he knows when to take a par."
And when he finally breaks through with his first tour win?
"I'll be excited, all his friends and family, we'll all be pretty excited and probably none more than Ricky," LaRose said. "He's just a terrific young man. He's the kind of kid you'd want as your son."