Derek Barron, 32, of Tacoma, Wash., is making his major-championship debut this week in the 117th U.S. Open Championship at Erin Hills. Barron, who ran his grandfather’s hydraulics company and was a construction foreman before turning professional six years ago, represents the “open” nature of this championship. He advanced through local qualifying at Wine Valley Golf Club in Walla Walla, Wash., and shot 7-under 135 on his home course, Tacoma Country & Golf Club in Lakewood, Wash., to earn sectional qualifying medalist honors and a place among the world’s greatest players. A rookie on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA Tour Canada, Barron has agreed to write a daily diary about his U.S. Open experience. Here is his third installment:
Even though I only played a handful of holes on Wednesday due to an afternoon thunderstorm, I feel ready and prepared to start the biggest competition of my life. My swing coach, Tony Robydek, arrived at Erin Hills today and it was great just to have another set of eyes out there. We didn’t do a whole lot of tweaking. I’ve never had a lot of issues with my ball-striking. For me, it’s all about feel. I know if I feel something that will produce, that’s the way to go.
Tony, the head professional at Meadow Park Golf Course in Tacoma, Washington, and I just did some fundamental stuff – checked ball position, posture and alignment. Any golfer can tell you when they get out of whack. It’s usually fundamental stuff and nothing too crazy. If it is something weird, it’s usually caused by fundamentals.
Now that we’ve been here three days, I don’t feel nervy. I’m sure I’ll feel butterflies on Thursday when we start at 2:42 p.m. local time. Now that I’ve been around the circus, it’s almost so big that everything else gets drowned out.
Everybody here is just doing their thing. You are almost in a bubble. We’re all here to compete and win a major championship. It’s just there are a few more people out here than at a regular Mackenzie Tour event.
I’m trying not to be starstruck by all the big names, but we’ve had quite a few encounters. I was waiting in line for a smoothie in Player Hospitality and Adam Scott accidentally bumped me from behind. I was like, “Dang, that was Adam Scott.” That was a cool encounter. I had a nice chat with Steve Stricker. He’s always been one of my favorites. Such a nice guy. He wished me good luck.
We played Wednesday with European Tour star Thomas Pieters, who was in my position just a few years ago after a strong career at the University of Illinois. He was asking me about where I played and my background. He told me he recalled being nervous and antsy before his first major start last year in the Open Championship at Royal Troon. That made me feel comfortable.
It’s unbelievable to see how many people are walking inside the ropes with some of these players. Most everybody out here has like 20 people with them, from swing and mental coaches to agents to wives/girlfriends. And here I’m a small fish. I’m with my caddie/mental coach Greg Talley, my wife and today my swing instructor. That’s OK. At the end of the day, we’re here to compete. It’s not a meet-and-greet session.
My wife is even into it. She texted me that 2015 champion Jordan Spieth just walked by. I want her to enjoy this experience as much as me. She’s a big part of this. She’s taken vacation this week from her job with Coca-Cola, and I’m doing my best to make sure she’s having fun. We’re going to downtown Milwaukee tonight for a night out. Maybe dinner and a movie. Just the two of us away from golf. With a late-afternoon tee time, we don’t have to worry about a 5 a.m. wake-up call on Thursday.
It would be nice to go off early on Thursday. I’ll probably be a little anxious to get going. The nice thing is I can watch some of the television coverage and take some notes on how certain holes are playing.
Another cool thing this week has been some of the perks. We are treated wonderfully, everything from Player Hospitality to getting a Lexus for the week. The player gift was really cool. And Callaway provided me a nice new staff bag with an Erin Hills motif.
Usually, it might take a week or so to get a new piece of equipment, but at the U.S. Open we can get stuff right away. I got a new putter and a couple of woods. And Nike has been great with my apparel. I received a new pair of white golf shoes with my name embroidered near the heel. They’ve been really supportive of me the last three or four years.
Thursday should be one of the best days of my life. My father, Tony, who played 58 games in the big leagues with the Philadelphia Phillies (1996) and Montreal Expos (1997), is coming, as are my wife’s parents. My mom and uncle will be here, and we’ll have a few more friends and family. I think there will be seven or eight in my cheering section.
Can’t wait for 2:42 to get here. I’m playing with a couple of sectional qualifiers: Roman Robledo from Texas and 18-year-old incoming Arizona State freshman Mason Andersen, the youngest competitor in the field. We’ll all be in the same boat.
I know things will be different on Thursday when the bell goes off. But if I can just manage my gut and my nerves and get off to a solid start, and get into a flow, I think I can do well. I know I can do well. It’s just a matter of managing my emotions.
Can’t wait to get it started.