Vernon’s Chris Baryla hung on to win on the Nationwide Tour today, landing a spot at #20 on the Nationwide Tour’s money list. The Top 25 gain automatic entry to the PGA Tour. No certainty that Baryla will make it to the tour, but with only two tournaments left, including the tour championship, he has a strong chance.
Here’s some of my previous writing on Baryla, from the National Post’s golf magazine in 2007:
Chris Baryla doesn’t mind flying under the radar. By his own admission, no one expected much of him when he joined the University of Texas El Paso golf team in 2000. He was just some underachieving kid from Vernon, B.C., who hoped his golfing prowess might help him with his education.
Fast forward six years and Baryla might well be Canada’s next great golfing hope. Last year, with next to no fanfare, he managed to secure a spot on the Nationwide Tour for 2007, even though he spent much of the season without status on any of the PGA Tour’s minor leagues. Instead, he went to Monday qualifying, lining up with dozens of other players hoping to tee it up in that week’s event.
“Last year I had a plan, but I didn’t know where it would take me,” said Baryla, who was holed up in Arizona after playing the first stop on the Nationwide Tour in Panama in January, where he tied for 37th. “I just didn’t know where I’d be on any weekend.”
Typically, it was the Nationwide Tour. He parlayed his Monday qualifying into a 2007 Nationwide Tour car, managing four top-10 finishes in the process.
In an environment where other Canadian pros were going the wrong way (Jon Mills, David Hearn) or just treading water (David Morland, Ian Leggatt), suddenly the kid from Vernon started getting his due. Not that the Calgary-born 24-year-old was particularly bothered by playing in the shadow of his more notable peers.
“I have been a little bit more under the radar than some of the other guys,” he agrees. “But that’s because most of my success has come through consistency and gradually getting better. Others, like James [Lepp] — his success has come through winning early. And maybe that creates a different level of expectation.”
It wasn’t until the summer of 2003 that the most zealous of golf fans in Canada actually began paying attention to Baryl, who shocked many by qualifying for the U.S. Open. He followed that by becoming the first amateur in 20 years to make the cut when the Canadian Open was held at Hamilton Golf and Country Club in Ancaster, Ont. While he slumped under the weekend pressure and his general inexperience, people took notice. With it came new expectations. Baryla was comfortable with the recognition, but he hoped that people understood he was not some overnight success.
“Expectations are tricky things. When they come from the public they come in the form of expected results,” he says. “That said, most guys playing professionally have a different level of expectations. It might come from something they are working on [in their swing] that will eventually appear in their results. But the public just sees the leaderboard. That’s how they judge.”
If that’s the case, Baryla’s debut as a pro must have come as a disappointment to those that didn’t see the picture in the same way he did. There was little media attention after he turned pro in the summer of 2004 on the Canadian Tour, perhaps because he struggled through a handful of events that year and again in 2005. Despite earlier success, Baryla was overshadowed by the like of James Lepp, who had significant success as an amateur, including the 2005 NCAA title, and Richard Scott, who would go on to win three consecutive Canadian Amateur championships.
One man who was keeping a close watch on the results, however, was Bill Eschenbrenner. The 2005 U.S. PGA Golf Professional of the Year was Baryla’s swing teacher while he was at El Paso. To Eschenbrenner, there was no question of Baryla’s potential.
“He’s definitely ready to play the PGA Tour,” he said soon after Baryla turned pro. “He’s a smart kid, which really helps. His swing plane is nearly perfect. He has it all in place.”
Eschenbrenner has a good sense of what it takes to make it on tour. He helped Rich Beem take the PGA Championship and has worked on the swings of other Tour players such as Paul Stankowski and J.P. Hayes. Though not one to speak in hyperbole, Eschenbrenner compared Baryla to one of the game’s immortals, Ben Hogan, noting the same effortless swing, as well as the time the Canadian put in on the practice range.
High praise indeed, and a long way removed from the expectations Baryla had for himself when he first went to Texas seven years ago. At that point there was little indication he’d amount to much of anything.
“To be quite frank, I just wasn’t that good,” Baryla says, noting there were few U.S. colleges seeking his services. “I was very mediocre. I was capable of getting it around, but that was just about it. And that eliminated a lot of the big schools.”
For reasons that are still unclear to him, Canadian native and former Canadian Tour pro Rick Todd, coach at the University of Texas El Paso, came calling. Despite Todd’s vote of confidence, Baryla’s early years were, by his own admission, “just fine.” But progress was being made.
“I was getting better,” he says. “In my junior year I won a bunch of tournaments and got into the U.S. Open. That’s the point where it started to cross my mind that I might be able to do this for a career.”
Now he’s preparing to take it to the next level. The PGA Tour is in sight, and Baryla has spent the past few months pounding irons in the hope of improving what he sees as his one main inconsistency.
The road he’s travelled — attempting to outplay his peers on a Monday morning — is not for everyone. But by taking that risk, Baryla has kicked open the door to possibilities.
“Entry-level professional golf is so competitive,” he says. “There are so many people who want to play it, whether it be CanTour or the Hooters Tour. You just need to give yourself other opportunities to advance. You can’t just try for Q- School. That’s just one week. And though a golf career can be pretty long, if you miss that one week a few times, it can just pass you by.”